Taking the Turkish road to good health | TheFencePost.com

Taking the Turkish road to good health

Barbara Guilford
Cheyenne, Wyo.

Barbara GuilfordTurkish Table set for friends.

The Friendship Force Clubs of Cheyenne, Wyo., and Grand Junction, Colo., returned from their international exchange to Izmir, Turkey, bursting with newfound understandings.

The group gained a new view of an open and tolerant country through the gracious and thoughtful attention of our hosts in Turkish homes. Frank conversations and common connections blossomed as the participants sat down at the beautiful tables spread with delicious delicacies. Our new friends apparently relied on an old Turkish proverb that stated, “The road to the soul runs through the throat!”

Turkish homes are nurturing places. My husband Dennis and I stepped inside the front door to find a welcome sign that wrapped us in warmth. According to Turkish tradition, a stranger at one’s doorstep is considered “a guest from God” and is treated accordingly. A table was set for dinner even though it was close to 10 p.m. Food protocol in Turkey calls for eating three “sit-down meals” each day. Dinner starts when families get home from their busy day and gather for the most important meal of the day and we were now part of the family. The menu consisted of three or more dishes that were served in succession.

In Turkish homes guests might find a meze consisting of fruit, feta cheese and “ekmek,” freshly baked bread, dried marinated fish, greens in thick yogurt sauce, plates of cold vegetables cooked or fried in olive oil, deep-fried mussels and squid, and always tomatoes, cucumbers and squiggly peppers spread on the table. Raki, anise flavored grape juice liquor, is sometimes served with cheese or fruit. We soon tipped our glasses in a toast. Afiyet Olsun! (bon appetite), our first Turkish words, rolled from our mouths. Dinner started with chicken soup, followed by the main course of meat and vegetables cooked to perfection. A beautiful “welcome” cake was served with fruit to cap off the meal.

Making conversation was awkward. My husband and I were struggling with Turkish words. Ayca Erman, our hostess, was fluent in English and had corresponded with us ahead of our visit sending us words to learn. Phonetic pronunciations came from our Turkish phrase book. Cevat Erman, our host, was learning English. Using these tools and basic sign language we managed to get acquainted with our new friends. We talked until after midnight.

We slept soundly until 6 a.m., when we were awakened by the Muslim call to prayer. Kahvalti (breakfast) was served at 9 a.m. Freshly baked ekmek (bread) was served with a variety of cheese, butter and marmalades. Olives, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers were artfully arranged in the center of the table and served with Turkey’s gift to the world, yogurt. Boiled eggs were served each morning during the week-long stay. Cevat was at hand to serve cay or tea. Strong Turkish coffee was also available but is usually served in the living room for special occasions and sipped slowly.

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Turkey is credited with introducing coffee to Europe as Turks migrated from the steppes of Central Asia to the Anatolian peninsula bringing oriental influences all the way to Vienna. Tastes were refined and perfected during the Ottoman Empire for over 600 years as a wide variety of grains, fruits, meats and vegetables were introduced. Thirteen hundred kitchen staff of the Ottoman kitchens fed as many as 10,000 people a day by the 17th century. Feasts were prepared as well in neighborhoods that followed the example of the palace. Today that tradition continues, for during the holy month of Ramadan or other festive occasions doors are open to friends and others. Muslims are taught to provide for the poor.

The abundant lunch we were served at the office of the mayor of Izmir again surprised us. That was no ordinary lunch. Salad greens, olives and vegetables dishes were served with dollops of thick yogurt. A thick potato soup was served in a hollowed baked potato. Meat dishes such as kofte, meat balls, kebabs and dolma, stuffed grape leaves were served with eggplant and green beans. Our hosts persuaded us to try each selection. The cooks were requested to bring ayran, a yogurt drink. We loved it. Will power completely unraveled when the desert plates were circulated. Pumpkin, stewed in sugar, topped with ground nuts and whipped cream disappeared early on. Melons, grapes, apples, pears, figs and quince invited us to take a bite. Finally tahini helva, and baklava, showed up with a variety of milk puddings. Gluttony ruled while club leaders exchanged gifts and greetings.

