EX-PAT FOOD: Pork-less Red beans and rice

Note from Catie: While I live in Turkey, I am a born and raised Southern American gal, and specifically to Louisiana! Which makes this blog post especially near and dear to my heart! I grew up on a good bowl of red beans and rice. And well, a good biscuit that melts in my mouth is always appreciated!

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This month, I’m creating another adaptation dish! Native to Louisianan cuisine, red beans and rice is a classic dish and a testament to the rich flavors and readily-available ingredients used in the cooking of the bayou. Cajun cuisine is an American mix of countryside French cuisine brought via Canada, African American, Spanish, and Native American influences using the ingredients native to the bayou.

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, droves of people who were displaced from their homes in Louisiana settled in my hometown: the metro-Atlanta area. Thankfully, they brought their cooking with them. So, although Cajun cuisine isn’t native to my hometown or my parents’, it’s still a style of food that reminds me of childhood and the comfort of gathering with community. 

In this red beans and rice recipe, I incorporate ingredients found here in Izmir. Sucuk (pronounced soo-jook) is a Turkish sausage made from beef. Check out the blog post I wrote last month to learn more about the spices in sucuk, and for another recipe with this flavorful sausage! It makes a great substitute for the delicious andouille sausage usually used to make red beans and rice, and the flavors really complement the Cajun seasonings that go in this dish.

Sometimes, in Turkey it can be hard to find celery, one of the necessary “Holy Trinity” starters for Cajun stews. I have found, however, that if I’m willing to buy a few celery roots (which is the part of the celery sold in markets in Turkey), I can usually piece together enough of the thin stalks left on the root to make up enough to start off my stews. Additionally, depending on what is available, I sometimes use red beans (often called Mexican beans in Turkey) or kidney beans if red beans are unavailable. Both work well in the dish, and you can even mix the two if you’re feeling adventurous!  

I also include a bonus recipe for an adaptation of “done buttered biscuits” that are dangerously easy. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself making them for every meal of the day! I substitute the usual sour cream for yogurt, and add a cup of cheese to the usual recipe. 

The best thing about a hearty dish like this is that it is so simple to make and easy to double and share with a crowd! I doubled this recipe and it fed 8 adults and 6 kids! 

Pork-less Red Beans and Rice

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 link of Sucuk, thinly sliced
  • 2 (16 ounce) cans red beans
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 2-3 Celery stalks
  • 1 Green bell pepper
  • 1 Yellow Onion
  • 3 cloves Garlic
  • 1 Bay leaf
  • 2 tbsp Parsley, fresh
  • 1/4 tsp Sage, ground
  • 1 Tbsp Paprika
  • 1 Tsp Oregano
  • 1 Tsp Cumin
  • Salt, to taste
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • Red pepper flakes, to taste
  • Tabasco sauce, to taste
  • 1 cup white rice

Directions:

  1. Prepare the rice as normal, with two cups water. Boil, cover, reduce heat to low and let cook for 20 minutes. Remove from heat, keeping rice covered as it’s set aside. 
  2. As rice is cooking, heat olive oil over medium heat in Dutch oven or large stockpot.
  3. Add in the sucuk until it starts to brown.
  4. Add in chopped onion, green bell pepper, and celery. Cook 5 minutes until they start to soften.
  5. Add in garlic and spices, stir and cook until fragrant. 
  6. Pour in chicken broth and red beans. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Simmer covered for 15 minutes. 
  7. Remove lid and let the stew reduce, mashing some of the beans to help thicken. Add tabasco sauce, and add salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Serve over rice with done buttered biscuit. Garnish with fresh parsley.
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BONUS: Cheesy, Done Buttered Biscuits

Ingredients: 

  • 113 grams butter, melted
  • 1 cup yogurt, plain
  • 2 cups Bisquick mix (recipe below)
  • 1 cup shredded cheese of your choice (I used kaşar)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F/175 C. Grease or line a muffin tin.
  2. Mix all ingredients until fully incorporated.
  3. Bake for 25-30 minutes until lightly browned.
Bisquick Mix Ingredients:
  • 6 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 3 Tbsp. baking powder
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • ½ cup butter, cold cut in cubes
Directions:
  1. Whisk together dry ingredients, then cut utter into flour mixture until the texture of course sand. 
  2. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four months. 
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Now tell me:

  • Have you ever updated a recipe you grew up with based on what’s available where you live now?
  • What’s a dish you grew up eating that didn’t originate in your hometown?
  • Have you tried this red beans and rice recipe?
  • How did it turn out for you?

