Ramazan Bayrami - Experiencing Ramadan in Southern Turkey
Istanbul has the majestic blue mosque and the charm of the east and the west but down in the South, closer to Syria, where traditions and religiosity runs deeper, we experienced a different environment and sincere hospitality and through the Ramazan period in Turkey.
pool of sacred fish, Sanliurfa
On the days leading up to Bayram, we headed off from Istanbul to Sanliufa, where we wandered around the romantic narrow and dusty streets. Like most of the locals headed down to the bazaar in ancient town in preparation for Bayram to shop around for new clothes and sweets, we went down to pick up some Turkish delights for our host and then pulled away and from the crowds to lull away the time away. For some part of the afternoon, we sat by the pool of sacred fish in the cool of the shade, people-watched and fed the fish and then slowly made our way back to Aslan Guest House as the sun started to set.
Back in the guest house, Özcan Aslan, an English teacher who runs it, invited us to break fast with his family and to enjoy the food that had been prepared by his wife during the course of the day. We gathered with his family and sat in the courtyard around the dinner tables and silently observed sunset; once the sun disappeared from sight, the feasting started. They first broke fast with by drinking a lot of water and then proceeded to the food laid out on the table. The lahmacun – spicy minced lamb on flat bread – the Turkish version of pizza, was surprisingly very spicy and delicious with a squeeze of lemon. Served with a variety of vegetables, I favoured the soft eggplant and the yoghurt coated vegetables to take some edge off that intense heat. And to finish it all, the ayran was lightly salted refreshing and felt cleansing to that heat that was still burning in my mouth. The meal that we shared was simple but it was a great way to experience Ramazan in Turkey. Where food and cooking become more difficult without the ability to taste, breaking fast with a family made it all more special.
Pero and Halil
On the eve of Bayram, we headed off Yuvacali where we stayed with Pero and Halil, a Kurdish couple and enjoyed the silence, stillness and slower pace of things. We hid in the shade from the afternoon sun, hiked and learnt a little about archaeology and then waited for the right time to feast again. We slept on the roof, safe under mosquito nets and under the watch of the stars above. It was so beautiful.
The morning of Bayram started with me making unleaven bread whilst the boys were still snoring but once everyone got up and everyone was fed, we got ready for Bayram!
The adults were armed with sweet and smiles and the children with their well wishes and their empty candy bags. The children started to arrive. Amongst the first to arrive was Pero and Halil’s daughter, who returned from a sleepover at her cousin’s all dolled up in her new clothes and kissed and wished their elders a happy Bayram in return received colourful and a variety sweets and candy. She chatted quickly with her mother, waved and was off to the next house for more sweets. We stayed a short while just as the visiting was starting but then had to move on, so we thanked hugged Pero and Halil for their hospitality were headed off to Gaziantep.
We had grand plans for Gaziantep. We were headed for Turkey’s gastronomic capital to feast but we failed to factor in Ramazan. We expected pistachios and baklava shops to line the streets but we were greeted by empty streets and closed doors but it was the first day of Bayram. Nonetheless, we were hopeful and tried to see if İmam Çağdaş was open for us to stuff ourselves silly on kebabs and baklava where we heard they were the best but all we saw was the front door. So that was our alternative food tour of Gaziantep, the gastronomic capital - where we witnessed how the city shuts down for Ramazan, where the streets were empty and unfortunately İmam Çağdaş was not open for us.
We experience Ramazan Bayram in Turkey with some inconveniences but the warmth shared at the table and the simplicity of rustic food that we were given – really nothing fancy but laced with a lot of love, we were really happy at that.