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BLOG Ramadan and Turkish Cuisine

2 June 2016 / Culture


Ramadan

When looking at Ramadan and Turkish food, do not expect any spectacular or lavish, but instead, delicious, humble, and heart-warming, food cooked by the hand with love from the heart. The month-long religious practice and the following festival are significant and those who live in Turkey or are visiting will enjoy various food traditions and rituals.

Ramadan is when practising Muslims abstain from all physical needs, including food and drink, between sunrise and sundown. The dates of Ramadan vary each year since the practice adheres to the Muslim calendar. Turkey is a secular country, and while some observe Ramadan, many perform their rituals by giving up either alcohol or smoking, just as Christians would during lent.

Ramadan brings family and friends together of remembering those less fortunate, and perhaps surprisingly, considering the connotations of fasting, the tradition also focuses on food! The month of Ramadan fasting ends with a fun three-day long party that celebrates all things sweet with the annual "Şeker Bayramı" (Sugar Festival).

                                                                                      About Ramadan and Turkish Food

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1: Ramadan Food Traditions

Food Fasting during Ramadan is known as "sawm" and is one of Islam's five pillars. Traditionally, Muslims refrain from eating food and drinking anything, even water, during daylight hours. In addition, they abstain from physical needs like smoking and sex and from using any evil thoughts and words. Before sunrise, participants enjoy early breakfast food called "Suhur" to fill up on protein and water and set themselves up for the day.

But once the sun sets, the fourth daily prayer has happened, and the local mosque's minaret is lit in green, the evening food feast begins! Sunrise in Turkey happens at approximately 5.30 a.m., and Turks eat breakfast food before this. In Turkey, men with drums known as "davulcu" traditionally walk the streets of cities, towns, and villages to wake up the residents in time to eat and drink before the first call to prayer and sunrise.

While the "davulcu" still practice in Istanbul's historical areas and smaller towns and cities across Turkey, sadly, this Ramadan tradition is slowly disappearing because of modern technology like alarm clocks and mobile phones.

2: Giving to Turkish Charities During Ramadan

During Ramadan, Muslims reflect on their lives and practice moderation while remembering what the Koran teaches about kindness, selflessness, and discipline. But, perhaps, more importantly, they remember those less fortunate than themselves; the poor, the homeless and anybody who cannot meet their basic needs.

Ramadan is time to give thanks and reaffirm commitments to help those in need. Ramadan emphasises sadaqah, voluntary giving and good deeds to help others. Traditionally, Muslims provide a fixed percentage of savings to the poor or charities. But kindness and charity are whatever an individual can afford, whether this is food, somewhere to sleep, or money for those in need.

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3: Turkish Food During Ramadan

With such emphasis on food fasting, darkness represents feasting as soon as the sun sets. Therefore, Turkish food plays an integral part in Ramadan celebrations, bringing friends and family together, a strong tradition of Turkish culture. Ramadan and the three-day feast celebrate all Turkish cuisine, from olive oil mezes to sweet treats.

Pide: Bread always accompanies any food dish in Turkey, and Ramadan is no exception. Neither breakfast nor evening food is complete without pide, the traditional "Ramazan pidesi". Usually, bakeries across Turkey bake all day long, but during Ramadan, they also bake through the night.

Ramadan Pide, a soft, porous, leavened bread shaped by hand, closely resembles Armenian bread "matnakash" made from wheat flour and yeast in a flat, round shape. It rises but doesn't puff as the master bakers make delicate designs with knives or fingers on the dough to make little pockets. Some bakers may add eggs or sesame seeds and sometimes cheese, meat, dates, and sugar as decoration.

Ramadan Suhur: Turkish people eat morning food before dawn and the first call to prayer. Most Muslim Turks indulge in protein-rich "kahvaltı" or Turkish breakfast, allowing fasting people to avoid the crankiness and weakness caused by the fast. Traditional morning food includes eggs, omelettes or Turkish menemen (runny scrambled eggs mixed with tomatoes, chillies, onions, peppers, and olive oil), Turkish cheeses, honey, preserves, and olives, dates, vegetables, and bread. Turkish tea and lots of water accompany this delicious and nutritious food.

ramadan-pide-turkey

Ramadan Iftar: Evening food is eaten after sunset and brings together family and friends to celebrate the day. Traditionally, the first Ramadan food breaks the fast; dates with water resemble when Mohammad broke his fast with three dates. Then, Turkish mezes, several main courses, vegetable selections, desserts, Turkish coffee, and fresh fruit follow.

Traditional Turkish soups are particularly beneficial during Ramadan because they are delicious, healthy, and nutritious. Starting with soup helps replenish any lost fluids from fasting and prepares the digestive system for more food. Favourite soups of Ramadan include “Ezogelin Çorbası” or red lentil soup, “Yayla Çorbası” or rice, yoghurt, and mint soup, “Tarhana Çorbası” or “Süzme Mercimek Çorbası,” lentil and potato soup. The traditional pide accompanies all these delicious soups.

