After a long hot day, the patience with which all fasting Moslems await the appointed hour for iftar, the meal which breaks the fast, to be annnounced from the local mosque or on the radio is impressive. The further west, the longer the wait. Of course, Ramazan,the annual 30-day period of fasting between sunrise and sunset does not always fall in the summer: it moves back ten days every year. This year, however, has seen record high temperatures with the believers fasting for 16 hours straight. Nothing must pass their lips: not even an aspirin and certainly not a cigarette. A real test of faith indeed.
A Typical Village İftar meal in the Aegean
Traditionally, first a date and some olives are eaten accompanied by copious glasses of water. This is followed by soup – çorba – probably lentil ,or tarhana,made from crushed wheat and yogurt, and then the main meal, typically vegetable-based with a little mince or chicken in it.
The special Ramazan bread, the large gloriously round pide, baked twice a day in the local fırın, will accompany this.
Watermelon and cheese are favourites but the piece de resistance is dessert: kadayif, the ‘shredded wheat’ baklava; kemal paşa; and the most popular, güllaç, a light, layered, milky confection. 85% of all güllaç is consumed in Ramazan. Mehmet, our gardener, says in the village they usually have sütlaç, essentially a rice pudding, presumably because it is cheaper.
Mehmet and the other men go to the mosque from 10 – 11pm. Being a man of many talents, he is also the village barber so he then opens his Barber’s Shop and cuts hair till 2am. Afterwards he will socialize until 3.30am when all devout Moslems enjoy sahur, last chance to eat and drink before sunrise. The older men , and the women too, will sleep from about 11 – midnight till they hear the sound of the davulcu beating his drum for sahur. This is becoming a dying tradition and in Istanbul, is actually forbidden. After sahur, back to bed for everyone. By now it will be about 4.30am.What happens after İftar
In the Aegean area, near Çanakkale, where I have been for the last few weeks, this holy month of fasting has its own special flavour. As Mehmet told me, for the villagers it is like a holiday. Each household saves up approximately 500 TL (about $350) to survive this period as unlike in the city, they, especially the men, don’t work unless they have to eg tending sheep or cows. They actively don’t want to work so that they can pass the daylight hours more easily by sleeping. Iftar is eaten with family and friends and there is very much a festive atmosphere after the strictures of the day. Mehmet says that about 30% are not fasting in the villages these days and no blame is attached. Girls start at about 12 yrs old and boys around 13 – 14. But they start gradually: 1 day, 5 days, 10 days, or every other day, for example. There is huge tolerance.
This year Ramazan will finish on Wednesday 8 September, a special day called Arefe, a half-day holiday, and is immediately followed by a festive 3-day national holiday called Şeker Bayramı (9, 10, 11). If you visit Turkish friends during this time, it is customary to take something sweet as a present, symbolic of all that was given up during the fast. Your household help will appreciate this too. Just before the Bayram, you will notice large boxes of chocolates on sale at all the major supermarkets for this very purpose.