Cuisine for Turconauts?
So, the date is fixed! Sometime in the year 2023, there will be some Turkish astronauts up there, watching us and waving from above. Why 2023? We do not know for sure, but from the point of view of what they will be eating, we better get started with the preparations from right now. As far as I know, what will be out there for dinner has not been planned yet. Or maybe there won’t be any dinner at all. How the dinnertime will be arranged is still a mystery to me. I guess the Turkish mission will be eating by Turkish time, but what if they happen to be on the other side of our planet? I hope they will take care of the fact that the date of the mission does not coincide with the month of Ramadan as then it would be extremely difficult to arrange the fasting hours with no sunrise and sunset times. Or will it turn out to be like some eternal fasting? I assume that in such a case, they can be excused from fasting as being voyagers. This timing issue is beyond my understanding, so let us focus on the menu.
All jokes aside, space food is a serious matter. Being one of the most difficult issues to solve in a space shuttle, food requires immensely meticulous planning, timing, and quite a deal of science put into every single meal up there. The human body has difficulty adapting to gravity-free life; many astronauts suffer from various sicknesses after a trip up there. Good nutrition is essential, but it is a known fact that astronauts lose appetite due to a reduced sense of smell and taste, and many of their meal packs remain untouched during their voyage. Everything comes in tightly sealed packaging. One essential tool added to the usual cutlery is scissors. Eating involves sucking from a tube or sipping from a pouch. Naturally, one cannot have an open plate on a set service, otherwise, all the droplets of sauce and drinks and crumbles and morsels of food would be flying around. Tube food came to the rescue -luckily tube was developed before the 1960s before Yuri Gagarin made the first human encounter with outer space in 1961. His first space meal was pureed meat with chocolate sauce packed in a tube separately.
One can think that every space mission will have a similar food pattern crafted according to the need of crewmembers and based on their particular needs in space conditions. But on the contrary, the food of the space people is very nationalistic. What you eat is usually based on whether you are an astronaut or cosmonaut. Eating locally is a much-chewed cliché nowadays and seems to be an oxymoron when it comes to space food, but actually, it is a fact. Every national space team has their own food, brought from their homeland, and when there is a multi-national team, every member has their preferred tastes, catered based on their country’s cuisine. No joking, it is true.
My friend and food researcher, Jane Levi, is passionate about space food and has several articles on the issue. She even has a well-written article titled “Space,” which was one of the entries in the Encyclopedia of Food Cultures of the World (for which I proudly wrote an entry for Turkey). Needless to say, hers was above all of our entries and interestingly was related to many entries of the countries down on Earth. Here is what she wrote about “national” menus on space programs.
“The Chinese yuhangyuan don’t eat with chopsticks, but they do eat a recognizable Chinese cuisine with rice, meats, and vegetables in classic sauces of beans, chili and Sichuan pepper (kung pao chicken), or garlic, and fruit dishes; the Soviet Union’s space program supplied Russian favorites like borscht (beet soup), pickled herring, and porridge; and the United States’ food teams made sure they developed classic meat and vegetable dishes like chicken à la king and mashed potatoes, as well as hamburgers, hot dogs, and Thanksgiving dinners.”
The food of yuhangyuan, or in more recognizable terms, Chinese astronauts, has led to scientific inventions fit to Chinese cuisine. They developed individually wrapped morsels of food in edible skins so that each morsel is covered with an adequate amount of sauce, such as sweet and sour sauce, ready to be popped in the mouth. Space station Mir had a beautifully designed table for convivial dining -- all pouches and sachets of food visible under a covered transparent tabletop, ready to be sucked. The luckiest team seems to be the spationauts, who are French spacemen. Apparently, their food excelled all others, including sophisticated food. Levi gives almost unreal and hard to believe details on that:
“French chefs have devised delicious meals for spationauts to share with their colleagues on special occasions. Richard Filippi, a chef and cookery school teacher, worked on the first of these dishes in the mid-to the late 1990s, developing magnificent delicacies for Mir. In 1996 Claudie Haigneré treated her fellow cosmonauts to beef daube, confit of duck with capers, pigeons in wine, and a rich tomato sauce, all washed down with wine from the Alsace. Filippi’s other dishes were sent to Mir with French spationauts throughout the 1990s; squid in lobster sauce, toffee rice pudding, and most spectacular, whole quail cooked in wine sauce, then deboned, sliced, and reassembled (including its wings) into a 3.5-ounce can.”
Well, seeing that the space race includes some rivalry also in the kitchen, I have some ideas for our national space menu. It is largely based on my previous researches on a variety of food items in our cuisine. When I gave a presentation on yogurt years back at the Oxford Food Symposium, I included information about dried yogurt and all traditions of drying yogurt present in the Central Asian and Turkic cultures. Named “kurut” or “keş,” the product was meant to be used as a sustenance food in times when milk was scarce in herds and also as a rich food source to accompany during long journeys that are a part of the nomadic lifestyle. At the Dublin symposium, I argued that “tarhana” was a brilliant fusion food -- a desiccated food bringing together yogurt and grains and rich in protein and carbs. These were millennia old Turkish inventions, and they can be well adapted to space, with new technologies in freeze dying methods and the like. Inspired by dried yogurt, I am sure science can make instant “ayran,” commonly symbolized as a Turkish “national drink,” that can come in granules like instant coffee. Ah yes, one would think Turkish coffee will be hard to prepare, but no, we already have instant Turkish coffee in sachets served in Turkish airlines. So, I expect our research teams will take into consideration these ideas to develop a national menu for our first space explorers.
But to admit, there have been some Turkish foods already up in the sky. Working in collaboration with the Soviets, as part of the Interkosmos space program, the Bulgarians developed space food with their traditional dishes, including tarator, sarma, musakka and yogurt. So, we better get started to create our own “Domestic and National Cuisine in Space,” and we better find an official name for the first Turconauts as well.