Food and Customs

Günaydın students! (Goon-eye-dun) [Good morning]

I was glad to see so many of you enjoyed some of the more historical sights of Istanbul. I will be posting more sights as I find them so don’t worry!

But as promised this week we will be looking a bit more at some of the cuisine and customs of the country. I’m going to cover a few of the main and most noticeable ones as there is A LOT of amazing food here! Similar like the art and architecture, every group that has called Turkey home over the centuries has left its mark on the table so to speak!

But let’s start with the most important meal of the day: Breakfast. So we know that Portland is pretty well known for how it handles its B-fast, so I was especially curious to see how this would be in Istanbul; let’s just say it was not disappointing at all! Instead of having one or two main things to eat, typical Turkish breakfast is a meal of options and spreads; there is all kinds of jams, honey, cheeses, and sweets to choose from. I posted an interactive picture so you can scroll over some of the foods for descriptions here

But something that you will see all the time, all over the country is undoubtedly — çay – tea

Typically served in a glass tulip-shaped glass like this
Typically served in a glass tulip-shaped glass like this

Tea is served at almost all times of the day, but you will almost always see it being served with breakfast especially. It is a black loose leaf (similar to earl grey) that turns red when it is brewed and served with sugar usually. People will have a glass throughout the day, on their breaks, at work, or when guests come to visit.

Men enjoying çay and tavla (backgammon) a popular leisure game
Men enjoying çay and tavla (backgammon) a popular leisure game
Everyone enjoys a good tea ;)
Everyone enjoys a good tea 😉

Another popular food, especially on the streets, is kebab. These are really similar to Greek “Gyros” (in fact we have 2 turkish kebab foodcarts in Portland). Traditionally it is lamb or beef chunks that are put on giant spits, roasted, and then very thinly shaved off into sandwiches.

kebab sandwichKebab

Last week I was invited to my friend Ali’s house. He was going to make us food typical for his area of Turkey, Antakya, very close to the Syrian border in Mesopotamia. Typically in this area, most of the cuisine is very spicy, which is great for me because I am a fiend for hot food! Here’s another interactive photo of this dinner here.

Customs and Superstitions

My first impressions of Turkey was how friendly the people were. It is very common for people in your neighborhood to greet you and I have been invited to tea several times. Most people are excited that foreigners are curious about their country and if you know a word or two of Turkish they are delighted that you are making an effort to speak their language.

In greetings, Turks are much more informal than Americans. A typical first greeting is to shake hands, but after your initially introduction, it is common to greet people with a kiss on both cheeks or even a hug, for both men and women, depending on how comfortably you know them. Men are much more touchy with each other, it is very natural to see man walking with their arms locked or even holding hands. This isn’t a sign of sexuality but rather how close of friends they may be.

Another interesting custom happens sometimes when you are drinking a cup of turkish coffee. As explained above, this coffee has the coffee grounds at the bottom of the cup, looking a little like sludge. But when someone has finished a cup, many times friends will “read the grounds”, similar to reading tarot cards. They will look for images and symbols to predict the persons future. This practice of reading ones future is called fal.. it can range from actual businesses predicting future to joking fun between friends. Reading palms is also apart of this.

fal cup
To read your fal, after drinking your coffee, it is turned upside down and left to cool for a moment
fal cup2
when it is turned off, somebody will look for symbols left in the coffeegrounds

Typically, Turks have many interesting customs that make them very distinct from other peoples. Traditionally, many of these are superstitious in nature. I was interested to find out many superstitions are shared between our culture: walking under a ladder is EXTREMELY unlucky, breaking a mirror, almost anything doing with a black cat, in fact there is a common phrase in turkish regarding this:

Aramızda bir kara kedi var – literally between us a black cat there is , meaning “there is some bad feelings between us, all isn’t well with us”

Similar to many other cultures in the world, some Turks believe in the notion of an “evil eye” (nazar). The concept is basically if someone is jealous of you or the things that you own, they may inadvertently put a “hex” or bad jinx on you, basically cursing you. Turks have an amulet that is supposed to protect them from the evil eye someone may put on them. It is a blue amulet with an eye on it… you can see people hanging this in their car, on jewelery, in their homes, etc. While often it is more a cultural expression than actual belief (think of some of the religious icons you see in daily life), it is seen everywhere here.

 nazar1 nazar2

When a compliment is give to somebody (new baby is born, someone gets marriend)  (How beautiful your baby is, may you be happy! etc) superstitious people will often add the phrase “Maşallah” (praise be!) afterwards because according to tradition otherwise you might accidentally put a jinx on them! These traditions are becoming less noticeable, usually among st the older population but you will still hear people giving greetings like this just out of habit.

