What's for dinner? A smorgasbord of culture

Collection Im/migrant Tastes

Home. Longing. Sometimes we don’t know what that is until we move away. Then, there it is. A smell, a taste, a sound that makes us close our eyes, brings us back. Makes us wish we were back

For me, a Turkish transplant in Alaska by way of Arizona, the differences between my worlds is stark. Food became a balm to the aches and pains of homesickness. 

Surprisingly, this included adding parts of Turkish cuisine to my tables in Alaska and Arizona that would not have graced my table in Turkey. 

When I moved to the U.S. and became an “immigrant,” Turkish foods that I never ate before started appearing on my table. I was always cooking Turkish food for my guests. It was as if I became more Turkish at the table. I couldn’t understand it, but it was a visceral and purely emotional reaction.

Then, I started to think; wouldn’t I make a good story? Let’s consider the facts. I eat (a lot), I cook (a lot), I feed others (a lot), I think food, I watch food, and lately, I am also writing about food. Surely, something interesting can be cooked up. Right?

97Tables of Istanbul98Tables of Istanbul captures my personal story –as a sociologist, immigrant, and passionate cook exploring food cultures in Istanbul (a.k.a. eating my way through the bustling city). 

The documentary investigates Turkish cuisine, Istanbul’s place within it, and food movements through conversations with chefs, restaurateurs, researchers, food writers, activists, and families.

Maybe there is something to this semi-obsession with Istanbul and the Bosphorus strait. The idea of being a bridge between Turkey and the USA, between my Turkish self, global self and American self, between my student self, migrant self and professional self appear frequently when I talk about or make food. Where is the story in that cliche, you ask?

Well, there was that time I realized that I do not just like cooking. No, I like cooking for people who like to eat food; lots of it. Then I remember the time I revised this idea further. I cannot be friends with or date/marry anyone who does not enjoy the foods of Turkey. Like the time P. had to go because he thought Turkish food was “colorful” while he pushed his food around the plate, saying “I am too full to eat.”

So when W. came along and said he can’t live without biber salçası (red pepper paste) from Turkey even if we broke up, and asked for seconds of the Hünkar Beğendi, (an eggplant dish) he got to stay.

My im/migrant story has food at its core. It was always there making things better, warmer, friendlier, grounding me in an unfamiliar environment through a familiar language. It was building bridges between myself and my new home. Could I take my deeply personal story and apply academic curiosity about food to it? Yes!

So here we go. Pull up a chair, come sit at my table, and dig in. Afiyet olsun!

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