We began to understand the importance of lunch when we learned that a food credit card for lunches is often given as a “fringe benefit” of employment. There are many cheap (lokantas) or specialty shops where you can order yemek (ready food) such as pide (pizza), or Corba (soup), or borek (filled pastries). Food carts offered cooked corn and chestnuts. We were invited to have cay (served in tiny glasses with tiny spoons) as we shopped for carpets, pottery, leather goods, spices or clothing. We sampled simit (baked circular bread) with our cay.

The eating and drinking went on for a week each meal better than the last. We were especially impressed with the seaside dining. Turkey is located on four seas and fish is a big component of the national diet. Even in Ankara, the capital located in the interior, guests can order quality grilled fish. Seaside restaurants allow an environment conducive to conversation. At one such dinner children and adults milled about sampling a marvelous meze of kalamari, fried mussels, fish eggs in a sauce and hamsi (anchovies) while the adults sipped Raki and Efis, Turkish upscale beer. Tulin Aksuner, Izmir Exchange Director, showed the cipura fish that Izmir provided for tourists including our clubs. Laughter and background music created ambiance as we watched the sun set on the Aegean Sea.

During our stay we visited the popular Turkish baths. We learned that some European countries such as Norway sent patients here each year for a month under a government initiative to restore the workers to good health. In addition to the thermal baths the facility provided wax treatment, electric therapy for backs and hips, all kinds of exercise and of course – the healthy food. A nearby hotel charged $1,152 that included accommodations and meals and treatments for 10 days.

We left our new friends in Izmir to take an extended 10-day tour of Turkey that gave us a close-up look at the world famous antiquities. We saw the abundant agriculture that provided our clubs with all the fresh food. That is another story for Turkey is one of the few nations of the world where farmers can grow everything its people eat. All major climates zones provide a wide variety of crops that are also exported.

Ambassadors and hosts hugged and dried tears in our eyes. We vowed to continue further communication with our extended Friendship Force family. We are forever grateful and appreciative for taking the Turkish road and when we returned to Wyoming and Colorado we discovered we had not gained weight.

The Friendship Force Clubs of Cheyenne, Wyo., and Grand Junction, Colo., returned from their international exchange to Izmir, Turkey, bursting with newfound understandings.

The group gained a new view of an open and tolerant country through the gracious and thoughtful attention of our hosts in Turkish homes. Frank conversations and common connections blossomed as the participants sat down at the beautiful tables spread with delicious delicacies. Our new friends apparently relied on an old Turkish proverb that stated, “The road to the soul runs through the throat!”

Turkish homes are nurturing places. My husband Dennis and I stepped inside the front door to find a welcome sign that wrapped us in warmth. According to Turkish tradition, a stranger at one’s doorstep is considered “a guest from God” and is treated accordingly. A table was set for dinner even though it was close to 10 p.m. Food protocol in Turkey calls for eating three “sit-down meals” each day. Dinner starts when families get home from their busy day and gather for the most important meal of the day and we were now part of the family. The menu consisted of three or more dishes that were served in succession.

In Turkish homes guests might find a meze consisting of fruit, feta cheese and “ekmek,” freshly baked bread, dried marinated fish, greens in thick yogurt sauce, plates of cold vegetables cooked or fried in olive oil, deep-fried mussels and squid, and always tomatoes, cucumbers and squiggly peppers spread on the table. Raki, anise flavored grape juice liquor, is sometimes served with cheese or fruit. We soon tipped our glasses in a toast. Afiyet Olsun! (bon appetite), our first Turkish words, rolled from our mouths. Dinner started with chicken soup, followed by the main course of meat and vegetables cooked to perfection. A beautiful “welcome” cake was served with fruit to cap off the meal.

Making conversation was awkward. My husband and I were struggling with Turkish words. Ayca Erman, our hostess, was fluent in English and had corresponded with us ahead of our visit sending us words to learn. Phonetic pronunciations came from our Turkish phrase book. Cevat Erman, our host, was learning English. Using these tools and basic sign language we managed to get acquainted with our new friends. We talked until after midnight.