So in looking at some of the things we discussed here, I’m curious to hear about your thoughts. For this week’s assignment:

1. What did you enjoy most about this post?

2. What is your favorite food and where (if you know) does it come from?

3. What’s a tradition/custom/superstition that you know of and what makes it unique?

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60 thoughts on “Food and Customs”

  1. the buildings look really cool! and also, if it is chunks of meat is actually called souvlaki me peta, and is very delicious if made correctly. i really like the picture of all of the blue glass eyes and we see them all over in america. my favorite food is hard to decide, so im going to go with my favorite greek food: would probably be fresh fried eggplant made by a greek grandmothers.
    yia sou!
    clea 🙂

  2. I liked the picture of the cat with the cup of “cay”. I have always been a tea drinker and it’s interesting to see new types. My favorite food is onion rings (I know they are unhealthy) and they come from Walla Walla county in Washington. A tradition I know of is Easter and as you know it’s a holiday where you celebrate the rebirth of Jesus.

    Until next time 🙂

  3. I’m really surprised that Turks are that superstisious, my favorite food is tomato soup, but I don’t know where that comes from, and I like that some people think that black cats are bad, but I had one for 2 years!

  4. Yay! Cat photos again! Anyway, favorite food: German pancakes (basically fried apples with some pancake batter and a ton of cinamon sugar) made by my Grossmama (German word for grandma). But I only see her maybe twice a year :(. My dad does make them but they aren’t as good. A tradition/custom of my family is every Christmas we visit my grandma (the one with the pancakes) in Santa Barbara, CA, and it’s sort of a lucky thing for me, because once we had Christmas in NYC and it sucked. (I hate mega cities. They stink. Literally.)

  5. That post made me hungry! My favorite part of the post was looking at all the food and I liked the idea of reading the future of someone from their coffee grounds. My favorite food is any good stir fry and they come from Asia. I don’t know any unique traditions or customs. I can’t wait for your next post!

  6. I really liked seeing all of the foods and seeing what Turkish people eat. My favorite food is chocolate cake because I like chocolate and I really like cake. My family always does an “apple festival” where we get a bunch of different types of apples and then we rate them based on how good they taste.

  7. 1. What did you enjoy most about this post?

    2. What is your favorite food and where (if you know) does it come from?

    3. What’s a tradition/custom/superstition that you know of and what makes it unique?

    I enjoyed seeing what the Turkish eat. I eat gyros sometimes, and I like them a lot. My favorite food is ice cream, especially chocolate ice cream, and I have ice cream a lot. A superstition that I have is having the two pillows on my bed facing right.

  8. I agree with luke. I ame very hungry!. my favorite part was the large kabob picture. Yum! My favorite food is my dads posole. its kind of crummy at first, but after a week in the freezer, the flavor is TREMENDOUS! one of my customs is to play soccer as much as i can. more food posts please!

  9. I enjoyed reading about the informal greetings, and how a hug would make you feel much more welcome to the country than a handshake would.
    My favorite food is a chocolate chip cookie, and I do not know where it originated, but it tastes amazing!
    I do not know any traditions or customs, but in my neighborhood, it is common for a family that just moved in, to host a party, or a get together with everyone who lives on the road. There are usually a lot of adults inside eating and talking, while all the kids are outside running around.

  10. I really enjoyed how you could see all the different foods with the interactive picture. My favorite food is Tirimisu and it is an Italian desert. In England one tradition is that if when you finish food that is served to you at a restaurant or a friends house if you cross your knife and fork is is considered rude as it is saying that you did not enjoy your food, however if you leave them side by side on your plate then it is a compliment telling the cook you enjoyed their food.

