EXPAT: Why Turkey? Why Izmir? Our 5 Reasons!

In our ‘Learn About Us’ section, we briefly share about our family, vision, and journey to this point. Even a little bit about why Turkey is special to us. 

Even more specifically Izmir, Turkey. 

In a recent little videos series on our YouTube channel called ‘Meet the Funks’, I shared about who we are and how we met. This blog post is a match to the 3rd part video sharing why we have chosen Izmir to be our expat home for now.

Let’s play catch up first if this is your first blog post you are ready, shall we? 

My husband Jason, our daughter Sofia, and I love to share turkey, culture, expat living and a little bit of travels along the way. If you want to learn more about our family you can always check out our about section, check out our FunkTravels podcast episodes 1 to 50 which documents two years of our lives moving from U.S. to Turkey and lastly, catch up on our videos here and YouTube episodes 51 to present day! If you want to continue getting updates about our family, subscribe to our newsletter. It goes out monthly and I like to include little extras that you might not get from anything else. 

I hope it will inspire you to travel here one day or who knows maybe even move here just like we did!

Ok, back to the regular program.

Jason and I are both Americans, but we actually met here in Turkey over 10 years ago when we are both living in Istanbul. You can learn all about that and how we met in our Love Story video.  

I lived overseas before for 4 years and when I move back to the state, started dating Jason, got engaged…. I hadn’t even been in the states for a full 2 years.  I knew that I wanted to live back overseas and that I knew Jason wanted to as well. But we didn’t have a plan in place. 

One evening or coming home from somewhere, I remember we stopped at a red light and I just broke down crying. I knew I wanted to move overseas but we didn’t have a plan. I was afraid we were going to get stuck. I’m not saying that getting stuck is bad. I just know that there was this desire to do this and I had vision. However, I didn’t see how we were going to get there.

Jason being the understanding and patient fiancé that he was, he surprised me with a timeline planning out our steps over the next few years and how we were going to work to move overseas. Of course, there were a lot of an Asterix or stars in those plans – like if this happens, then it may cause us to delay. BUT there was a plan! It was one of the best Christmas gift I have ever received. 

That was in 2013 and in the summer of 2016, we moved to Turkey!

From the very beginning of our relationship, Jason and I had this intentional dream to live internationally. 

First off, 3 major points that made us decide on Turkey first:

If you’ve been around at all, you know how Turkey is a pretty foundational place for us. But before I get into why we picked Izmir, I want to share why we decided on Turkey first.

  1. BOTH LIVED IN TURKEY BEFORE: We had spent significant amount of time, out of all the other countries, in Turkey. I spent two years here, and Jason spent six months here.
  2. FRIENDS: The second reason is that we have friends that continue to live here from our previous time! If we needed some support or had questions, then we had some type of support or network of friends that help us!
  3. BASE KNOWLEDGE: The third reason is that, because we already lived here before, we already some basic knowledge of the country. Things like how to pay rent, how to find apartment, how to pay bills, and bit of Turkish language. A little bit of a base just made it more comfortable a little less terrifying for a lot of people. While is it looks like we just moved here, we didn’t. To be fair, we did live here before and it’s been a huge role into why we are here again.

5 REASONS WE CHOSE IZMIR, TURKEY:

Like I mentioned, when we lived here before, we actually both live in Istanbul. But moving back together as a married couple, we chose not to live in Istanbul, but to live in Izmir. Let’s move on to why we picked Izmir!

1. NEW CITY FOR BOTH OF US

I spent a lot more time in Istanbul than Jason (1.5 years more to be exact). Sometimes moving to a place where one spouse has spent more significant time can actually cause some frustrations between spouses. Jason’s work only required a strong internet connection, so it left us flexible to try a different city in Turkey. That way we’re both starting off on Ground Zero where neither one of us knows anything really about this area and we are having to learn together. 

2. POPULATION

The second reason we looked into Izmir and not Istanbul is the population. Istanbul is a city of almost 20 million when you look at the whole state but whereas Izmir is bordering around 4 million! That is significantly less people and because Jason and I both grew up in small-towns and never lived in a big city in America, we personally wanted a city that was a little smaller but still drew an small expat/international community.

