September 10 2010
There is a traditional 'Iftar Sofrasi' (the table set for the meal of breaking the fast) that follows a particular order for practical reasons more than anything else. The table is set with what the Turks eat for breakfast - cheese, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, jams and sometimes 'pastirma' (a beef cured with spices that has been dried / smoked in the sun) or 'sucuk' (garlic flavored Turkish sausage); all of this is eaten with a special 'pide' (pita bread that comes out only during Ramadan). The fast is broken with something that hasn't touched fire, either olives, dates or water. Fruit juices, water and soda are beverages served with the meal; most Turks don't drink alcohol during the month of Ramadan. The first course that comes out is always a soup to help with digestion. One or two olive oil dishes and some sort of borek is usually on the table also, as a starter, before the main meal. Everyone samples a little bit of everything while the little tea glasses are never left empty.
This year, the month of Ramadan, was over without any of us realizing that it had even started. It's always difficult to get into the spirit of any holiday that is celebrated away from familiar surroundings; we are not a very religious family except for my mother and remembering it is Ramadan when no one is fasting and there is no acknowledgement around anywhere, makes it almost impossible. All of these excuses must seem pathetic to the truly devout but this is a fact about the culture we grew up with in Turkey. We are not ruled by the 'sharia laws' but have a democratic constitution that allows for freedom of religion. Although almost %98 of the country is supposed to be Muslim, nothing in Turkey is similar to any other Muslim country. People are free to pray and practice their own religion the way they choose to; most of the people I have known have found their own interpretations of Islam that, I think, is unique to only Turkey.
Murat gave me his list of must haves for the iftar -lentil soup, borek with ground beef, and a fried egg along with the usual breakfast stables. We were never too big on the main meal during Ramadan and couldn't seem to get past the soup and borek, so the meat I prepared for this night was for the rest of the family's benefit.
The day before the planned 'iftar', Mehmet and I went shopping for the authentic breakfast supplies from a Turkish grocer, Ethnic International Holding, Inc. in Cranbury, New Jersey. The whole shopping expedition was a such a happy occasion. I found all the specific brand name products I was looking for, from the sheep's milk white cheese (some call it feta) and special green olives to the halvah and even sour cherry juice. The preparations were quite easy, once we had all the materials ready. I only had to make the soup and the borek, the meat would cook all by itself anyway.
Cenk, Wendy and Prometheus left to go back to Los Angeles at the beginning of the week; we are back to our nucleus family of six. Everything returned to normal, we all went back to work and school and the 'iftar sofrasi' we shared with the whole family became nothing but an exotic, distant memory.