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Nia McRay from @Tastes_Like_Turkey

I am a lover of words and stories, student of culture, amateur photographer, adult cross-cultural kid, English tutor to TCKs (Third Culture Kids), and aspiring foodie. We will probably be instant friends if you give me good coffee, invite me to cook with you, or start a conversation with me about personalities, culture, and how the two intersect. I’m a life-long nerd, believer, and creative-in-the-works. I am all about the journey, so traveling and cross-cultural living is always something that has captured my heart and inspired my imagination. 

In 2016, after teaching in an inner-city school and needing a change of pace, I spent a year abroad in Izmir, Turkey with a friend. I absolutely fell in love with the city and the people. The conveniences of a big city with a friendly, slow-pace-of-life atmosphere is all found between the mountains and the sea. What’s not to love? So, after my year of adventure, I knew I wanted to come back to Izmir to live. 

Positioned on the perch of Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, Turkey is both a mix of cultures, and a unique culture all its own. The more I learn, the more I want to learn, and this desire to learn is what drives me to write. As a pretty quiet person, I write to learn, to discover, and to process. As someone who grew up in a cross-cultural context, Turkey’s diversity and mix of cultures is something I personally relate to. Plus, if you’ve ever tasted Turkish food, you know that it is definitely something to write home about. I’m really grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the Funks’ blog and to grow and learn in the process.

FOOD: Wintertime Cabbage, Sucuk, + Potato Fry

Note from Catie: I recently tried out this recipe and loved it! Hardy but also light! We only had sweet potatoes on hand (which we pay crazy extra for in Turkey) and the recipe was just at delicious! You can always add your own extra toppings or maybe even some sesame seeds like we did! Awesome job Nia on another great recipe!

It’s March; daffodils pop up persistently through the cold earth to remind us, despite the chilly winds, that spring will return, that it’s just around the corner. If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, maybe, like me, you’re tired of the cold weather, tired of the process of bundling up every time you go out the door, and maybe even tired of the same soups and stews you’ve been making through the winter.  When I still want something hearty and warm on a blustery March evening, this fry is an easy and filling meal I can whip up on a weeknight and is surprisingly good reheated. It’s adapted from an Irish dish, so it’s a great option for a St. Patrick’s Day dinner on the 17th

The biggest difference in this recipe from the Irish version is the replacement of “bangers” with sucuk (“soo-jook”), a fermented Turkish sausage made from beef that is full of flavor. You will find sucuk at any butcher’s shop in Turkey with it’s delicious mix of cayenne pepper, garlic, sumac, cumin, and, of course, plenty of salt, along with a host of other spices. It is commonly cooked with fried eggs for kahvalti (Turkish breakfast) or as a topping on pide (Turkish pizza). You can also easily find it at a grill-out on a hot Izmir summer afternoon.  Sucuk is high in fat and sodium, so my recipe doesn’t add salt or much other fat to the dish. However, if you’re opting for a healthier sausage, like a chicken or reduced sodium sausage, you may want some more salt and/or fat to your fry. 

To get your potatoes and cabbage (which is in season right now in Turkey!) to soak that delicious sucuk flavor in, you want to make sure you fry your sucuk first (and remove them from the pan so they don’t burn) add in a little olive oil, and fry your potato cubes in the remaining fat. The hot fat will not only fry your potatoes beautifully, but also add some rich flavor to them. If you are using a non-sucuk sausage, be sure to add garlic to your fry, as well as red pepper flakes if you like a little heat. 

I also add a little vinegar to introduce some acid and brighten the dish. Alternatively, you could add some citrus juice to cut the heaviness of this fry. If you’re using a chicken or pork sausage, you could also experiment by substituting apple cider vinegar for red wine vinegar. Don’t forget to let me know how your fry turned out in the comments below!