    3. What’s a tradition/custom/superstition that you know of and what makes it unique?

  11. I really enjoyed this post because food and I are best friends :). I love Shahi Paneer which is from Northern India (my parents grew up in India. Just recently, there was Diwali, the indian festival of lights, and I think its really unique because I love the sweets that they make for it!

    1. Anya,
      I’ve always wanted to experience Diwali and the Color Festival, they seem like such spectacular and fun customs to celebrate! Glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for your comment!

  12. My favorite thing about this post was the amulet because I’ve believed in those things like jinxing and curses just not excessively. I don’t really have a favorite food but I really like meat as opposed to lots of the girls in my school. I have to go, sorry!

    1. Sophie
      Thanks for your comment! Traditions serve a interesting purpose, even if a person doesn’t literally believe them, I think they help to pass on stories and beliefs, so glad that you take an interest in them!

  13. I enjoyed the advertisement with the really fat cat drinking tea. My favorite food is pizza, the most brilliant thing to ever come out of Italy. Also I just realized that my brother has a nazar in his room!! He does not even know what it means! Someone GAVE it to him…

    1. Sorry, I made a mistake in the comment. My brother has an amulet, NOT a nazar. He is 15 now, but when he was in 7th grade, someone who went to Istanbul and blogged with his class gave it to him. I think that’s pretty cool!

  14. my favorite food is the “gyros”.i want to eat one! the pictures made me hungry. i have a superstition that my couch eats quarters that fall out of my pockets

  15. Most of turkeys culture and food is related to my families culture so I could sort of relate to this post for example my mom does make kebab and really tasty kebab! also I really like gyros so they might be my favorite food also I really like Japanese or Mongolian food. my grandma believes in the evil eye and is constantly reminding us to say Maşallah after complements. Tea is part of daily life in my culture anytime somebody vists or stops by to say hi it almost seems mandatory to invite them for tea. Awesome cat picture! thanks

    1. Asmaa
      Thanks for the reply! Glad you liked the cat photo, I think he’s pretty representative of the “laid back” tea culture here. Grandparents are always really good collectors and conveyors of tradition, glad that it’s being passed down to you also!

  16. I thought it was interesting how people said “praise be” after a complement to avoid putting a curse on the recipient. I also was surprised how even some businesses read coffee grounds to predict the future of their company. As for my favorite food, I like a lot of classics like tacos and burgers. As for a superstition that I find surprising, I am shocked by how something as innocuous as a number can be a target for superstition (like 13).

    1. Ben
      Thanks for the comment! In turkey, superstitions are an interesting interweaving of religious and traditional customs. The number 13 is also an unlucky number here also!

  17. I liked learning about the evil eye. I’ve seen it around such as on a bracelet, but I never knew really what it was for (now I do). My favorite food probably has to be any type of pasta (originating from Italy). I love the varieties! A superstition I know of is something a lot of Chinese families do. You’re supposed to eat noodles on your birthday to make your life longer because, you know, noodles are long. 🙂

    1. Joy,
      I was intrigued as well to learn about this custom, apparently it exists in certain asian, european and latin american cultures also!
      Hmmm.. a noodle-holic like me could benefit from this tradition you spoke of!

  18. I thought how superstitious people are was pretty interesting. I’m not superstitious but one of my moms’ family is pretty superstitious so as a result of her being brought up in a very superstitious household she gets nervous when we do something like opening up umbrellas inside.
    My favorite food, well it’s hard to say but I really like curry. Doesn’t really matter what kind, just curry.

    1. Susan
      Opening your umbrella inside is REALLY a superstitious thing here also! And kinda problematic right now cuz it is raining ALL THE TIME currently! Thanks for the comment!

  19. The thing I enjoyed most about the post was learning about all the different foods that Turkish people eat. It was interesting to learn that tea is commonly served in Turkey, because tea is like a universal cultural staple for many societies.
    I don’t really have a favorite food, but I think one of my favorites is a Taiwanese dessert called Ang-Gu-Guai. It is shaped like a turtle and has turtle shell designs on the back. The outside is like a dough and the inside is red bean paste.
    A tradition I know of is a Chinese/Taiwanese custom about serving tea. When someone pours your tea for you, you tap two fingers on the table as a show of thanks. This tradition comes from an old Chinese story about an emperor that went out to a city one day dressed as a commoner. He and his aides sat down to eat, and their server poured their tea in a special way. The emperor was fascinated, and when his aides’ cups were empty, he tried to pour their tea. The emperor’s aides were so surprised that their king would pour their tea, but they couldn’t reveal that the supposed commoner was actually the emperor, so they curled their fingers in the shape of someone bowing and tapped the table. So sometimes nowadays, if someone pours your tea, you tap the table with two fingers to show your thanks.

