Food plays a crucial role in my life. But it is also a fundamental part of Turkish society.
Let me point out a few things that have caught my attention when it comes to Turkish eating habits:
One of the first things I noticed is that when you go to a restaurant the table is cleaned immediately after you have finished your meal. Sometimes not everyone has even finished, when the waiters arrive to take the first plates, glasses, bred baskets etc. and start wiping the table with a wet cloth. I first thought it to be a sign for us to hurry up and leave since they might need the table for other guests. But as I noticed it in almost every place I went to, I got curious and had the idea that there might be another reason for it. So I asked a Turkish friend of mine and he told me that it was a gesture of politeness. They simply do not want to leave you sitting at a dirty table with your leftovers and therefore clean it up for you as quickly as possible. If anyone reading this knows differently, please let me know.
Now here comes another difference, a great one: Refreshment towels (in Turkish ıslak mendil). They are handed after each meal. Sometimes you can also grab them from a little basket when you go to pay at the cashier. I think they are a fantastic invention which should be introduced in Germany as well (where they are primarily used for wiping babies’ buts). It prevents you from having sticky fingers when it is not always possible to find a bathroom or you are too lazy to do so. During times of religious holidays, many restaurants and other public places also offer you kolonya (a parfumized liquid) to refresh yourself after the meal. This is meant to be a gesture of hospitality in order to let you know that you are welcome at their place.
As in any other country, every region has its own particular dishes. Mantı are a famous in Kayseri, iskender is a creation from Bursa and Adana kebab is… from Adana, simple enough.
The importance of food is also reflected in the language. I found it quite interesting to notice that there are two words for rice: pirinç and pilav. The difference is that pirinç refers to uncooked rice whereas pilav is the edible version, the cooked one. Just so you know not to order pirinç in a restaurant and ask for pilav in the supermarket. Another thing worth remembering is that pasta means pastry and that noodles are referred to as makarna. Just in case.
Furthermore, there is a very Turkish expression, “Afiyet olsun!”, which is often translated by “Enjoy your meal!”. But that is not really what it means. It is much more a way of saying “May it do you well!”, or something like that. This explains why it can be said before, during and even after the meal. This was a fact I found quite striking (when I still thought it simply meant “Enjoy your meal!”). There are many sayings like that in Turkish, suitable for almost every situation: after you went to the hairdresser’s or after you had a shower, after you bought a new thing or after you cough, there are special expressions that are used.
Turkish people, at least the ones I have met, like to take their meals together. This reflects the fact that Turkey is a collectivistic culture. But a meal is not simply a meal. There is a lengthy process and hours in the kitchen behind it. A regular meal, nothing special, can already consist of several dishes including self-made sauces and the like. Then, after the meal, coffee is served and then çay and then it is almost time to prepare the next meal and so on. Homemade food is simply the best. And I am lucky that my flat mates love to cook (Allah bless them). I, as a regular Maggi sauce customer, should seize the opportunity and learn from them.
As food seems to be as important in Turkey as it is in my own life, I would call this a good match, don’t you agree?