Freshly-baked Turkish bread is irresistible. Don’t you agree? But it’s important to know that in Turkey bread is regarded as more than a simple foodstuff made from grain. They say: ‘Bread is in the mouth of the lion’.
By Cindy Olcan
In Turkey, large amounts of bread are consumed every day. The average Turkish family eats them at just about every mealtime: breakfast, lunch and dinner. But Turkish bread is considered more than just food.
It’s seen as a fundament of existence.
What people work for.
What prevents hunger.
It sounds serious, and that’s exactly how they feel about it in Turkey. Throwing bread away, or stepping on it, is considered a sin. There’s even a ritual carried out by Turkish people, should they see bread dropped on the street: they will pick it up and transfer it three times between their lips and forehead. These days you only normally see older people do that, but the younger ones are very aware of it.
You’ll also see people, if they notice bread on the ground, pick it up and put it somewhere else, for example on the grass. You’ll also see bags of bread hanging on rubbish bins. People do that because they don’t want to throw it away. They rather want to give it to someone else who has animals to feed, for example. The Turkish culture is such that the wasting of even the smallest crumb of bread is simply not done.
Proverbs about Turkish bread
Turkish bread is mentioned in all manner of proverbs and every day sayings. If someone ignores a piece of bread, they say: arkandan ağlama, meaning that it’s crying after you. If someone asks ‘why do you work?’, the usual response is: ekmek parası için, meaning for my bread-money.
In Turkey people also swear by bread: ekmek el basmak. ‘I’ll never leave you, ekmek el basmak’: I swear it on my bread.
The importance of the role of Turkish bread
There are various theories as to why bread plays such a significant role in Turkish society. The first centres on religion. The Koran says that the angel Gabriel taught Adam, after being exiled from paradise by God, how to make bread from grain, so that he would always have something to eat. Adam in turn passed his knowledge on to others. In Turkey, bakers still regard Adam as the patron saint of bakeries, and bread as the gift of Allah.
There’s also a Turkish saying that sums it up nicely: ‘bread is in the mouth of the lion’ (ekmek aslanın ağzında). It implies that it is a struggle to make a living. It’s as hard to put bread on the table as it is to get bread from the mouth of a lion. Not all that long ago a majority of Turkish people were extremely poor and existed primarily on bread. Bread with onions, bread with potatoes. Many families still rely on bread to be able to sleep on full stomachs at the end of the day.
This is why, for many Turks, the wasting of bread is considered to represent disrespect for God, as well as for those who are less fortunate and who struggle to find enough to eat in a day.
To avoid that stale bread is thrown away, the government is putting special ‘bread bins’ everywhere. Please don’t confuse them with a trash bin! You can recognize the bread bin by the bread picture on the front. If you have some stale bread left, don’t throw it in the normal bin. You can do several things: just find a bread bin or tie the bag with the bread to the normal waste container. Stale bread is collected and used as animal fodder.
The Turkish government also believes in bread being available for everyone. It’s why prices are kept artificially low. There are state-owned bakeries (where the so-called halk ekmek or ‘peoples bread’ is baked) and private enterprises. State-owned bakeries get huge discounts on ingredients, while the other bakeries do not. Since all bakeries have to accept the pricing regime of the state-owned bakeries, it can be hard work to maintain a business’ financial wellbeing.
Most bakeries produce around ten different kinds of bread. The vast majority of this is the ordinary kind of bread sold in local supermarkets. The other kinds of bread are available from the bakery shop itself. Fresh bread is delivered to the markets three times a day: early in the morning, around noon and at the end of the afternoon.
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