A loaf of bread

A loaf of bread

AYLİN ÖNEY TAN - aylinoneytan@yahoo.com
A loaf of bread The father of Burak Can Karamanoğlu who was killed in crossfire between opposing protest groups last week, said bitterly, “I have nothing to do with politics. I’m a man chasing my bread!” He is a working class man struggling to raise his children in the ruthless metropolis of Istanbul. So were the parents of Berkin Elvan, who lost his life last week after a long fight for life. He was hit by a police teargas canister during the Gezi Park protests last year. He was on his way to buy bread. He never made it back. His mother, crying, told the press, “I cleaned toilets till late hours at night, but did not ever feed him a single haram morsel of bread.” Both parents, deep in agony, were expressing their sorrow in terms of bread, now the symbol of mourning and protest in Istanbul.

Bread has an almost sacred significance beyond being just food in Turkey. Bread is sacred, bread is respected and bread is honorable. It is a sin to throw it away, even moldy or stale; you have to feed it to birds or animals. The bread morsel is kissed and saluted by touching the forehead and left in a high place like the top of a wall for the birds to pick.

Bread is the fundamental food in many parts of the world. It is one of the oldest inventions of culinary history and has been a metaphor for basic human needs throughout history, being the main staple of food in many cultures. As the means of sustenance the word “bread” in many languages is equivalent to “food” or “money.” One earns bread. One prays for the daily bread. The bread-winner is the one who sustains the household’s needs.

A table without bread is unimaginable in Turkey. A loaf of bread foremost represents labor in Turkish culture. Now the death of 15-year-old Berkin Elvan adds a new depth to the significance of bread. When Berkin was hit by a tear gas canister on his way to the neighborhood grocery, he was only a few steps away from his home and his only aim was to bring fresh bread to the breakfast table. Turkish family breakfasts are legendary and it cannot be considered complete without the freshest bread possible. It is almost customary on Sunday mornings, for the youngest kid to go to the nearest bakery or grocery to pick the still warm loaves, while the mother or older sister pour tea in tulip shaped tea glasses. The Sunday breakfast is special, like anywhere in the world, a time to enjoy taking it slow, not rushing, just savoring the bread and the cheese and the tea, or just being together as family. That particular morning, when Gezi protests were still going on, Berkin somehow did not take it slowly and rushed outside. He told his mother that he should be the one to go out to buy the bread, because she would not be able to run fast enough if something dangerous were to happen. Being just a teenager, he might have taken particular pride in being the one who brings bread to the table, to feel like a grown up man. He was right; there was danger just around the corner, the hunter-police chasing protesters. He was the third child of the family, the smallest, the dearest, and the only boy.

A loaf of bread now has a new meaning in Turkey. It stands for hope. Hope for change. Bread means life, and also reminds of lives taken from young protesters rebelling against injustice. I hope this loaf of bread feeds the hopes of the masses wishing for a change!

Recipe of the Week: When abroad, one feels nostalgic about Turkish bread. It is not pretentious, almost too simple, and perfectly designed to sop up cooking juices of dishes, with all the concentrated flavors reduced into a saucy consistency. It is also very good on its own just enjoyed in breakfast with butter & jam, cheese & tomatoes, clotted cream & honey or just with olives. The crusty soft spongy freshness is simply irresistable. Here is a home-made version from the good hold humble book of Gülseren Ramazanoğlu, Turkish Cookery: Crumble 3 tablespoons of Turkish Pakmaya or compressed fresh yeast into a bowl, add ¼ cup of lukewarm water and allow to soften for 5-10 minutes. Add an additional ¼ cup warm water, 3 tablespoons sugar, 2½ cups flour and 1½ teaspoons salt. Combine all ingredients to make a dough and transfer the dough on a lightly floured clean board or kitchen counter. You may need a little more flour to make a pliable dough. Knead the dough by folding over and pushing down several times for about 15 minutes until it is smooth and elastic. Cover with a cloth and leave to rise at a warm place (25-30ºC) for 1½ hours. After the first rising knead lighty for 2 minutes, brush dough with water and let rise for a second time for 15 minutes or till it is doubled in size. Preheat oven to 150ºC.

Shape dough into an oblong loaf with pointed ends. Place on a baking tray dusted with flour. Make an incision lenthwise or 3 times diagonally with a shard knife. Bake for about 30 minutes or until golden. 

Bite of the week

Fork of the Week: Simit, another Turkish staple food, is an alternative to bread. These sesame covered yeasty rings are the rescue of the poor, you can enjoy them with a glass of tea anytime, anywhere; or have them in sandwich form in one of the Simit Sarayı (ironically meaning Simit Palace) chains scattered everywhere in the city. Now you’re a local in solidarity with the crowds!

Cork of the Week: Bread desires good wine, and when you have a bottle of good wine, sometimes all you need is some good cheese and bread. İncirli Şaraphane in Kuruçeşme offers an extensive selection of local wines to be enjoyed on the spot with supermarket prices.

http://incirlisaraphane.com/en. Urla Vourla 2010 is a good pick from the Aegean region that will satisfy with a variety of dishes from pasta to meat, or just cheese and bread.