3. EXPAT COMMUNITY

Spinning off of number 2, Izmir does draw a small expat community here. NATO, few military families, universities and many global business headquarters are based out of Izmir. Plus, it is a shipping port and used to bring in a lots of cruise lines into this area. While our goal is to learn Turkish and be with Turkish friends too, it’s also nice to just know that there’s other international folk in the same place as you. 

4. WEATHER

I am a Louisiana girl who up in warm winters. Jason is from Iowa and the winters there are really cold and get snow. We lived in Iowa before moving to Izmir. I particularly was tired of freezing cold winters!

Izmir has hot summers but if you have an AC units bearable. The evenings in the summer generally cool off nicely and there’s always some type of breeze. The winters are mild. Unlink rainy Istanbul winter, Izmir has rain every once in awhile but it’s not every day.

5. HISTORICAL SITES

Finally, we love all the historical sites around this area. Ephesus is a really famous historical open-air museum and it’s within an hour’s drive of our home. Izmir is the old town of Smyrna. All of the seven churches of Revelation are within a 3 hour drive .

Thankfully Izmir being the 3rd largest city in Turkey, offers many direct flights to every major city in Turkey as well as international flights into Germany and other European countries. I didn’t feel like we always had to go through Istanbul to get another city or country!

There you have it! Those are the five reasons why we picked Izmir and have been so completely happy with it!

You can over on our Following The Funks YouTube Channel via our video: Why Turkey?? Why Izmir?? Our 5 reasons!

But I want to know about you!

Comment below and let me know about some of the questions below:

  • Are you an expat? If so, where do you live?
  • Why did you pick that location?
  • Do you want to live in another country? If so, which one and why?

Check out our other videos in our Meet the Funks Series via our FULL PLAYLIST:

TURKEY: Your Guide to the Home of Santa Claus – Demre, Turkey

Little Recap:

Turkey has a winter and summer culture – especially. Those families who can afford it, have a summer house near some coast line to escape the heat of the cities for a few months. Two our of four sets of our neighbors do this exact thing ever year. Ever since we moved to Turkey, we had wanted to try it out.

Last summer(2020) after a strict and exhaustive COVID lockdown, Jason and I opted get out of Izmir for 3 weeks to a summer villa in Kalkan, Turkey. Every week we had a different family or friends come share the week with us. You can check out some of our other travels during COVID times to Kalkan this past summer.

This post is a continuation of my past KALKAN summer series! Hope you find this helpful. Make sure to catch the matching video at the end.

Now on to Demre!

Demre is a tiny town (around 20,000 people) located in the Antalya Province on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey with the Taurus Mountains rising behind. The villages of Demre grow pomegranates and citrus fruits as well as large quantity of fruits and vegetables all year round in greenhouses. Previously known as Kale, the town was renamed in 2005 after the river Demre. Demre is also the ancient the Lycian town of Myra. 

More importantly it’s the home to the world famous 4th-century Christian saint, Saint Nicholas of Myra – better know now in the states as the mythicize Santa Clause.

Demre Turkey
Demre Turkey

Who really was Saint Nicholas?

Most people don’t know the true story of Santa Claus. Some people celebrate this tradition because it is fun. Some parents use Santa as a way to make their kids behave better around the holiday times.

And… most people have no idea that ‘Santa Claus’ was born in present-day Turkey!

Saint Nicholas, born in 370 AD, was a 4th century Christian bishop who helped the poor needy. After his death, the legend of his gift-giving grew. He is now the basis for the popular character of Santa Claus.

Early Life: Saint Nicholas was born in Patara, Lycia, an area near Demre, that is part of present-day Turkey.  He lost both of his parents as a young man. His parents were very wealthy and Saint Nicholas used his inheritance to help the poor and sick. He dedicated his life to serving God and soon became a bishop of Myra. Saint Nicholas lived out the verse from the Bible: Luke 12:33 “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.”

There is a lot of in between stories of his life, but one of the other notable events he is known for is being a part of the Council of Nicea 325 AD at present-day Iznik, Turkey. During the reign of Emperor Constantine of Constantinople, he organized the Council of Nicaea. It was the first council that was for the entire body of new Christains believers of that time. Saint Nicholas defended the church against heresy, a belief or opinion contrary to orthodox religious (especially Christian) doctrine. A lot of fundamental theology was formed during this time.