Sucuk Potato Cabbage Fry

  • 2 links sucuk, sliced (Or chicken or pork sausage)
  • 1 lb potatoes peeled and chopped into ½ inch cubes
  • ½ cabbage head, chopped
  • 1 tbsp Olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • Salt, Pepper, garlic powder, and paprika to taste
  1. In a large skillet or dutch oven, fry the sliced sucuk until lightly browned and released fat. Remove sucuk to a plate.
  2. Add enough olive oil to bring total fat to ¼ inch. Mix and allow to heat up. Add potatoes, stirring occasionally to brown all sides of the potatoes.
  3. Once potatoes are mostly soft, add in the cabbage and return the sucuk to the pan. Stir and allow the cabbage to begin to soften. (If adding garlic, add now)
  4. Add the vinegar and deglaze the pan, scratching up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. 
  5. Add paprika, salt and pepper to taste. Afiyet Olsun!

Now tell me:

  • What about you?
  • What’s your favorite type of sausage?
  • Can you find sucuk where you live?
  • Have you tried this fry? How did it turn out for you?
  • What would you change?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Nia McRay from @Tastes_Like_Turkey

I am a lover of words and stories, student of culture, amateur photographer, adult cross-cultural kid, English tutor to TCKs (Third Culture Kids), and aspiring foodie. We will probably be instant friends if you give me good coffee, invite me to cook with you, or start a conversation with me about personalities, culture, and how the two intersect. I’m a life-long nerd, believer, and creative-in-the-works. I am all about the journey, so traveling and cross-cultural living is always something that has captured my heart and inspired my imagination. 

In 2016, after teaching in an inner-city school and needing a change of pace, I spent a year abroad in Izmir, Turkey with a friend. I absolutely fell in love with the city and the people. The conveniences of a big city with a friendly, slow-pace-of-life atmosphere is all found between the mountains and the sea. What’s not to love? So, after my year of adventure, I knew I wanted to come back to Izmir to live. 

Positioned on the perch of Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, Turkey is both a mix of cultures, and a unique culture all its own. The more I learn, the more I want to learn, and this desire to learn is what drives me to write. As a pretty quiet person, I write to learn, to discover, and to process. As someone who grew up in a cross-cultural context, Turkey’s diversity and mix of cultures is something I personally relate to. Plus, if you’ve ever tasted Turkish food, you know that it is definitely something to write home about. I’m really grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the Funks’ blog and to grow and learn in the process.

Turkey Turkish Asure Noah's Pudding

FOOD: Aşure, a beautiful community tradition

Perhaps you’ve heard the story before: a great evil, a divinely sent flood, and a man with a zoo on a boat. 

It’s one of the oldest stories told, a story that takes many different forms, but what makes it unique is its ubiquity. In every inhabited continent, there is a myth of a great flood: from the Inca’s tale of Pachakuti, to the Mesopotamian story of Gilgamesh, from the strikingly similar stories of Nu’u in Hawaiian mythology, Noah in the Torah, Tumbainot of the Maasai, and Nuh in the Qur’an, to the starkly different stories from the Egyptians, Chinese, Finnish, and Ojibwe

Stories are one of the beautiful things that connects us all as people.

Despite the variety of ways our different cultures play out in the way we tell stories, or even the focus of our stories, this diversity can lead us to see the unifying artistic and creative elements of story-telling. Stories can help us understand one another.  The more we look at the stories we all tell, the more we can see the similarities we share in our experiences and histories. The dish I want to introduce you to today has a similar unifying quality. 

Aşure [pronounced “ah-shoor-eh”] is a Turkish dessert that has its roots in this story of the flood as found in the Qur’an. It is said that when the passengers of the ark were on the brink of starving, Nuh (Noah) mixed together all the leftover grains, nuts, beans and fruit to make what would be dubbed “the oldest dessert.” Together he and the other passengers ate, celebrating the end of the flood, and the next day Allah (God) made the waters of the flood recede.  

