For centuries, Turkish khans and sultans had their own chefs prepare the tastiest dishes for them, which also influenced today’s popular Turkish food. Considered to be a combination of Central Asian, Balkan, and Middle Eastern cuisine, Turkish kitchen offers a variety of tastes ranging from mildly spicy Middle Eastern dishes to delicious olive oil appetizers that are truly Mediterranean. Each region in Turkey also contributes to the richness of Turkish food. In Anatolia, beans are cooked quite often whereas corn based dishes can be served in every meal in the Black Sea Region.
3 things everyone should know about Turkish food culture are Ekmek (bread), Chai (Black Tea) and Sofra Adabi (Eating Manners). First, ekmek, which is similar to French baguette, is present in every meal because Turks love eating bread with almost anything. Second, each meal includes or is followed by a cup of black tea and Turkey ranks as #4 in the world in tea consumption. Third, Turkish people put special emphasis on eating manners at the table (actually, throughout the history, most of the people ate meals on the floor with a big round pan called “tepsi”). Everyone should wait till the oldest person starts eating and recite “besmele” before the meal.
A typical Turkish breakfast includes ekmek (bread), tea (black tea), jam (recel), feta cheese (peynir), olives (zeytin), butter (tereyagi). Of course, lunch and dinner can vary but soups and boiled vegetables in tomato sauce are extremely common where ever you go. Lastly, all dinners must include a Turkish dessert like baklava or kadayif (desserts that are made of thin layers of pastry soaked in honey). In the picture simit (crispy and cruchy round bread with sesame seeds) and Turkish coffee (hot coffee served in small cups and extra-fine grounds in it)
Just like any other developed country, modern Turks wear casual dresses in Western style. Traditionally though, Turkish clothes were similar to dresses in Caucasia and were made by cotton, silk and wool because of relatively cooler climate. The areas Turks lived in throughout the history are close to Silk Road, so this might also have contributed to the clothing culture. During the Ottoman Empire, some women wore “ferace” (gray or black one-piece fabric that covers most of the body) and some men wore “shalvar” (loose pants) and different headdresses based on their social status. The sultans had large white silk sash wound over the head and decorated with rubies and feathers called “kavuk”. There are local costumes that are mostly worn during local festivals and celebrations. You can check out some examples here: http://www.google.com/images?q=folklor+kiyafetleri
Festivals, Holidays and Celebrations
There are two types of holidays in Turkey: Milli Bayramlar (Festivals that mark the victories during the independence war after the WWI) and Dini Bayramlar (Festivals that are related with religious traditions; namely, Ramazan Bayrami and Kurban Bayrami).
Ramazan Bayrami, also known as Eid-al Fitr, is celebrated at the end of Ramadan for 4 days. During Ramazan Bayrami, all family members get together, elderly are visited and little children are given candies. Whenever you visit someone’s home during Ramazan Bayrami, you can be assured you will be served some home-made baklava.
Kurban Bayrami, aka Eid-al Adha, is the commemoration of profit Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail for God. Traditionally, this festival is celebrated by most of the Turks and is the second major national holiday. During this festival, an animal is sacrificed and most of the meat is given to the poor, needy and the neighbors. Families and relatives gather and cook the meat all together while enjoying this celebration.
Famous Stories, Epics
There are many folk tales, epic poems and important novels in Turkish literature. Five of the most commonly known characters are Koroglu, Dede Korkut, Karagoz & Hacivat and Nasreddin Hoca.
Epic of Koroglu: Is the story where the son of a blind horse trainer avenges a wrongdoing. One day a horse trainer spots a unique horse and tells the head of the clan that it makes a perfect gift for the king. However, the head of the clan thinks the horse-trainer is making fun of him as the little colt looks tiny and weak. The head of the clan orders the horse trainer to be blinded. The son of the horse trainer Koroglu (translates as “The son of the blind man”) grows up and trains that tiny horse to be a great stallion. Finally Koroglu rides the stallion and punishes the head of the clan because of his mistake.
Dede Korkut Stories: Dede Korkut is an old wise man who resolves important problems and gives others advice to handle with conflicts. Some of the Dede Korkut stories are related with monsters, ferries, heroes and supernatural creatures.
Karagoz & Hacivad: are the two major characters in the traditional Turkish shadow play. In the play, the colorful string-puppets move behind a screen which is made of very thin camel or cow skin. Karagoz is less educated and straight-forward where Hacivad is calmer and smarter.
Nasreddin Hoca: is a public figure from Central Anatolia who supposedly lived in 13th century. Nasreddin Hoca always makes witty remarks about what is happening around him. The way Turks put it, his jokes not only entertain you but also make you think deeply at the same time. One of his famous jokes is about his fall from the donkey he was riding. After he apparently falls off the donkey, he smiles and goes on to say, “I was going to get off anyways…”
Because of the young population of Turkey, it is so common to see children playing social games on the street. Perhaps the three most popular games are Korebe, Saklambac and Uzun esek.
Korebe (blind catcher) is a game where “ebe” (it) tries to catch other kids while blindfolded. The kid that gets to be caught or touched by “ebe” becomes the next “ebe.”
Saklambac is the Turkish version of hide-n-seek.
Uzun Esek (long donkey) is played mostly by boys. In this game, simply players jump over the back of an ebe (it). In some different versions of the game, just like riding a donkey, players get to sit on the back of the ebe for a short while.
It is hard to summarize verbal and nonverbal communication of a culture in one paragraph but if you are travelling to Turkey, there are few unique communication styles you must be aware of. As a beginner, you are expected to use a politer language to the people who are older than you and whom you are meeting for the first time (e.g., you should say “siz” (plural “you”) instead of “sen” (singular “you”)). Secondly, make sure that you always use honorifics to address people who are older than you or have important social status: such as “agbi” (older brother) , “abla” (older sister), “bey” (similar to “Mr.”). Thirdly, expect that sometimes the messages will be communicated with eye and hand gestures with no words: for insatnce disapproval can be communicated by looking straightly in the eye. Lastly, don’t forget that in Turkey friendships can develop so quickly. A Turkish person might count you as a friend even if you just chat with him or her for 10 minutes while waiting in a line.
Turkish people put family and relatives before everything. Family members meet in every occasion and every single family member is supported without question. Turkish people also are known to be very hospitable, they might invite you to their houses and share the meal with you even if they don’t know you. There is a saying in Turkey that goes “stranger at the doorstep is the God’s guest”.
Similarly, Turks like to be in contact with friends and relatives; it is not uncommon to have guests come over more than a few times a week. As an indication of the strong links among friends, Turkey has the highest number of Facebook users in the world compared with the internet penetration in this country.
Did you know that there is a tradition in Turkey called “el opmek” which is kissing the hand of elderly as a sign of respect?
Did you know, in some regions of Turkey, brides come to wedding ceremony riding on a horse as a tradition?
Did you know that Santa Claus was actually born and lived in Turkey?
Did you know that some researchers located Noah’s ark in Eastern Turkey?
Did you know that half of Istanbul is in Europe and the other half is in Asia?
Did you know that the ancestors of modern Turks lived in Central Asia and Turkish language structure is similar to Japanese and Korean?
Some famous Turkish people are Orhan Pamuk (Nobel prize winner in literature), Muhtar Kent (CEO of Coca-Cola), Mehmet Oz (TV personality & cardiothoracic surgeon), Muzaffer Sherif (Yale psychologist), Ahmet Ertegun (founder & president of Atlantic Records).
Famous places to see
Ephesus Antic City
Turkish classes in New York City: nycturkishclub.com
Online Turkish lessons for kids: dinolingo.com