In the context of culture, much has been said about Turkey: That Mesopotamia (which encompasses a huge part of current-day Turkey) was the cradle of civilization, that it is at the crossroads of modernity and tradition, and so on and so forth. While I, personally, cannot make any sort of grandiose statement like these, as a Turkish woman who has spent 24 years existing in the country, experiencing its culture, and writing a thesis on food culture’s geographical importance — I can confidently say that Turkish people love food. From undoing pant buttons, to taking digestive naps or short walks, and exhaling deep and quickly like we’re preparing for childbirth, we celebrate food and eating it in all its glory.
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Musa Dağdeviren, chef and owner of a restaurant called Çiya in Istanbul, set out to document many of the traditional dishes all over Turkey and ended up with a 500-page encyclopedia. “We can talk about culinary culture but attributing nationalities to dishes is futile. Food has geography not nationality,” he rightfully acknowledges. But his breathtaking work illustrates the care, time, and love Turkish people have not only for preparing food, but also for creating occasions to eat it. This is why the dinner table, no matter the shape or form, matters so much to us.
Growing up, there were certain rules in my household that we religiously followed: No one starts eating before everyone is present and seated, no phones on the table, and everyone helps set and clean up the table. In my grandparents’ home, there were other internalized behaviors. For instance, if your grandmother offers you a second serving of food and you say no, she will think you hated it, so you will always say yes. The dinner table also taught us how to act outside the delicious meals — to be willing to try everything, to respect the time it takes to do something, to share, to give and to enjoy the simple pleasures.
The dinner table is a way to come together. The room where the dinner table lives becomes a space to share memories, embrace nostalgia, or debate current events. It’s where you get to see the cousin you never get to see or the childhood friend that you can easily pick up where you left off no matter how much time has passed. At times spontaneous, at times planned, the dinner table becomes a place for interaction and reconnection as well as introspection.
One reason it matters so much is because it represents what the country is at large: A place where different thoughts stem from each corner; every dish a representation of ethnicity, culture and history; and at its core, every get together an illustration of how unity and diversity is what we strive for. In Istanbul, where I am from, we have this saying to represent the city: “They call it chaos, we call it home.” In a way, the dinner table allows us to create a home, nestled between plates of food, great conversation, and a collective pleasure after each bite. It’s a space where you can rejoice in the delicacies of life.