Today, while this day is celebrated differently by different sects of Islam, Turks generally share this dessert with neighbors, family, and friends in goodwill and kindness in the Islamic month of Muharram, especially on the 10th day of Muharram [Ashura]. This year, that landed on August 29th. Some Islamic traditions hold that a variety of miracles and divine interactions happened on this day throughout history, including the exodus of the Jews from Egypt. 

Aşure, like the flood narrative itself, is a picture of unity and diversity.

A dessert meant to be shared with neighbors, coworkers, friends and family, aşure is one unified dish made up of surprisingly varied ingredients (like fruit, grains and beans!). Likewise, despite the vast differences in the details of the flood narratives around the world, they all hold a unified history, and are shared from generation to generation. Each tells of a great being acting in response to some provocation to flood the world, leaving a few survivors. While the details of who that great being was, what provoked the flood, who survived, and how they survived differ greatly, those same differences helped create the variety of cultures we see in the world today. 

As easily identifiable markers of culture, food and story-telling have always had this unifying effect. What culturally significant moments do you participate in that involve food and/or story-telling? Is there a holiday that your family celebrates with specific food? Is there a time when neighbors, friends or family gather and share stories of religious, familial, or national significance? Aşure is a religiously significant dish shared with neighbors and friends regardless of their religious background. What’s one way you can invite someone new into your traditions this year?

What’s in Aşure?

Turkey Turkish Asure Noah's Pudding

Aşure is a porridge with a lovely fall taste (similar to cinnamon oatmeal), and a wide variety of textures. if you are an expat in Turkey, you may find yourself easily overwhelmed by the sheer amount you receive from your neighbors. But since it is full of whole grains, beans, and fruit, you can eat this dessert with less guilt than my previous cookie recipes!

The very nature of aşure is that it doesn’t have one specific recipe. Everyone’s aşure is slightly different based on personal taste and what’s on hand. Here are the general categories of the ingredients of aşure, and some options of what you can put in yours. Mix and match! Try some different combinations and let me know in the comments what your favorite is!

  • Grains: Barley, Wheat, bulgur, and/or rice
  • Beans: White beans and/or chickpeas
  • Dried Fruit: Dates, dried figs, dried apricots, dried cranberries, raisins, and/or other dried fruits
  • Seeds + Spices + Seasonings: Anise seed, sesame seeds, black cumin seeds, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, rose water, and/or orange blossom water + a sweetener like honey (one could also use maple syrup, sugar, turbinado, or a sugar substitute like stevia)
  • Nuts: Pine nuts, walnuts, almonds and/or pistachios
  • Fresh Fruit: Pomegranate kernels, orange (or orange peel), lemon (or lemon peel)

Start with soaking the beans, raisins and grain separately overnight. Then cook the beans on the stovetop in water, add the grains, and let it thicken. Then add fruit, spices, and nuts until the porridge comes together. Here are links to some more specific recipes if you struggle not having a specific recipe to work from. 

All Recipes Asure

TurkishFoodie Recipe

Personally, I really enjoy the flavor of aşure. The first few spoonfuls are fascinating as I work my way through the high complexity of textures. But, I can quickly become overwhelmed by the complexity, so I tend to only eat a little at a time. Try making aşure yourself, and tell me what you think! Do you enjoy the complexity of flavors and textures? Which ingredients do you use? 

I hope you make some aşure this fall and winter, and share it with a good story, unifying the people around you.

Now tell me:

What are some ways you bring unity to your community through food and story-telling?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Nia McRay from @Tastes_Like_Turkey

I am a lover of words and stories, student of culture, amateur photographer, adult cross-cultural kid, English tutor to TCKs (Third Culture Kids), and aspiring foodie. We will probably be instant friends if you give me good coffee, invite me to cook with you, or start a conversation with me about personalities, culture, and how the two intersect. I’m a life-long nerd, believer, and creative-in-the-works. I am all about the journey, so traveling and cross-cultural living is always something that has captured my heart and inspired my imagination. 

In 2016, after teaching in an inner-city school and needing a change of pace, I spent a year abroad in Izmir, Turkey with a friend. I absolutely fell in love with the city and the people. The conveniences of a big city with a friendly, slow-pace-of-life atmosphere is all found between the mountains and the sea. What’s not to love? So, after my year of adventure, I knew I wanted to come back to Izmir to live. 