    1. Natalie
      That is pretty cool to learn about tea customs in Taiwan! Interesting to hear how people communicate stuff outside of words I think. Your response made me think of another Turkish custom. If someone says something that could be construed as a jinx or an omen, Turks sometimes will tap the table/desk/counter three times, and then immediately tug on their earlobe to “unjinx” the situation…. maybe that’s where we get the “knock on wood” thing!

  20. I enjoyed learning that Turks are more casual than Americans. My favorite food is anything you can find at a dim sum restaurant. Din sum originated in China. A custom that my mom’s extended family has is red envelopes on Chinese new year.Also involved in Chinese new year is a lot of delicious food

  21. I enjoyed learning about how common tea is, because I don’t drink tea that often, but apparently everyone in Turkey does. I have a lot of different favorite foods, and I guess it kinda depends on how I’m feeling, but right now, I like ice cream. I don’t really know where that originated, probably in America. My favorite tradition is Christmas, because you can play in the snow.

  22. I enjoy reading about how they read your fal with the different coffee grounds My favorite food is blueberries and they obviously come from the ground. One of my superstitions is that I listen to the same songs before every baseball game.

  23. I really liked learning about what foods are eaten in Turkey because I really like food and love to try new food. (I know my family will be trying some of these foods soon) I really like hot chocolate and I had the best hot chocolate ever at this restaurant in Minneapolis(I went there recently but I forgot the name) Hot chocolate was invented in Mexico by the Aztecs then it was brought to Europe by explorers. I know of the superstition of holding your breath when you go through a tunnel and a bunch of my friends like to do this.

    1. Hannah
      Thanks for the comment! It’s surprising how many common foods we got from the colonization of the New World, chocolate especially!
      In turkey, there is the common superstition that you if you pass by a cemetery, you should whistle or hum a tune so that souls will not disturb you… kinda similar!

  24. I enjoyed the picture of the cat with the cup o’ tea. Seriously, that is beautiful. I like bánh hỏi because they’re awesome. They’re from Vietnam. Umm . . . . . I think the superstitious traditions of Tết are really interesting, though some are demeaning to certain groups of people, which I shall not elaborate on. I just find the origins of these superstitions very interesting.

    1. Linh
      Yes, yes, and yes to bahn hoi! There was a really great vietnamese restaurant near me in Portland that always made this little delights perfectly!
      On superstition origins here in Turkey, many of these that I talked about in the blog pre-date the introduction of Islam into the land about 1,000 years ago. Before that, many of the peoples here either worshiped ancient greek/roman religions, but many of the nomads also had their own shamanistic religions. The turk tribes specifically worshiped Tengri, the sky god. That is where the blue eye amulet comes from!

  25. I liked learning about people reading their fortune in coffee grounds. Even though I know it is a real tradition, it reminded me of Professor Trelaney’s class (from Harry Potter). My favorite food is cauliflower khichari, which I’m not really sure how to spell. I think it’s an Indian recipe. I always find superstitions about black cats interesting, because I have a black cat, whom I love (though I love all cats). I don’t really know any unique customs or traditions.

  26. I liked that cat with its cup of tea, it looked so relaxing! Did you Photoshop it or is it really real? :3 I also liked the blue-eye amulets, they are very beautiful.
    I like many foods, and honestly there are all kinds of delicious foods, I can’t say which ones are my favorite. Though I like deserts, fruits, and berries the most; blueberries, pumpkin pie, watermelon, ice cream, and smoothies.
    In China there is a custom called Tang Fashion. It sounds weird, but it’s a type of clothing the Tang Dynasty used to where. You can check it out on Google Images. 😉

    1. Hi Nancy
      Unfortunately this one photo IS probably photoshopped and “borrowed” it from the internet…I will try and train King Trashmouth and Mr Kittles to be a little more photogenic however!