The most famous story Saint Nicholas has been immortalize by is the story about how he helped three poor sisters. Their father did not have enough money to pay their dowries, payments for marriage, and thought of selling them into servitude. Three times, Saint Nicholas secretly went to their house at night and threw a bag of money inside. The man used the money so that his daughters could marry. On the third visit, the man saw Saint Nicholas and thanked him for his kindness.  Some gold fell into the socks drying by the fireplace. This is why there is a tradition to hang stocking by the fireplace.

Over the years, stories of his miracles and work for the poor spread to other parts of the world.

Personally, we celebrated Jesus Christ birth at Christmas. But all throughout my childhood, we celebrated Santa Claus in the traditional way. The night before Christmas we would read the Christmas story and set out cookies and milk. The next morning I would wake up to 1 big gift from him and our stockings would be full of small gifts. 

Some families only give gifts to celebrate Jesus’ birth instead. Jesus’ birth as a gift to the world and so we give gifts to one another and those in need. Saint Nicolas gave gifts to those in need because of Jesus too. He is a good example of how we can share our love of Jesus with other people. 

Regardless of how people celebrate, Saint Nicholas’ true story still shows through: True giving, Faithfulness, and Joy

Fun side note: I did a whole fancy presentation about Saint Nicholas for my Turkish class one time. If you are curious to see it, check it out here.

What you should see and do in Demre, Turkey:

1. Start at downtown Demre at Santa Claus Museum (Noel Baba Müzesi) – also called Saint Nicholas Church

St. Nicholas was born near this area, became the bishop of Patara, and was buried here after his death. So it’s no surprise that this 11th century East Roman Basilica church is decorated with beautiful vibrant frescoes of life and miracles of St. Nicholas.

After surviving numerous floods, the Russian Tsar Nicholas I in 1862 restored the church, adding the tower and making other changes to its Byzantine architecture. The church continued to function until the Greek Orthodox community of Demre was forced to leave in 1923. After which, the church fell into disrepair.  The church is regarded as the 3rd most important Byzantine structure in Anatolia.

Even in its ruined state, the church’s amazing architecture has made it onto the list of UNESCO tentative heritage sites. Inside you can see mosaics on the floor, vibrant frescoes on the walls and archways, and a broken sarchopagus which was believed to be the first burial of St. Nicholas. (It is said that in 1087 A.D. most of his bones were taken by force to Bari in Italy, and the remainder taken to Venice in 1100 A.D.)

Next to the church is a museum cafe. Outside there are many tourist shops to get your trinket as a remembrance of your visit.

Visiting info: Entrance fee is 50TL or Museum Card. Open to visitors 7 days a week. Summer (April 1st – October 31st) 08.30-19.00, winter (October 31st – April 1st) 08.30-17.30.

2. Move on to Myra Ancient City (Myra Antik Kenti)

Just 2 km (1.2 miles) inland from St. Nicholas Church, there is Myra Ancient City. Unlike Kaunos, which is somewhat difficult to get to, the rock tombs of Myra are as easy as it gets. You drive up, walk through the single aisle of gift shops, and you’re there.

For a while in 1st century AD, this ancient city was the chief city of Lycia League. Over time it slowly lost its popularity. Due to a terrible plague, Muslim raids, flooding, and earthquakes, Myra was mostly abandoned by the 11the century. The largest Greco-Roman theatre in Lycia is in Myra and much of the inscriptions and double-vaulted corridors are still visible today.

This open air museum is small with a large well-preserved theater and impressive rock-intricate and imposing hewn tombs carved into the mountain side – both which offer great photo opportunities.

Visiting info: Entrance fee is 45TL or Museum Card cover both the Andriake Ruins and Lycian Civilizations Museum. Open to visitors 7 days a week. Summer (April 1st – October 31st) 08.30-19.00, winter (October 31st – April 1st) 08.30-17.30.

Myra Demre Turkey
Myra Demre Turkey

3. Go outside to Andriake Ancient City (Andriake Örenyeri Müzesi)

The story of Myra and the Lycia civilization begins with the rock tombs and ends in the sea with the Port of Andriake, or in Turkish Çayağzı, is 5 km (3 miles) west of Demre. The Demre river gave life to the city, and sadly, along with other Arab raids and natural disasters, also brought an end to the city as it dried up.

The ruins include a plakoma, harbor, baths, churches and synagogues, one being 1500 years old. One of the most interesting buildings of Andriake is the Murex Workshops, or dye factory. The seashell, murex, produced a very rare purple color only used for the emperor’s clothing.