Positioned on the perch of Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, Turkey is both a mix of cultures, and a unique culture all its own. The more I learn, the more I want to learn, and this desire to learn is what drives me to write. As a pretty quiet person, I write to learn, to discover, and to process. As someone who grew up in a cross-cultural context, Turkey’s diversity and mix of cultures is something I personally relate to. Plus, if you’ve ever tasted Turkish food, you know that it is definitely something to write home about. I’m really grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the Funks’ blog and to grow and learn in the process.

Turkey Kalkan Roads

EXPAT KID: Help your expat kid in a Global Pandemic!

Your Road Map to Working through Culture Stress with Your New TCK (aka- Third Culture Kid)

September is well underway, which means that a new school year is upon us. This year in particular, school may look very different from years prior. You may find that your kids tire quickly, are more easily frustrated, and gravitate towards their comfort items more.

*[Ahem… You may notice that you do as well!]

One of the reasons for this is with so much changing in the day to day ways we interact with our world (geez, thanks COVID-19) that our brains no longer work on “auto-pilot” and now have to spend more energy to make decisions. 

The same is true for those entering a new culture, which is why this blog post is helpful for not only ex-pats raising TCKs (Third Culture Kids), but also all parents during the coronavirus pandemic.

This concept is explored more in this article shared about how the stress of living through the COVID-19 pandemic is comparable to culture shock.  Also, I recently read Lauren Wells’ book “Raising Up a Generation of Healthy Third Culture Kids” and I highly recommend it for any parent of a TCK.

In this post, I want to share a guide for working through culture stress with TCKs that I learned from this book and from my research and observations of TCKs in general.

Read on for your 3 tips to work through culture stress with your TCK.

Turkey Kalkan Roads

What’s the destination for TCK? What is the goal of working through culture stress?

The first step to reaching any destination is knowing where we are going. The goal of working through culture stress with our children is that in the end, our children are integrated aTCKs who love diversity, are highly adaptable, resilient, and emotionally healthy

Let me break down what I mean by that a bit.

  • Integrated: our kids are a part of the community in which we live, they have a place and feel a sense of belonging and capability in their environment.
  • Love of diversity: one day our children will be adults who either fear or are excited by diversity. In working through culture stress with our TCKs, we are teaching them to become people who see the beauty and effectiveness of diversity, and who cultivate diversity in the spaces they occupy. 
  • Highly adaptable: by teaching our kids how to adapt to their new culture, we are giving them tools to adapt to any culture and any circumstance that life may throw their way.
  • Resilient: children are not naturally resilient in the way we often assume. They have to be taught resilience, and that’s where parents, caregivers, teachers, and mentors come in! We can teach our kids how to handle difficult situations.
  • Emotionally healthy: Children who can name and regulate their emotions will become adults who are not ruled by their emotions.

Now, how do we get there? 

A destination is a good place to start, but without a plan, it’s very hard to arrive where we want to go. So what is the “roadmap” to reach the goal stated above?

Below I walk you through 3 tools that will enable you to reach that goal.

1. Prevention: 

“An ounce is better than a pound of cure,” the saying goes. And it’s true!

Having a car that has been maintained properly makes getting to your destination SO much easier, and prevents innumerable disasters that could come up along the way. 

But what does prevention look like for culture stress?

The most important thing is to have systems in place to talk about feelings without invalidating those feelings, but teaching kids to work through emotions in a healthy way.

What does that look like?

  • Make space for kids to voice their needs and listen to what they’re really saying.
  • Have a time during the day when you check in with each of your kids; what are they experiencing, and how do they feel about it?
  • Practice asking good questions of your kids and really listening to their answers.
  • Maybe every night at dinner, everyone in the family shares the high and low points of their day.

Another prevention tool is helping your kids set expectations. Verbally prepare your children when you are going into a new situation, and give them ways to appropriately communicate their feelings to you.

  • Maybe your self-conscious child gets stared at for their different skin or eye color when you walk to school with her, or even has her skin or hair touched by strangers.
  • Maybe your sensitive child gets overwhelmed by the all the sights, sounds, smells and textures of the market.

