In Turkey, coffee is the last thing we think of when it comes to recovering from hangover. Instead, with throbbing heads and uneasy stomachs, we turn to lentil soup or kokoreç (crispy and hot lamb intestine wrapped in white bread).
In Turkey, plain yogurt is served on every single dinner table. Almost no meal goes without it, so when you don’t have it for a day or two, you immediately feel that something very essential is missing.
You go as far as eating yogurt with fish, even though your mom has warned you many times that this combination might lead to food poisoning in case the fish is not fresh. Yet, there is a delicious way to have them both at the very same table when they’re served as cold dishes. When abroad, you search every single supermarket for that same homely taste you’re known for the last 30 years and what Danone has to offer does not cut it to satisfy your craving.
In Turkey, when you greet elderly people, you kiss their hands out of respect. It’s not an obligation, but sometimes this tradition imposes itself, like when you forget to do it and you feel a hand touching your nose. If you are kid, you try to avoid doing it or you usually roll your eyes and do it as fast and unwillingly as you can and while your parents nag you about it. When you grow up, it becomes a reflex that you tend to do it to all elderly people, wherever you are.
Some Turkish people have a special gift. They can tell you about your life and your future simply by looking at the pattern inside your Turkish coffee cup. Some take it seriously, while others, like me, do it among friends just for fun. Fortune telling services are offered in certain cafés when you order Turkish coffee. No matter how superstitious they are, most Turkish people at least know that the symbol “fish” means good luck/wealth and that “teardrop” indicates cheerful news.
Nazar boncuğu (“evil-eye bead”) is a blue glass bead with a symbolic eye on it. The word nazar indicates bad luck or a wicked cursed called upon you. It’s a common, irreplaceable decorative item in Turkish homes. We also attach a tiny sized nazar boncuğu to newborn babies or someone taking an important exam.
Raki is a very special drink for us Turks. Many of the greatest nights out with friends take place around what we call raki sofrası, or raki table. Apart from the essential side dishes like white cheese and melon, the table is often covered with delicious Turkish cold dishes called mezes.
Sometimes when you exaggerate the amount of raki you drink, you’ll hear a friend or your parent say, “Ağzınla iç şunu!” (“Drink it with your mouth”) as a way to warn the drinker to not overindulge. In the wee hours of the night, you may end up having friendly conversations with strangers at the table nearby, talk politics, attempt to save the world, discuss who is the drunkest, and even offer a small bottle of raki to your new friends.
Even in 35-degree weather, Turks drink tea. Çay is the first thing that comes after a meal, and several times in between meals. It is often enjoyed in its original glass, an incebelli. Turkish tea is prepared in a çaydanlık which is a two-level pot. In the upper part we put tea leaves, whereas the lower part only contains boiling water helping the tea on top get infused. Turks don’t really like using tea bags. When abroad, the Lipton tea bags are always somewhat disappointing.
It is a widely common ritual to pour some water behind a car or behind someone who goes on a road trip. The water is supposed to make their journey as smooth as possible. It is often combined with the saying: “Su gibi git, gel,” meaning “Go and come back, like water.” People living in apartments, whatever the floor they live on, maintain this ritual despite the potential consequences. I remember one time, when we were sending a friend off, we threw water behind her car from the third floor and ended up drenching a passerby from head to toe!
Photo: Oğuzhan Abdik