As well, at the end of the long one-way walking path, stop by the Lycian Civilizations Museum, built in a former granarium (granary) back in 129 AD. This museum displays excavations and artifacts of the major Lycian League Cities: Myra, Patara, Xanthos, Tilos, Pınara, Olympus, Arykanda and Antiphellos. Each hall and its collection is named after a major Lycian city and gives clues about the religious beliefs, economic and social lives from that area.

Thanks to their historical importance and originality, the Ancient Cities of the Lycian Civilization are included in the UNESCO World Heritage Temporary List.

Nearby the ruins are a small, decent beach and several small restaurants.

Visiting info: Entrance fee is 12.50 TL or Museum Card cover both the Andriake Ruins and Lycian Civilizations Museum (another 10 TL or Museum Card). Open to visitors 7 days a week. Summer (April 1st – October 31st) 08.30-19.00, winter (October 31st – April 1st) 08.30-17.30.

Andriake Demre Turkey

Also in the Demre area:

  • Few other historical sites nearby going West to East:
    • Heroon of Trysa
    • Trebenda
    • Soura
    • Issium
  • Beaches: If you want to know more about the beaches, check out Traveling Lens Photography’s post on Demre to learn more!
    • Çağıllı Beach
    • Andriake Beach
    • Çayağzı Beach – This beach has a boat to Kekova (see below)
    • Leech Beach
    • Taşıbı Beach
    • Ali’s Beach

BONUS: Kekova

  • I marked this as a ‘bonus’ because it not actually in the city of Demre, but an hour drive and then a boat tour to get to the island. Spend a day via a Tekne Boat Tour to explore the underwater sunken city of Kekova while swimming in the clear blue water.
  • Across from the island, located high up on a hill, is the Simena Castle. You can visit it before or after your tour of Kekova.

Our other tips for this area:

Getting There:

  • From Kalkan, our point of reference for this post, we drove just over an hour to get to Demre. From Antalya, expect a 2.5 hour car ride, longer if coming by bus.
  • While there are buses, we had a rental car. You can alway hire a driver for the day to take you around. Take a bus from your nearby city and then when you get to Demre just grab taxis to and from the local sites. The 3 sites I mentioned in this post – Santa Claus Museum, Myra Ancient City, and Andriake are all easily accessible by taxi around the city.
  • If you are staying Kaş or Antalya, check with a local tour agency and see about day tours to this area. It will probably be included in a longer day tour with a stop off to Kekova as well.

Lodging: 

  • Most visitors to this area are only passing through or on a day trip! We ourselves stayed in Kalkan and only came for the day.
  • Check Airbnb or hotels.com for accommodations.

Restaurants: 

Nearby:

  • If you are looking for a few extra stops, west-bound Kaş is a great day trip or overnight if you want to stay longer!
  • As you continue eastward, you will hit the city of Antalya. This area can definitely be a trip in and of it’s own!

You can explore Demre with us over on our Following The Funks YouTube Channel via our video: Demre, Turkey – Santa Claus’ Hometown

Comment below and let me know about some of the questions below:

  • Do you want to travel to Demre now?
  • Have you traveled to Demre before?
  • Did you visit St. Nicolas church?
  • If so, what did you love? What did we miss?!

Check out our other videos about Kalkan via our FULL PLAYLIST:

Gozleme Turkey

TURKISH FOOD: Gözleme – a dish of Adaptation, Convenience, and Versatility

Note from Catie: If you have been around here, even for just a little bit, you will notice food is an important part of Turkish culture and the Funk family LOVES food! From Turkish breakfast to the special Ramazan bread, every bit of Turkey and its food revolves around seasons and events. Gözleme is one of the simpler yet filling choices. I like to call it the ‘fast food’ of Turkey.


Gozleme Turkey

The drive-thru is a concept that differentiates American culture from others. Both a perpetuator and reflection of many American values, the drive-thru is nearly synonymous with the idea of fast food. If your restaurant has a drive-thru, it can very easily be categorized as fast-food, and if it doesn’t, it is not.

American’s love for independence, instant gratification, priority of efficiency, and multi-tasking can all be seen in the idea of the drive-thru. 

While I have yet to see a drive-thru in Turkey, fast, convenient food does exist. Of course, there are foreign chains like McDonalds and Dominos serving up American-style burgers, fries, pizza.

