And He it is Who sends down water from the cloud, then We bring forth with it buds of all plants, then We bring forth from it green foliage from which We produce grain piled up in the ear; and of the palm-tree, of the sheaths of it, come forth clusters of dates within reach, and gardens of grapes and olives and pomegranates, alike and unlike; behold the fruit of it when it yields the fruit and the ripening of it; most surely there are signs in this for a people who believe.—Surah VI, The Cattle, Line 99
We should talk about food. It is certain that one can learn plenty of things about a culture by looking at what and how the people eat. Behind linguistics and religion, food paints a good picture of any society.
We in this age are increasingly aware of the global effects and impacts—economic, social, and environmental—of the food we consume. In this breath we can take a look at food in Turkey: some current legislation regarding food; Islam and the way it talks about food; as well as how the Turkish people produce, prepare, and eat food.
First, I must first say that the food here has been delicious and its quality is high: The fact that I’ve lost 15 pounds since I got here, without even trying, is actually a testament to its freshness and wholesomeness. And another great thing about this country is that purchasing food from the market for three meals costs about the same as going out to eat the same number of meals.
When shopping at any market here, one will quickly notice that there are two sides of the store: the produce side and the rest of the groceries, leading me to believe that people who shop in these markets eat a lot more fruits and vegetables than anything else. The juice selection is amazing, and what always catch my attention are the prices compared to soda and the rest of the junk. In the U.S., from what I remember, a gallon of orange juice is somewhere between three and six bucks, whereas one can buy a two-liter Coke, and get one free, for a couple of bucks. Here, a liter of juice is a little less than a dollar and a liter of coke is about two and a half bucks.
But the juice and Coke have nothing on Turkey’s number one drink, Ayran. This yogurt-based drink is similar to kefir, but simply more yummy and good for my tummy, and we drink it with every meal except for breakfast. (That, we save that for the juice.)
One of the classic places where people eat here is called Aspava. There are a bunch of these Aspava places all over the city, they are open 24/7 and generally serve the same types of food. For about six bucks you can get a four-course meal including the Ayran. You walk into these restaurants and you are promptly brought a salad, usually of lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, beets, peppers, and a couple other veggies that I can’t name, with a side of lemon for dressing (no Ranch or Caesar). Next is a big side of French fries (not the healthiest choice, but still amazing). Then my favorite part of the meal: a thin yogurt-soup concoction with sliced cucumbers. As a main course, I usually order chicken and rice, the latter a mix of brown rice and long-grain white rice—and oh my God, it is epic!
Although there are Burger Kings, McDonalds, and KFCs opening up all over the place, these Aspavas are usually twice as full, half as expensive, way more fresh, and a billion times better than their fast-food competitors.
Recently the Turkish Parliament passed a bill put together by the Ministry of Agriculture banning the cultivation of genetically modified organisms in agriculture. This bill also put some strict restrictions on the importation of GMO crops, as well as the transportation of these crops through the country. Individuals who do transport these crops in the country can face years in prison as well as hefty fines. If a corporation or an affiliate of a corporation is found to be transporting these crops without the permission of the Ministry of Agriculture, they face a fine between 100,000 and 200,000 Turkish liras.
In addition to these mandates, a biosecurity commission is being established whose nine members are to be appointed by the ministries of agriculture, environment, forestry, health, industry, trade, and the foreign trade undersecretariat; as well as a member from a university, and one from a trade body. This is part of the effort stem the advancement and consumption of GMO crops and animals, and to promote progressive environmental regulations, and it will hopefully lead to Turkey’s accession into the European Union.
I have yet to have myself a proper Turkish dinner with a proper Turkish family, but I am working on getting in with one so I can have some good, mom-cooked food. When I was asking my classmates about the way they congregate and eat I was pretty surprised to find out that in most Muslim households, the prayer comes after you eat, not before, which in my mind sounds pretty logical. My eagerness in anticipating this event grows by the day. Moreover, if it is anything like the famous Turkish hospitality that I have received since I have been here, I know that the moment will be nothing short of awesome. So if there are any Turkish families out here in Ankara reading this, let me know what time dinner is, I’m already on my way.