Dinner is ready, come and dine!

In Turkey, dinners shared with family members or close friends mean more than just a meal.

Particularly Ramadan dinners in Turkey, dinners and weekend breakfast meals, are among the social settings where families and friends gather together. Family members come together at dinner meals and weekend breakfast meals. Children eat in a separate area, if the table is overly crowded due to special events such as religious festivals, marriage, circumcision feasts. With different sorts of foods that seems like a feast, these tables create special opportunities for stimulating relations between family members and friends.

The Sultan of eleven months: Ramadan dinners

Ramadan is known as the “Sultan of eleven months” among Turks. Various religious and social rituals are performed during this period. Muslims eats only two meals—iftar and suhur—during Ramadan.

People are notified of the time to break their fast, by hearing the cannonball and reciting the adhan. People fasting the whole day, break the fast by eating date palms, olives or drinking water. Prayers satisfy their hunger by first by eating “special iftar foods” such as cheese, olives and hot Ramadan pita. Then comes the soup, in order to relax the stomach to prepare for the next course. Then come meats, olive oil dishes, pies and rice-pasta... Rose pudding is the special Ramadan sweet, made of milk and rose water. Fasting families host each other during Ramadan. Big companies organize iftar dinners for its employees. While people cook different foods at these times, you must not tire your stomach too much.

Turkish breakfast is now a brand

Eating three times a day actually started with the industrialisation in the world, and in Turkey. In the beginning, people used to eat at 10:00–11:00 and 16:00–18:00 in two meals per day. The word “breakfast (kahvalti)” in Turkish, refers to an expression for relaxing the stomach before drinking the first Turkish coffee of the day, which literally means “Before the coffee (kahve alti)”. In the past, people did not prepare a wide range of food. They used to eat soup, cheese, honey or molasses. However, breakfast menus have prospered over the last 20 to 30 years. Although people now prefer eating practical foods such as toast or cereals before going to work, weekend breakfast meals still stand out. These meals are turning into special organizations where all family members or friends come together. Taking hours-long, and appearing like brunch, these meals include different cheese types, olives, marmalade types, bread, pastry, pancakes, butter, honey and cream. “Turkish breakfast” almost transforms into a brand, with the addition of pastrami and fried eggs with garlic sausages. After the founding of the Republic, tea started to appear on breakfast tables, especially with the production in the Black Sea Region.

From floor tables to dinner tables: modernization

Each table has its own characteristics, whether in the past or today. For example, people used to sit on the floor crossing their legs and ate on a tablecloth, or on a tray placed directly on the floor. No one would talk while eating. Everyone used to eat their food quickly and leave the meal. They used to line up the daily available foods on the floor, instead of taking each food item from the kitchen one by one. Everyone would eat from the same plate set right in the middle.

With urbanisation and modernisation, people started to eat at the table and with different plates. Now soups, meaty main dishes, rice or pastas, are brought to the table one by one. Salad and foods with olive oil, are placed on the table. Therefore, people enjoy spending longer hours at the table. Dinner tables have been transformed into settings where family members spend time together and chat. Now, plates are separated but hearts are integrated.

Traditions on hosting guests has also changed. In the past, when a guest would arrive home in the rural areas, they absolutely used to offer him/her meals. This behavior was a sign of Turkish hospitality. But the guests would not tell homeowners when he/she would come beforehand. For this reason, homeowners used to bring another spoon to the table when a guest came. There is even a Turkish proverb that says, “A guest does not eat what he hopes, but what he finds.” Today special invitations have replaced unconventional visits. Nowadays, people invite guests in advance, and prepare special foods. When going for visits like this, bringing a small gift with you, like a bouquet of flowers, or cake, is regarded as a sign of kindness.

The changing of table manners

Table manners have changed along with eating habits. For example, before, you had to clean up your plate with bread. It was regarded as extravagance if you left anything on your plate. Even today, it is still not acceptable to leave anything on your plate, but you don’t need to clean up your plate with bread though.

Elder family members generally sit at the front of the table. Especially for dinners, everyone takes great care to be at home for dinner. It is not acceptable to: eat bread crumbs, or take big bites, putting your hands under the table or resting an elbow on the table, picking teeth without toothpick or explicitly, and starting to eat before the host. A knife is used with the right hand and the fork is used with the left hand. If you do not use a knife, then you hold the fork with your left hand. The Fork, spoon and knife are not put on the table after eating. You must thank cooks, or those who prepared the dinner by saying “God bless your hands” after eating. This means “a wish for healthier hands,” for those who cooked the dinner. You will then get the response “afiyet olsun” (bon appetit) in return, which refers to receiving abundance and health, instead of “enjoy the dinner” as in Western languages.