However, if you’re looking for Turkish fast food, there are some great comfort food options, one of my favorites being gözleme.

Gözleme is a very thin flatbread stuffed with an array of various toppings. It is extremely versatile and can be found at the kahvaltı table, being sold at the open-air pazar as shoppers bargain for produce and home goods, and even at a sit-down restaurant. Some traditional toppings include cheese and spinach, potatoes and spices, ground beef and onions. However, I’ve also had some delicious dessert gözleme including tahini and sugar, or chocolate.

Depending on region and season, you can find a wide array of fillings for gözleme. If the American drive-thru represents independence, multi-tasking, and instant gratification, the Turkish gözleme displays adaptation, convenience, and versatility. 

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I’m convinced that one of the best parts of eating gözleme is watching the women who make it.

It’s incredible to watch the deft fingers gather and roll a small ball of dough into a paper-thin circle, flip it over a broomstick-like rolling pin, cover it with toppings, fold it in half, brush it lightly with oil and flip it over the griddle.

The final product can be sliced up like a quesadilla, rolled up like a dürüm, or served flat on a plate with a slice of lemon. It is endlessly versatile, can adapt to personal taste or to be a part of a meal or snack at any time of the day, and is convenient to take on the go. 

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The flatbread itself is very simple: usually an unleavened mix of flour and water. If you visit Turkey, you’ll often see it advertised as a “Turkish pancake,” but don’t be fooled. This flatbread is a distinct food all its own. To me, it is more akin to a very thin flour tortilla: slightly stretchy and quickly giving in to a satisfying tear which is especially lovely with melted cheese stringing between the halves. 

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Some argue that the word “gözleme” derives from the root word “göz” meaning “compartment” (or, more commonly, “eye”). The logic is that the inside of the gözleme is like a compartment for the fillings inside. However, the full word “gözleme” in Turkish means “to patrol/to spy/to eye” rather than “to compartmentalize.”

There is, however, another theory that I tend to lean towards.

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Other sources argue that the word “gözleme” comes from the word “közleme” which means to barbeque, grill or cook over embers. It’s easy to see where the food got its name, as it is grilled on a large, round griddle. But how did the word “közleme” become “gözleme”? 

Language, like cuisine, is an ever-shifting, -growing, and -adapting entity. One of the things that cause language to shift is ease of pronunciation. In fact, a similar shift from “g” sound to the “k” sound happened in the Proto-Indo-European language in the shift to the Germanic language that eventually became English.

{Ok, I know my language-loving nerd side is showing, but hang with me. (If you want to geek out with me, check out my more detailed explanation at the end of this post.*) }

Over time, languages shift as people pronounce certain consonants differently depending on the sounds that surround them, so that it is easier to say. For example, when I say “blessed,” it sounds like “blesst” unless I emphasize the second “e” and say “blesséd.” A similar thing happens in Turkish, but where English doesn’t change the spelling of our words based on their pronunciation, Turkish does. So, sometimes a “k” in a word like “renk” (the Turkish word for color) becomes a “g” as in “rengi” (“the color of”). This shift makes the words more comfortable to pronounce. The shift from k to g in “közleme” and “gözleme” is not such a stretch after all! This shift is especially noticeable in the accent of those from in and around Ankara, the capitol city of Turkey. Most people from Ankara pronounce their hometown “Angara” and pronounce the “k” sound as a “g” sound. 

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Like the shift in its name, gözleme is an example of both adaptation and convenience. As a food that has its humble beginnings as a village food, it’s starting to evolve and make its mark as a part of modern Turkish cuisine. Its versatility means that you can eat a smoked salmon and egg breakfast gözleme, an eggplant gözleme as a snack, and a banana, walnut, and honey dessert gözleme and still have come nowhere near exhausting your options for delicious fillings! 

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*A little further explanation for those of you willing to geek out on language with me.

I’ll teach you something I teach my TCK students: to feel where and how words are produced in our mouths and throats. 

In English, we tend to pronounce the same letters differently depending on the circumstances surrounding the letter. We do this in order to make it easier to flow from one sound to another. However, this is not usually denoted in the spelling of a word, which is one reason it’s so hard to learn English. (Some of us are having flashbacks to phonics in elementary school right now.) Try saying the word “bird” out loud. Now say “faked.” Did you hear a difference in the way you pronounced the “d” sounds? 

