Typically, Turks open their fast with dates. Iftar meals are always accompanied by side dishes, mostly salads and mezze’s made from fresh vegetables. Turkish Tea is served after iftar. For suhoor, Turks favor heavy dishes that will keep you full for a long time, like pasta. Ramadan preparations usually exist out of cleaning and tidying the house, and storing the pantry with food. Lots of food. Tea, pasta and rice all have a long shelf life and are usually bought in large quantities in advance. Dates are also bought in large, and are kept in a cool place. Fruits and vegetables are purchased a day before they are consumed, so that they are fresh.
Nightly Indulgence : A Turkish Suhoor
In Turkey, people are awakened by drummers for suhoor, young men on a horse cart beating loudly on their drums. The ezan tells people when they should stop eating.
Turks usually eat heavy dishes at suhoor, to avoid getting all too hungry during the day. Makarna is a typical Turkish suhoor meal, and quite simply exists out of macaroni, drizzled with hot oil and feta cheese. Eggs contain a lot of proteins and energy and are hence often eaten during suhoor, either boiled or stir-fried, with tomatoes and peppers (menemen) or sausage (sucuklu yumurta).
Kaymak is also regularly served at suhoor. You simply pour some cream in a saucepan and stir it continuously until it becomes thick. Kaymak is typically eaten with bread. I decided to go healthy this Ramadan (let’s see how long I’ll persevere) and will avoid all these heavy, though utterly delicious, dishes. My first suhoor meal was quite simple. A small piece of chicken breast, some bread, a piece of feta cheese, two glasses of water, some milk and a banana. Oh and çay of course. A Turkish meal is never complete without çay.
Activities during the day and the iftar meal
Most of us of course have to go to work during Ramadan, but students, retirees and others who can be flexible with their time usually spend a lot of time at the mosque. Every day of Ramadan, usually at midday, the imam reads out the Quran out loud and helps those present with their pronunciation of the verses. People bring their Qurans, sit down, and follow the imam’s reading. The goal is to read the entire Quran during Ramadan. By organizing this in the mosque, people who can’t read Arabic that well, are also given the chance to read the entire Quran.
Aside from improving one’s reading and understanding of Arabic, or participating at mosque-gatherings, Turks also like to make longs walks while fasting, or do a bit of gardening, or other outdoor activities that aren’t to tiresome, if the weather is not too hot. An afternoon nap is also generally on the agenda.
Turks break their fast with dates, a glass of water and a piece of fruit. Mezze’s and soups are served as a starter. Iftar meals consist out of the usual traditional dishes of Turkish cuisine, like garniyarik (eggplant filled with minced meat and tomato’s), güveç (chicken stew), all kinds of böreks (pastries filled with cheese, meat or vegetables), dolma (filled grape leaves), etc. Meals are always served with mezze’s, rice and çoban salatasi (a pepper, tomato, cucumber and olive salad). The iftar meal differs from a usual meal in what is served after the main course. Sweets, sweets, and other sweets, and lots of them. Baklava, muhallebi (a sort of pudding) or künefe (pastry shreds with cheese between the layers, drizzled with syrup) are typically served during Ramadan. As I said before, I will be trying to go healthy this Ramadan – so no baklava or künefe for me (yet). My first iftar meal was far from traditionally Turkish: spaghetti and a salad.
Ramadan makes us realize how much of our daily lives actually evolve around food. For Turks it means realizing how much of our daily lives evolve around tea. Tea is everywhere in Turkish culture, it is served at every meal, every day, whatever the occasion. My late grandfather used to say : ‘susadikça çay, aciktikca çay’ which translates as ‘when you’re thirsty; çay, when you’re hungry; çay’.
That being said, having to go without tea for more than 18 hours a day for a whole month, can be quite a challenge. Teatime follows an hour or two after iftar and is meant to somewhat ‘wash away’ the heavy meal. Turks absolutely love being outside, so during the summer, tea is served at the patio, around a cozy fire. All sorts of ‘healthy snacks’ are served with the tea, like dates, nuts, dried figs and apricots, etc. In the weekends teatime can last until suhoor, neighbors and family join around the cosy fire, long conversations are held – about religion, politics, events from the past or deceased loved ones. Ramadan for us is not just fasting or coming together with family. It’s also reminiscing about those who are no longer with us, we commemorate them during our gatherings, and of course, in our prayers.
Ramadan Mubarak to everyone!