As much as possible, give them a way to know what to expect and how to communicate what they are feeling in those moments with you. Of course, since you are also still learning what to expect in your host country, it is important to do the work of learning together.

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2. Partnership:  

When I’m taking a road trip, I always prefer having someone with me, experiencing things alongside me, helping me navigate my way to the next pit stop, and just for the company on what could otherwise be a lonely ride. 

The same is true of entering a new culture.

We can do the work of being a student of our host culture together, alongside our children, rather than excluding them.  Talk about your observations of the culture with your kids, being careful not to pass ethnocentric judgment. “What is something you’ve noticed today that happened differently than you expected?”

We can learn together how to navigate this new way of life, and present it as an exciting opportunity for our children.  You may be surprised…kids are incredibly observant! Two (or three or five) heads are better than one. Your kids can be great assents to your own culture-learning process, and you to theirs, if you partner together in this opportunity. 

Also, help build a community for your kids with local friends who can help you and your kids learn more about the culture you’re adjusting to. Making friends with families with kids similar ages as your own can be helpful in allowing the whole family to enjoy time together in your host language and culture, making your kids feel more at home in their new culture.

Basically, the more you can do together, the better!

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3. Parroting: 

Teaching by modeling to your kids is like giving them a clear map with a highlighted route, or clear road signs that show our kids what to expect ahead. 

When it comes to parenting, you already know: much more is caught than taught.

With regard to cultural learning, it is especially important to remember this. Your response to culture stress informs the way your children will respond to culture stress in a greater way than the way you tell them to respond to culture stress.

In other words, kids are much more likely to “parrot” your responses to the culture, whether they are positive or negative. When you are frustrated with the stress of the overwhelming feeling of just wanting one thing in your life to feel normal again, remember to be careful with how you respond. 

Be honest with your kids about your feelings: “Mom is feeling frustrated right now because I’m still learning to navigate the systems in this culture. But I’m going to take a few deep breaths and try again tomorrow.” Narrate your own feelings as well as your child’s, and remind them (and yourself) that emotions in themselves are not bad, but are indicators to us, like road signs.

Just because we are frustrated with the way our host culture does something, doesn’t mean that your feelings or the culture are wrong. The more we can identify our emotions without attributing blame to our host cultures, the more healthily we can interact (and model interactions for our kids) with our host culture.

This also works with narrating your kids’ emotions. “It seems to me that you are disappointed right now. Would you like to talk about what you were expecting and what happened instead?” Keeping the door open for communication is key to parenting, and especially when navigating a new culture. 

Let’s sum it up!

The more we learn to read the road signs, the more aware we become of our subconscious beliefs and motivations. Using these three tools of Prevention, Partnership, and Parroting will ultimately, enable your TCK (AND you too) to become the most emotionally healthy TCK they can be!

Your Turn!

  • Do you have TCKs?
  • What do you find is most helpful when working through culture stress with them?
  • What books have you read on the topic?
  • What from this blogpost have you found most helpful?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Nia McRay from @Tastes_Like_Turkey

I am a lover of words and stories, student of culture, amateur photographer, adult cross-cultural kid, English tutor to TCKs (Third Culture Kids), and aspiring foodie. We will probably be instant friends if you give me good coffee, invite me to cook with you, or start a conversation with me about personalities, culture, and how the two intersect. I’m a life-long nerd, believer, and creative-in-the-works. I am all about the journey, so traveling and cross-cultural living is always something that has captured my heart and inspired my imagination. 

In 2016, after teaching in an inner-city school and needing a change of pace, I spent a year abroad in Izmir, Turkey with a friend. I absolutely fell in love with the city and the people. The conveniences of a big city with a friendly, slow-pace-of-life atmosphere is all found between the mountains and the sea. What’s not to love? So, after my year of adventure, I knew I wanted to come back to Izmir to live. 