The “d” in “faked” sounded more like a “t” which is a voiceless, or whispered, sound.  Put your fingers on your throat where your adam’s apple is. Say “d” (not “duh” or “dee”, but try to isolate the sound at the end of “bird”). You should feel your vocal chords hard at work. Now say “t” (not “tuh” or “tee”, the isolated sound at the end of “faked”). You shouldn’t feel your vocal chords moving at all, because “t” is a voiceless sound.

There are several pairs of sounds that are made in the same way with all the same parts of your mouth or throat, the only difference being that one is voiced and one is whispered. Some examples are: d (voiced)/t (whispered), b (voiced)/p (whispered), j (voiced)/ch (whispered), g (voiced)/k (whispered).

Each of those pairs have one voiced and one whispered consonant. In Turkish, the whispered sound is changed to the voiced sound when a vowel is added to the end of a word. There is an exception. Rather than “k” to “g” shift, a “k” that ends a word usually shifts to ğ (the Turkish “soft g”). In Ottoman times, this “soft g” was pronounced in the same part of the throat as “k” and “g,” but these days is often silent or used to lengthen a vowel. So, rather than “köpek” (dog) changing to “köpegi” it changes to “köpeği” (his dog). 

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Now tell me:

  • Have you ever tried gözleme? If so, what is your favorite filling?
  • Do you think the word “gözleme” comes from the word “göz” or “közleme”? Why?
  • What imaginative fillings would you put in gözleme that you haven’t seen before?

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.

Ramazan Pide Izmir Turkey

CULTURE: Ramazan Pide ‘Bread is Life’

Note from Catie: Every bit of Turkey and its food revolves around seasons and events. Ramazan is no different! Here in Turkey, there is a special bread made only during the Ramazan, the 30 days of fasting. It is a must have when attending Iftar with locals or even if you aren’t fasting, it’s worth a try.

P.S. – And no, I didn’t spell that wrong. The most common word used is Ramadan but in Turkey, they say Ramazan!


Imagine having gone an entire day without eating, walking into a busy bakery, and being washed with the smell of the most delicious bread. Toasty, soft, warm and slightly sweet, Ramazan pide is a treat that is available in Turkey only once a year. During the Muslim holy month of daylight fasting called Ramazan (or Ramadan), this special bread is at every bakery, churned out at incredible rates. The almost mundane ritual of the loaves sliding in the oven, out and into glass cases, the question, “how many” and the varying answers is as rhythmic as a heartbeat.  The line moves quickly and efficiently as the pide, still warm, is wrapped in paper and handed over to grateful hands. Everyone rushes home to beat the sunset when friends and family gather to break the fast together. 

Ramazan Pide Izmir Turkey
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Like in other majority-Muslim countries, Turkey has a high respect for bread in general, as it holds an important position in life. Bread represents the ability to feed one’s family. In Turkey, it is as ubiquitous as it is fresh and delicious. Bread is shared around the table at most meals and has a starring role in kahvaltı (check out my blog post about Turkish breakfast here). It is made and bought fresh every day. Since it is made without preservatives, it goes stale quickly. 

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But rather than throwing stale bread away (or using it to feed ducks, like my mom would take me to do as a child), Turks share their leftover bread with the less fortunate. If you walk the streets of Turkey long enough, you’ll see bags of bread tied to fences and trees for those who cannot buy the staple for themselves. Even bakeries have systems in which patrons can “pay it forward” by buying an extra loaf to hang up for those who may come in later to ask for free bread. Here in Izmir, there are many who feed the street animals with leftover bread as well. 

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The month of Ramazan is a particular time of being generous and charitable for Muslims. People are encouraged to not only fast during daylight hours, but also to be generous toward the poor: two of the five pillars of Islam.

The very structure of Ramazan pide is a reminder of that community of generosity, as it is perforated to be easily torn and shared around the iftar table. Alongside the various Turkish dishes at the table, this bread is a great absorbent of flavorful sauces, a structured vehicle for sandwiches, or (my personal favorite) a treat all its own, slathered in fresh butter. However you eat it, the bread itself is an enduring symbol of sustenance, generosity, life.

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Now tell me:

  • Have you ever had Ramazan pide?
  • Do you have a favorite way to eat it?
  • What does bread represent to 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.

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.