A Not So Turkish Life

Food, life changing food.

Stirred through with honey gifted us by refugees, sprinkled with cinammon someone else has picked for a fraction of a salary a day, the indulgence of privilege I barely even recognise that goes into one single coffee is unreal. Living in the UK its far easier to make ethical choices without compromising on lifestyle. To Turks and Brits tea is a lifeline akin to water, but unlike Turkey where brewing tea is a laborious process involving a double teapot on the stove, Brits brew many a cup right there in the mug. The convenience of teabags has been transferred to coffee also, and if you’re offered a choice of tea or coffee, chances are both will be instant. The demand for instant coffee and teabags over loose leaf or freshly ground means UK supermarket tea and coffee aisles are things of pure joy. Fair trade, Italian or Columbian, whatever you look for in java you can find in an instant cup. Here, not so much. Whilst the selection of teabags is improving significantly and it’s easy to buy local if you choose, instant coffee seems to be stuck at a toss up between not so good, bad and drinkable and so, if you’re not going to let go of the habit of drinking coffee as though it were water, the drinkable not only becomes surprisingly acceptable but the only available choice if you want convenience when shopping for it.

Before we moved to Iznik I’d never given much thought to where olives and olive oil came from. (In fact, much to locals amusement, the first time I saw an olive tree, I picked an olive and bit it: you really don’t want to do that!) Cleaning up the breakfast trays, I’d have no qualms about scrapping a single olive into the bin or pouring excess oil away. Our boys wouldn’t do either. They’ve grown up surrounded by people harvesting olives and know not only how the process works but how demanding a job it also is. There’s no difference in their beautiful minds between throwing out a whole steak or a single tiny olive. They’re growing up in a country where an 8 hour day picking in fields, backbreaking physical work, pays 50tl a day on average(a little under £15). Little as they are they know the labour that goes into food reaching our table and as they grow they’ll see the money that does too – not only what we pay to buy it, but what is paid to produce it and the disparities there are there. They’ll know and see that the people who pick our breakfast olives may not be able to eat these olives everyday because their salaries wont cover it and that olive left on the plate? They know someone stood on tiptoes atop a rickety wooden ladder to reach it.

Growing up my favourite foods were homemade. Grandma’s bread, Mum’s chocolate cake, damson jam made with fruits picked from the tree my Grandad pruned. I’m pretty sure all these made my favourite list due in part to the personal touch. Living on a farm my teenage years brought a deeper understanding of other foods usually supermarket produce. No eggs taste better than those fresh from the hen (especially if the hens are named Speckle and Fleckle), duck eggs are better in cake and if  you’ve spent a winters evening in front of the fire plucking and gutting a pheasant you’re going to suck every last morsel from those bones. An appreciation of food and its sources had been strongly cultivated long before I read ‘Shopped’ though it was certainly this culminative read that turned me from a supermarket bargain hunter into a basket touting greengrocer fed, bone boiling student – back when it was still weird to be so. Coffee aside, continuing this more connected approach to food is far easier in turkey than the UK; in fact, our  lifestyle dictates we live and eat this way.

Wednesday is market day and while it may sound a little quaint to say peoples weeks are set around it, it wouldn’t be too far from the truth because if you miss the bazaar fresh fruit and veg is less available than if you live in a city. For us, being able to set Wednesdays as bazaar days is one of the greatest blessings G working from home gives us. Two kids and 20+ kilos of produce is no mean feat to navigate alone. When we were in Istanbul after T was born, G would often do the bazaar shop alone because the unforgiving nature of narrow streets rammed with delicacies balanced precariously on makeshift stalls meant either a pram or a curious hand-holding tot was a precarious liability. Now we go together. Lunch becomes a shorter affair and G’s lunchbreak is taken helping me choose our food for the week. The boys job is to pick out the eggs carefully from the basket, choosing clean ones rather than big ones; eggs laid in gardens local to us by chickens grazing on veggie scraps.


We have a “salad uncle” and a potatoe guy, a gem of a stall where we find such rarities as corriander and purple carrots, and fish appears only when fish is in season. Filling our home with food is part of the rhythm of our life, and our religion. During the month of Hajj when Muslim pilgrims travel to Mecca, our children bond with the animals brought to be sold as sacrificial animals for Eid. We pet the rams, feed the cows and hold our noses when we walk past the goats. Similarly, we talk openly and matter-of-factly about how the sacrificial process happens and why it’s important. They understand, and subhanallah see, that families in Turkey don’t always have money for meat; that a kilo of cubed beef is a whole turkey to a family who uses bone broth for flavour and nutrition year round.Meat is precious, olives are valued and fruit is a bounty to look forward to. Together, jams are boiled, tomatoes are preserved and peas frozen and stashed for the winter. The boys are connected to food and its meanings in a deeper way than I ever will be, no matter how I read or research. From these boys, who save their scraps for the street dogs and share every pistachio equally with whoever’s around, I can take a lesson anew and that lesson’s a bit like those bazaar eggs; it’s not about the biggest or best looking, but about the cleanliness of the product you’ll eat. And I can’t, with all conscience, keep drinking down ill-gotten coffee, or paying into unethical companies. So the questions are now, which instant coffee’s better- Kahve Dunyasi or Tchibo?? -, can I really let go of Starbucks’ Kenyan Roast, and could I ever let go of the habit?





This entry was published on 09/21/2016 at 19:46 and is filed under Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

One thought on “Food, life changing food.

  1. Pingback: Catch Up | A Not So Turkish Life

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