Positioned on the perch of Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, Turkey is both a mix of cultures, and a unique culture all its own. The more I learn, the more I want to learn, and this desire to learn is what drives me to write. As a pretty quiet person, I write to learn, to discover, and to process. As someone who grew up in a cross-cultural context, Turkey’s diversity and mix of cultures is something I personally relate to. Plus, if you’ve ever tasted Turkish food, you know that it is definitely something to write home about. I’m really grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the Funks’ blog and to grow and learn in the process.

TasteslikeTurkey NiaMcRay Izmir Turkey Çay Tea Time

CULTURE: Tea Time in Turkey

When I lean out on my balcony and listen to the sounds of Izmir, they are abundant.

I hear the stray dogs in the park outside my apartment barking, chasing cars. I hear the call to prayer, echoing across the valley, the melodies bouncing between the mountains. I hear the breeze off the sea, rustling leaves. I hear the sound of children playing, of car horns, of stray cats screeching.

Above it all, a light tinkling sound, like a windchime. Like the uncontrollable laughter of fairies, or the ringing of a distant silver bell comes the sound I’ve come to love the most: the sound of çay [pronounced the same as “chai”] spoons clinking against the glass as people stir the sugar into their tea. It is the school bell for life lessons, the gong for heated debates, the signal that work has paused, and the doorbell for the gateway to new relationships to be opened.

TasteslikeTurkey NiaMcRay Izmir Turkey Çay Tea Time

Çay and Hospitality Culture in Turkey

Hoş geldiniz! In Turkish, that’s “You have arrived pleasantly” or simply, “Welcome!” As a westerner living in Turkey, the most impactful difference in culture for me has been the idea of hospitality, which can start with this simple phrase. In the States, someone is hospitable if they invite you over and offer you something to eat or drink, or if they bring you a meal when you are going through a rough time.

The idea of hospitality runs much deeper in Turkey. It is an attitude about time that is driven from a heart bent toward hospitality. Hospitality doesn’t have to be something meticulously planned out (although it certainly can be!). Rather, a posture of hospitality is one open to connecting with people in meaningful ways, allowing one’s schedule to be interrupted for the sake of the person in front of you.

TasteslikeTurkey NiaMcRay Izmir Turkey Çay Tea Time

Few things exemplify this as much as çay zamanı, or tea time, in Turkey.

Tea is quite possibly the easiest thing to find in Turkey. Here in Izmir, as you walk along the seaside, tea sellers call out loudly, letting you know you can stop them and get a hot cup. Every restaurant, every café has it. It is a must-have when picnicking or grilling out with friends and family. Everyone drinks a few glasses at breakfast, and it’s almost as important as a smoke break during work. It is a staple in the home. In fact, Turks drink more tea per capita than any other country in the world. Yes, an average Turk drinks more tea than the Chinese, British, or Irish by far.

On average one person will drink the tea from nearly 7 pounds of tea leaves each year! I have heard from several people here: “Oh, yes. I drink up to 20 cups of çay each day.” Of course, not everyone drinks twenty glasses each day, but it is such a plentiful drink here, it is easy to see how one could easily do so.

Çay is one of the drinks of hospitality in Turkey. If you are invited to someone’s home, expect to be offered çay. If you finish your meal at a restaurant, a complimentary glass of çay will be brought to everyone at your table so that your conversation can continue.  If you stop by a shop and start up a conversation with the shopkeeper, he will offer you to sit wherever may be possible in the cramped space, and bring you an hourglass-shaped cup of çay on an ornate saucer with a tiny spoon and one or two sugar cubes alongside it. In fact, I haven’t entered a rug shop where I was not offered a glass of the deep red drink as the owner pulled out rug after rug of various designs, reading my eyes to narrow down his display to designs I gravitated towards.

This is how Turkish society runs: fueled by tea. Even though it is highly caffeinated, the calming effects of tea make this drink, and the culture it inhabits, a “slow down, have a sip, stay a while” atmosphere. When you are offered a cup of çay, you are invited to slow your busyness and truly be with those around you.

Over a strong and flavorful glassful, you may find yourself sharing stories from your childhood before you’ve exchanged names with your fellow drinker. There is something beautiful and deeply human about sharing a moment in which a stranger becomes an acquaintance – or even a friend. Most of the experiences I’ve had like that in Turkey have been over a glass of çay. It’s actually the most-drunk beverage in the country, besides water. And though this is a common experience today, this wasn’t always the case.

