On Food Culture in Turkey and at NYU
April 30, 2018
Food is an important part of every culture: you don’t get to really absorb and comprehend it until all the different flavors are on your tastebuds. A lot can be understood about a country from what they eat and how they eat it.
As for me, I was lucky to grow up in Turkey, a country with a history that dates back to the 11th century with the Turkic people, who got their start as nomads that traveled from central Asia to the Middle east. As the 13th century came around, their nomadic nature shifted into beyliks. Many fights and sieges later, the Ottoman Empire reached the pinnacle of its might and glory culminated in Constantinople, now known as the beautiful city of Istanbul. This journey not only led to an extensive history but an amazing culinary cross-pollination. The journey cooked up a fusion of Asian, Middle Eastern and European cuisines.
Turkish people love food. They love eating it and sharing it. I can easily say that most of my memories in my life feature food in some way. When I came to NYU, I was worried that the on-the-go lifestyle would not be suitable for me. I knew that people in New York move non-stop and are constantly taking their food to go. It made me nervous to think about the different ways people consume food here and whether I would to be able to afford food in the same way I did in Istanbul. I knew I would miss the food culture I had back home since having dinner alone was not something my family did. You have to stay in Turkey for at least a month to get a sense of our food culture, so I did not think it was fair for me to expect from New York what I had in Istanbul.
Breakfast in Turkey can be a family gathering, adorning a table with different homemade jams, 10 types of cheese, bread, eggs, pastirma (turkish dried meat), sucuk (turkish chorizo), pastries, fresh tomatoes, and cucumbers with olive oil and olives, or can be as simple as sitting on a bench in front of the Bosphorus sipping tea from a special turkish tea cup and biting into simit — a type of round bread covered with sesame seeds — you buy from a street vendor.
Dinner is eaten as soon as all members of the household are seated at the table and not a second before. Food is what brings the family together, the dinner table is where you share how your day was. Love is better shared and so is food. Many of the dishes in Turkish cuisine are portioned to share, so you can taste as many as you can. You order to the middle of the table and create your own private buffet.
Making people eat food is almost a conversation that has to be had, especially if you are under your grandmother’s roof. Failing to finish the food on your plate results in your grandmother questioning her cooking skills and your health, and so you eat. Especially your rice, the number of rice grains that you leave on your plate indicates how many children you will have, so eat up.
My concerns were justified after my first semester at NYU. I found it surprising that people did not wait for eachother, but ate regardless if everyone was there. One of the first dinners I had in Palladium Dining Hall with a group of friends ended with me forcing everyone to wait until everyone was seated at the table, which took around 30 minutes considering the grill line in Palladium. It was surprising that people did not force others to taste whatever it is that they were eating, but rather expected them to ask.
However, slowly my friends and I met halfway, and culturally cross-pollinated in some sense. To supress my need for passionate conversations about food, I turned to writing about it for WSN. Although I miss everything about the food culture in Turkey, I was able to discover the delicious and diverse food culture of New York that has not only widened my understanding of how we consume food, but how there is always room for more.
Note: The author of “Talking with My Mouth Full” and co-founder of American Food Roots, an online food journalism site stated that the three greatest cuisines in the world are French, Chinese and yes, you guessed it, Turkish. Just saying.
Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.
Email Yasmin Gulec at [email protected].