Monday, August 22, 2011

Ramadan in Turkey

All the guidebooks cautioned us against traveling in Turkey (where the vast majority of the population is Muslim) during the holy month of Ramadan. They warned us of the horrors of closed restaurants, the unavailability of food, irritable public employees, and irregular schedules. Clearly, those people have never seen what impact Ramadan can really have on a place. Like the UAE, for instance, where you can be the hungriest tourist in the world and it won't change the fact that pretty much no restaurants anywhere are open, except McDonald's, and even then it's only going to open at 11am, and even then, it's only for takeaway.

(Drive around town at 3am, on the other hand, and you will have your pick of eating establishments that are open for business.)

ANYWAY. We found Ramadan in Turkey to be quite charming. We had no problem acquiring food when we needed it, and we experienced no social repercussions or even a single stink-eye when we had the audacity to eat in public. It turns out that there are a lot of Muslims in Turkey who don't observe Ramadan, and they were in line at McDonald's during the day with the rest of us heathens.

Why yes, we DID eat at McDonald's. I will brook no disdain from you, dear readers. We never eat at McDonald's at home, so it was a safe, cheap, predictable treat in a foreign country where we had other things to worry about besides finding a good restaurant. Plus, they had a pretty outdoor terrace that made it oh-so-respectable.

We ate at one nice restaurant in Istanbul (above), and the soups/salad/bread were amazingly delicious. The main courses were good, but if I could do it again, I would just order another lentil soup. Maybe if it hadn't been Ramadan, there would have been other people eating there. But then again, we had the full attention of the staff, so.

The best part about Ramadan in Turkey was spending every evening in Sultanahmet Park, watching the crowds of picnickers stream in and claim any available spot of grass for their iftar meal.

Well before the call to prayer sounded from the Blue Mosque, the whole park was packed. People sat together on blankets or newspapers and spread out their meals, arranging them just so, or maybe finishing up preparations like slicing vegetables or peeling fruit. Then they settled in to wait for the call to prayer. As soon as it came, there was a quick, collective gasp, and then a hush would fall over the entire area as everyone in the vicinity took a drink or put some food in their mouths. It would remain pretty quiet for a few minutes until the food caught up with their hunger enough for them to start chatting again.

One of the nights we were there, I was standing with the girls near some Ramadan picnickers. When iftar hit, they saw that I didn't have any food to eat (even though I obviously hadn't been fasting) and handed over some of their own, in such a manner that I knew I couldn't refuse.

Like I said, charming.


Glenda The Good said...

Best part of that movie was the very end. Your daughter on film cracks me up every time!

Susanne said...

I think Majd has the azan down pretty well! :)


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