Turkish olive oil and vegetable dishes follow soup, many of which feature on traditionally Turkish menus. Favourites include romano beans in olive oil, pinto beans in tomato sauce, Turkish style artichoke bottoms with vegetables, stuffed eggplant and okra with tomato and olive oil. In addition, Turks sometimes serve these simple vegetable dishes with cured meats like Turkish pastırma (dried, cured beef) and Turkish sucuk (dried spicy sausage).

Traditional Ramadan food sees many Turkish cooks reverting to favourite childhood dishes or regional specialities. For example, Hünkar Beğendi or 'Sultan's Delight' is a famous Ramadan lamb stew served on creamy roasted eggplant or aubergine puree. In addition, "Kuzu Tandır" often makes an appearance during Ramadan. Lamb is cooked in a special oven made from a pit in soil, hung from suspended hooks over hot coals and left to slow cook for hours. Other traditional Turkish dishes include lamb stewed with wheat berries, lamb kebabs with grilled vegetables and roasted chicken with chickpea studded rice.

Drinks: Hydration is a real issue during Ramadan because participants don't consume any liquids, including water, during fasting hours. Some indulge in Turkish coffee or tea during evening food with sips of water, or perhaps Ayran, Turkey's national yoghurt drink. Still, over the years, Turks created two massively hydrating and delicious Turkish drinks to accompany food, "şerbet" and "hoshaf".

Serbet, a sweet drink prepared from seasonal fruits or flower petals and herbs, is boiled with sugar and spices, then strained to serve chilled. More popular variations include rose water, sandalwood, lemon, orange, apple, and tamarind. "Hoshaf" involves cooking different kinds of dried fruits, such as raisins, apricots, and cranberries, with sugar and spices and lots of water. The soft and swollen fruits are then served cold or at room temperature. Both drinks contain many nutrients and fibre, and with low sugar content, both healthy refreshments curb dehydration.

4: The Sugar Festival After Ramadan

Otherwise known as the Ramadan Feast, "Şeker Bayramı" is the three-day Turkish festival to end the fasting month of Ramadan. Many people wake up early and dress smart to have a big family breakfast before enduring days of endless feasting. So named the sugar festival because Turkish people treat visiting guests to sweets and traditional desserts. Children go door to door kissing elders' hands and receiving sweets and money in return.

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Traditional sweets and desserts include Turkish Delight and Baklava, and Güllaç. This is made with thinly rolled sheets. Almost transparent corn starch and wheat flour dough are soaked in lukewarm milk and sugar and sprinkles of rosewater and then traditionally decorated with mastic, pomegranates, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, or cinnamon.

Kaymaklı Kayısı Tatlısı are dried apricots cooked in sugar syrup until soft and then stuffed with buffalo milk ("kaymak" - like rich, clotted cream). "Revani" is a delicious, dense sponge cake made with semolina flour, steeped in sugar syrup, and served with yoghurt. Kesme Dondurma, a traditional Turkish ice cream dish made from salep and goat's milk, is beaten to a thick density, producing a solid brick shape when frozen. Favourite flavours include peanut, orange, caramel-almond, chocolate, pistachio, and mixed fruit.

"Künefe" is a traditional Turkish dessert made from stretchy, unsalted fresh melting cheese called Hatay, similar to mozzarella is delicious. Cheese is coated in sugar syrup-soaked phyllo shreds called "kadayıf" and is fried until crisp. "Lokma" is Turkey's answer to a doughnut, a crunchy outside, soft middle and coated with sugar syrup. "Lokma" means "bite" in Turkish, and these appropriately bite-sized pieces are rich, chewy, and very sweet! Ramadan is quite the paradox; Muslims fast all day to reflect and then celebrate every evening with their loved ones and an array of delicious Ramadan and Turkish food.

Also, About Turkish Food and Drink

Turkish National Drinks: When tasting Turkish national drinks, get ready for a surprise. The long list goes well beyond stereotypical beverages like coffee and tea to include refreshing drinks you have never heard about. The saying goes, "when in Rome, do as the Romans do," so apply the same principle to Turkey because the cultural diversity enhances your holiday. The national beverages allow you to experience all things Turkish. From non-alcoholic to an alcoholic to weird, we say try them all at least once.

Popular Turkish Food: Turkish food is world-renowned and is a delightful cuisine. Since Ottoman times, chefs have fought to make the best dishes for sultans, and now, these top 10 Turkish dishes have expanded into other parts of the globe for all to enjoy. But needless to say, experiencing Turkish cuisine in its original country will always be worth the travel time. Moreover, living in Turkey means enjoying these top 10 Turkish foods regularly!

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