History of Tea in Turkey

Of course, as Turkey has been the connector between east and west for most of history, located in the most crucial area of the silk road, tea has been moving through Turkey for over two millennia. Surprisingly, however, tea did not become a part of everyday Turkish life until the early twentieth century when the government made efforts to grow the crop in northern Turkey where tea production now booms.

Rize, one of the three major tea-producing cities of Turkey that borders the Black Sea, is home to 60% of tea production in the country, which supplies about 260,000 tons of that lovely leaf per year. Due to the demand for tea domestically, very little is exported, despite Turkey being the fifth largest producer of tea world-wide. So, if you are looking for some of that famous Rize çay, it may be hard to find outside of the country.

If you do find some, however, you’ll want to brew it right.

How Turkish Tea is Brewed:

One of the most unique things about Turkish tea compared to its counterpart in other countries is the way it is brewed. Firstly, it is brewed in a double-boiler kettle called a çaydamlık. The bottom kettle is filled with water, and the smaller, top kettle is filled with the dry black tea leaves. As the water in the bottom kettle boils, it slowly roasts the tea leaves, and you can smell the rich flavor. Once the water has boiled, water from the bottom kettle is added to the tea leaves to steep while the bottom kettle continues to boil. This creates a dark tea concentrate in the top kettle.

TasteslikeTurkey NiaMcRay Izmir Turkey Çay Tea Time

When my Turkish tutor taught me how to correctly brew tea, I got the sense that she deemed this one of the more important cultural lessons she would give me. Indeed, it has become a useful skill to have. I have found that there is never a wrong time or season to make a çaydamlık full of çay and be ready to invite someone to have several glasses with you.

The çay is then served in an hourglass-shaped cup that is reminiscent of the Ottoman tulip. Traditionally the çay concentrate is poured to the top of the “hips” of the glass, or even to the middle of the “waist” of the glass (depending on how strong you want your tea). The rest of the glass is filled with boiling water. Even diluted by the water, the tea is pretty strong. As these traditional glasses have no handle, one of the skills that must be acquired quickly by the Westerner in Turkey is the ability to hold a hot glass filled with freshly steeped tea by the rim and sip from it.

TasteslikeTurkey NiaMcRay Izmir Turkey Çay Tea Time

There is a variety of ways to take one’s çay: light-colored, medium, or very dark (also called rabbit’s blood for the dark red color), with or without sugar (stirred into your tea with those dainty spoons, or, like some older folks like to do, stuck between your front teeth or in your cheek), even sometimes with lemon, but never with milk.

However you take your çay, remember to take the moment to slow down, enjoy someone else’s company, and have a few glasses. For, as the Turkish adage goes, “conversations without tea are like a night sky without the moon.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Nia McRay from @Tastes_Like_Turkey

I am a lover of words and stories, student of culture, amateur photographer, adult cross-cultural kid, English tutor to TCKs (Third Culture Kids), and aspiring foodie. We will probably be instant friends if you give me good coffee, invite me to cook with you, or start a conversation with me about personalities, culture, and how the two intersect. I’m a life-long nerd, believer, and creative-in-the-works. I am all about the journey, so traveling and cross-cultural living is always something that has captured my heart and inspired my imagination. 

In 2016, after teaching in an inner-city school and needing a change of pace, I spent a year abroad in Izmir, Turkey with a friend. I absolutely fell in love with the city and the people. The conveniences of a big city with a friendly, slow-pace-of-life atmosphere is all found between the mountains and the sea. What’s not to love? So, after my year of adventure, I knew I wanted to come back to Izmir to live. 

Positioned on the perch of Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, Turkey is both a mix of cultures, and a unique culture all its own. The more I learn, the more I want to learn, and this desire to learn is what drives me to write. As a pretty quiet person, I write to learn, to discover, and to process. As someone who grew up in a cross-cultural context, Turkey’s diversity and mix of cultures is something I personally relate to. Plus, if you’ve ever tasted Turkish food, you know that it is definitely something to write home about. I’m really grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the Funks’ blog and to grow and learn in the process.