We slept soundly until 6 a.m., when we were awakened by the Muslim call to prayer. Kahvalti (breakfast) was served at 9 a.m. Freshly baked ekmek (bread) was served with a variety of cheese, butter and marmalades. Olives, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers were artfully arranged in the center of the table and served with Turkey’s gift to the world, yogurt. Boiled eggs were served each morning during the week-long stay. Cevat was at hand to serve cay or tea. Strong Turkish coffee was also available but is usually served in the living room for special occasions and sipped slowly.

Turkey is credited with introducing coffee to Europe as Turks migrated from the steppes of Central Asia to the Anatolian peninsula bringing oriental influences all the way to Vienna. Tastes were refined and perfected during the Ottoman Empire for over 600 years as a wide variety of grains, fruits, meats and vegetables were introduced. Thirteen hundred kitchen staff of the Ottoman kitchens fed as many as 10,000 people a day by the 17th century. Feasts were prepared as well in neighborhoods that followed the example of the palace. Today that tradition continues, for during the holy month of Ramadan or other festive occasions doors are open to friends and others. Muslims are taught to provide for the poor.

The abundant lunch we were served at the office of the mayor of Izmir again surprised us. That was no ordinary lunch. Salad greens, olives and vegetables dishes were served with dollops of thick yogurt. A thick potato soup was served in a hollowed baked potato. Meat dishes such as kofte, meat balls, kebabs and dolma, stuffed grape leaves were served with eggplant and green beans. Our hosts persuaded us to try each selection. The cooks were requested to bring ayran, a yogurt drink. We loved it. Will power completely unraveled when the desert plates were circulated. Pumpkin, stewed in sugar, topped with ground nuts and whipped cream disappeared early on. Melons, grapes, apples, pears, figs and quince invited us to take a bite. Finally tahini helva, and baklava, showed up with a variety of milk puddings. Gluttony ruled while club leaders exchanged gifts and greetings.

We began to understand the importance of lunch when we learned that a food credit card for lunches is often given as a “fringe benefit” of employment. There are many cheap (lokantas) or specialty shops where you can order yemek (ready food) such as pide (pizza), or Corba (soup), or borek (filled pastries). Food carts offered cooked corn and chestnuts. We were invited to have cay (served in tiny glasses with tiny spoons) as we shopped for carpets, pottery, leather goods, spices or clothing. We sampled simit (baked circular bread) with our cay.

The eating and drinking went on for a week each meal better than the last. We were especially impressed with the seaside dining. Turkey is located on four seas and fish is a big component of the national diet. Even in Ankara, the capital located in the interior, guests can order quality grilled fish. Seaside restaurants allow an environment conducive to conversation. At one such dinner children and adults milled about sampling a marvelous meze of kalamari, fried mussels, fish eggs in a sauce and hamsi (anchovies) while the adults sipped Raki and Efis, Turkish upscale beer. Tulin Aksuner, Izmir Exchange Director, showed the cipura fish that Izmir provided for tourists including our clubs. Laughter and background music created ambiance as we watched the sun set on the Aegean Sea.

During our stay we visited the popular Turkish baths. We learned that some European countries such as Norway sent patients here each year for a month under a government initiative to restore the workers to good health. In addition to the thermal baths the facility provided wax treatment, electric therapy for backs and hips, all kinds of exercise and of course – the healthy food. A nearby hotel charged $1,152 that included accommodations and meals and treatments for 10 days.

We left our new friends in Izmir to take an extended 10-day tour of Turkey that gave us a close-up look at the world famous antiquities. We saw the abundant agriculture that provided our clubs with all the fresh food. That is another story for Turkey is one of the few nations of the world where farmers can grow everything its people eat. All major climates zones provide a wide variety of crops that are also exported.

Ambassadors and hosts hugged and dried tears in our eyes. We vowed to continue further communication with our extended Friendship Force family. We are forever grateful and appreciative for taking the Turkish road and when we returned to Wyoming and Colorado we discovered we had not gained weight.