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.

Nia McRay TastesLikeTurkey Peanut Butter Cookies

CULTURE: Afiyet Olsun + Neighbors + Super Easy Peanut Butter Cookies

The Easiest Plate-Filling Peanut Butter Cookies

Knock Knock knock echoes from my apartment door. As a single woman who was raised in the States, I’m cautious of this sound. In the first week of coronavirus entering Turkey, I’m particularly so.  I’m not expecting any deliveries or visitors, but I look through the peephole.

The lady who lives in the apartment across the hallway from me stands at the door, looking right at the peephole – like she sees me. In her hand a plate of chicken and bulgur pilaf. I smile and open the door. Everyone in my building is keeping social distancing pretty seriously, and she pushes the plate into the door while simultaneously turning her face away as she isn’t wearing a mask and mumbles, “Afiyet olsun” (the Turkish equivalent of “Bon Appetit”). 

No, this wasn’t a special occasion. Recently I went to visit a friend who was injured and unable to walk (let alone cook for her family) for a while. Her Turkish neighbors kept a steady flow of home-cooked food coming, especially those first few days, without being asked or setting up a meal train.

While that circumstance was indeed a special occasion, I wonder if what made the action so organic is that bringing food to one another is already a commonplace occurrence.  Neighbors bring one another plates of food without ceremony with the expectation that you will return the dish with some homemade treat of your own to share. 

Once, the same neighbor from across the hall stopped me and my roommate as we walked down the hallway, on our way to dinner out at one of our favorite restaurants. “Wait, wait!” she waved us down. She proceeded to fill a bowl with popcorn as an appetizer and waved us back into our apartment to wait for the rest of the dinner she was cooking. Bit by bit she brought dishes to our door as they were prepared: salad, pilaf, beans. We grazed the whole evening as the plates and bowls began to collect on our table.

I felt cared for (even if my plans for the evening had been canceled in the process) especially as a single woman living in a foreign country. I knew that my neighbors care enough for me to make sure I’m at least well-fed. 

But another thought also began to come to mind as the plates piled up. I had already been made aware of the expectation to fill a plate once it was brought. This can certainly feel overwhelming for the ex-pat who has not yet mastered Turkish cuisine or knows what of the foods they do know how to cook would be palpable for a Turkish palate. 

Thankfully, I have found that the following recipe has been a hit among my Turkish friends and neighbors. It is also incredibly easy and quick. So easy that my neighbors and friends don’t believe me when I share the recipe. So quick that I can whip up a batch and return a plateful of hot cookies to my neighbors within 15 minutes of receiving a plate. 

The Easiest Plate-Filling Peanut Butter Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup of chocolate chips of our choice

Instructions:

  • Preheat oven to 175 C (350 F).  
  • Mix egg, peanut butter, and sugar until fully incorporated. 
Nia McRay TastesLikeTurkey Peanut Butter Cookies
Nia McRay TastesLikeTurkey Peanut Butter Cookies
  • Fold in chocolate chips. 
  • Scoop onto a prepared cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes. 
Nia McRay TastesLikeTurkey Peanut Butter Cookies
Nia McRay TastesLikeTurkey Peanut Butter Cookies
  • Let cool for 2 minutes before transferring to a borrowed plate and bringing to neighbors. 
Nia McRay TastesLikeTurkey Peanut Butter Cookies
Nia McRay TastesLikeTurkey Peanut Butter Cookies

Note: The trick to these cookies is finding a good peanut butter to use. While JIF brand peanut butter is now available in Turkey (and is my personal favorite), it is often quite expensive when you can find it. The only brand that I’ve tasted that is similar to the peanut butter in the States is the Tuğba brand which advertises having no added sugar. It comes in crunchy and smooth (either of which can be used for this recipe) for a reasonable price. 

I hope you find these as yummy and easy and I do! Let me know if you try them!

What is your go-to food for sharing with neighbors?

Afiyet olsun!

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.