Turkish Cuisine: The Ramazan Traditions
This month falls on the ninth of the Islamic Calendar, a month known as Ramadan, or Ramazan in Turkish (rah-ma-ZAHN'). The season of Ramazan changes slowly every decade or so, following the birth and rebirth of the new moon.
In the Islamic faith, Ramazan represents one of the Five Pillars of Islam as a holy month of fasting. Every corner of the Muslim world observes this time for spirituality, contemplation, and prayer.
Ramazan is often seen as a time to make more time for family and friends, spirituality and focusing on religious principles, or to distance oneself from daily stresses and vices. At dawn, when the call to prayer begins, faithful observers of the fast abstain from eating and drinking anything until sunset, when it ends.
The only exceptions to the fasting rule are children, pregnant women, the elderly and people of other faiths.
A Culinary Paradox
Ramazan is a paradoxical experience from a culinary perspective. Ramazan is a time when a lot of people fast, but Ramazan is also a time where there is a lot of emphasis on eating, cooking, entertaining, and dining out.
Turkey's daily life revolves around the fast as much as the breaking of it during the month of Ramazan. As the day progresses, Iftar and Sahar events become the two main focal points, as are the preparation and anticipation for iftar (eef-TAHR) and Sahar (sah-har).
Whether it is preparing these meals or attending them on time, all activities revolve around this.
Preparing For Iftar
During Ramadan, life and work tend to slow during daylight hours, however the kitchens are at full speed. The preparation of the evening meal takes an entire day, starting with shopping in the morning.
For Ramazan, half the cooks tend to return to their roots by making traditional Turkish dishes, as well as cooking the standard share that's expected at every "iftar" table.
Several weeks before the start of Ramazan, markets and bazaars begin advertising Ramazan specials. There are many popular items on the Turkish menu, including dates, pistachios, Turkish Delight, and cured meats like pastirma (Pahs-tur-MAH') and sucuk (Soo-Jook').
The Ramazan shopping season is made easier by separate displays set up by many markets. Stocking up on classic Turkish ingredients and spices is a wonderful idea during this festive season.
In preparation for the evening meal, the ladies of the house start by selecting the ingredients for the day from the local markets and bazaars. They may prep and peel vegetables, marinate and stew meats, make soups and bake desserts.
What to Expect at Iftar?
It begins with light fare and soup similar to breakfast and continues with a full, multi-course meal. After that, you will find several main dishes, vegetable choices, desserts, Turkish coffee, and fresh fruit.
First, the fast is usually broken with a sip of water, followed by olives and Turkish cheeses. Dates are also common, along with a flatbread known as 'pide' which is only baked during Ramazan.
The Iftar Table
Even the most experienced chefs would struggle to set the Iftar table the right way. Every household has a clean and well-stocked table, and it is always set with the best wares available to it.
In addition to the soup, water glasses are always filled, and warm bread is baked just before the evening call to prayer 'adhan' or 'ezan' (ay-ZAHN '). Anxious diners waiting patiently at the table after a day of fasting will be hungry and thirsty for something to drink during the call to prayer. As everyone acknowledges God, they begin their meal together.
Following a meal, families and friends often socialize and continue eating and snacking for several hours. Before the last meal of the day, the 'Sahar,' you might enjoy a short nap.
It is a great way to discover Turkish regional cuisine even if you aren't fasting by attending an iftar meal. A Turkish vacation allows you to experience the warm hospitality and culture of the country at its very best.