Traveling (and eating) in Turkey during Ramadan

Last summer, we spent a few weeks in Turkey during Ramadan. What we thought would be a starving trip finally turned into an unforgettable experience.

Even if Turkey is a secular country, the vast majority of its citizens are Muslims. So as tourists, behave yourself nicely and adapt yourself to the culture or go there another time if the idea of being discrete at lunch is truly unbearable for you. But be warned, you would miss a lot of good times.

This is a general article which does not take the actual political situation in Turkey into account. It only focuses on gastronomy.

Here are some advice and suggestions to enjoy your stay. After that, you will want to go back to Turkey only during Ramadan.

You can see in pictures our meals in Trabzon, near the Georgian border, as well as in Amasya and Safranbolu.

In big cities – Istnabul and Ankara: Rather simple there, as everything works normally. Restaurants are open at lunchtime, people drink, eat and smoke on the street. When in Rome, do as the Romans do : I tend not to eat a simit (little sesam bun) on the street if nobody around me snacks on. You can, but it would be impolite, embarrassing and a bit sadistic towards people around you whose stomachs are gurgling… Look how local people behave and just do the same!

In public transports : that’s the good deal. I’m not an expert in Muslim religion and I can’t explain you the reasoning behind it, but the fact is that you can eat when you travel during Ramadan. That’s to say that you will always find something to eat at the bus station, which sometimes becomes a local coffee shop, even in the smallest villages.

The practical trick, particularly in summer when the weather is hot, is to bind two cities you want to visit at lunch time. Buses are much more comfortable than here and plan several stops in roadside canteens (lokantasi) that are perfect to eat a good plate of Turkish style roasted vegetables or to buy roasted chick peas for a super snack. And yeah, you just killed two birds in one stone!

In small villages: Ramadan is a festive period. People fast during the day and enjoy life at night. Maybe you won’t find restaurants or snacks open at lunchtime, but no doubt supermarkets and cake shops will be. And as the output is rather substantial during this period, you will have the chance to eat super fresh and crusty cakes, but also to taste Ramadan specialities, such as the güllaç.

Then, as polite travellers, you will go back to your hotel room and prepare your snack discreetly.

At night: It’s magical. So joyful that I, atheist and fond of food, would nearly join the crowd and fast during a few weeks, just to enjoy the evening meal.

Put simply, you have the right to eat at nightfall. 20 to 30 minutes before breaking the fast, terraces of restaurants and bars are all occupied. Do not plan to find a table at the last moment, do as the Turkish do, come early.

This way, you can see how the night is going on. Tables are already set, with iftar on them, the Ramadan meal which begins with big dates to increase instantly the sugar blood levels. As time goes by, the more glasses are filled up with water and the more cigarettes are taken out.

And, suddenly, boom! A huge gong rings and everybody rushes on his glass of water. The Muezzin’s prayer resounds and the party begins. People talk, laugh, eat soup, kebabs, dried fruits, puddings. Hunger makes people eat faster, it is over 30 minutes later. Restaurants empty little by little and parks welcome children playing, adults having a chat enjoying a cup of tea and two tourists eating ice-cream.

Breakfast : You must not eat as soon as the sun rises. We sometimes heard people in the street with drums, flutes, pans, and other stuff 30 minutes before dawn. Their mission is to wake up the inhabitants to give them a chance to eat and drink something before a long day begins. If you don’t feel concerned by this quite useful alarm clock and want to sleep, then take your earplugs with you.

Finally, do not miss the güllaç, a milky pudding made of several layers of tiny pastry in a muhallabieh-like cream (milk and starch mixture) and filled with dried fruits. You will sometimes find the fresh cherries (vişne) version, a Ramadan speciality, which is a true delight!

Also book a table for an iftar. You can of course eat a delicious kebab in a snack bar – I really like spicy adana, with a bit of fresh yoghurt. But, at least once, go to the restaurant and order this “break-fast” menu, generally including soup (çorba), olives, dates, dried apricots, cheese, rice, grilled meat, kompot (dried fruits cooked in water, sweety and refreshing), and desserts.

Translated from Voyager (et manger) en Turquie pendant le Ramadan by Fanny

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Coordinatrice éditoriale pour Culture Remains, j'use aussi de temps à autres de ma plume. Culturellement plutôt classique, je reste toujours ouverte à d'autres horizons.

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