  27. I mostly liked learning how every country has their own weird superstitions and such. I don’t really have a favorite food, but I guess I like spicy things, like putting something on something to make it spicier. It probably doesn’t have a certain “place” where it’s from since every county has spices, but I mostly like China’s spices. In China, our relatives always give us money when we come over. They would even be crafty and try to be “sneaky” about it, like sneaking it into our pockets, under our pillows, or into our suitcases. It’s mostly to makes us feel welcome at their place.

  28. I wish I could be that cat, just chilling with his tea, that’s the life. I liked the picture of the giant pieces of lamb (I think that is what is was) it looks so delicious. My favorite type of food is probably Mexican food, I don’t know where it is from though… Ha. I also like fruit, all fruit, except for kiwi, kiwi is nasty. Strawberries are especially good. A superstition is always do the same warmup routine before a basketball game.

  29. I like the interactive dinner, I thought about trying to live there but I wouldn’t even last a breakfast… too spicy! My favorite food is probably Sushi or Mangoes, I guess all fruits sound awesome to me. A superstition I know about is the Native American dream catcher, I know about it since my friends ancestors were Native Americans. I just love the designs on it, and I have never actually had a bad dream at his house, pretty cool.

  30. I liked section about tea because sometimes I drink tea but I have never heard pf it turning red. My favorite food is probably steak. I really have no idea where that is from. One unique tradition I know about is in Judaism there are many holidays, one is called Sukkot. You have to make a little wood shelter and live in it for seven days. You do this to honor the Jews that had to walk through the desert to escape the Egyptians.

  31. I thought that it was really interesting how informal they are with greetings, what with how guys could hold hands or link arms just as friends. It’s so different than America!
    My favourite food is a pomegranate, though I do hate how hard they are to eat. They grow on trees.
    a tradition I have is brushing my teeth each night. sigh.

  32. I think that the most interesting thing about this post would probably be about the tradition with the coffee cup and looking for special symbols in the grounds, I think that it is very cool how they do that. My favorite food is probably caprese salad, which is an Italian dish which has tomatoes balsamic vinegar and basil leaves, I think it is a perfect combination of those ingredients. The only tradition that I know of is something I learned while in Italy. While eating pasta, sometimes they try to see the people that are historic in their culture, which I think is amazing considering it must never be true.

  33. That cat photo is so cute!!! Ok, my favorite food is pizza ( yes, I am cliche) and I know that comes from Italy. Here in America you are supposed to hold your breath over bridges. It is unique because it is fun to do and there are no religious ties to it.

  34. I probably enjoyed the interactive pictures the most. Being able to see what the food looks like and having it described is very helpful in imagining how it tastes.
    My favorite food is pizza and last time I checked it originated from Italy.
    A tradition that I know of that is very unique is probably the Indian holiday Holy where you splash each other with bright colored powders.

  35. I liked the tea part because I kind of have a personal connection. Kind of. In Taiwan, where I was born, what we call black tea here is called red tea because it’s actually red, people, not black! I don’t really have a favorite food in particular but I do like anything with meat. That comes from anywhere in the world where people have any common sense as to what to eat. I’m not knocking vegetarians/vegans, just my personal opinion. Every Christmas, my family, specifically my household and my grandparents and sometimes cousins, goes somewhere on vacation and we catch up and hang out and eat lots of Norwegian food(dad’s side of the family). I guess that’s unique because it’s specifically my family.

  36. I thought the part about tea was great, it reminded me of my asian heritage, plus I LOVE tea. My favorite food is sushi, which came from Japan?? I don’t really know of any special traditions or holiday, besides X-mas, Easter, ect.

  37. Something really important to me was the tea part in my family it is chai. Having arab-pakistani heritage tea with s something that is always a given. We drink anything from mint tea to black tea. My favorite food is home food like lamb and rice and home made food in general. I don’t really have any superstitions.

  38. I really like the food Ali made even though I might’ve not liken it. My favorite food is many things like seafood, Vietnamese traditional foods, pizza, sushi, MEAT like steak, chicken, etc.

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