Fast but not Feast

Fast but not Feast

Fast but not Feast

Ramadan is here. After the disasters, Ramadan tables will be set in moderation, in a way to nurture the spirit of solidarity. It would be inappropriate to set iftar tables with excessive variety and abundance. Iftar tables had gone a bit over-the-top over the past few decades, quite opposite to the modest humble tables of once upon a time, excessiveness had become the norm. Consequently, waste was unavoidable, with most of the food going in the trash bin. Now, it is time to get back to normal. Moreover, the United Nations, thanks to Türkiye’s efforts, declared March 30 as “International Zero Waste Day.” Then, it’s time for good old-fashioned austerity.

Ramadan tables are rich and lavish. No question about that. Fasting is rewarded with feasting. In this daily cycle of not eating a morsel or taking a sip of water during the day light hours is celebrated with all you can eat and drink at nighttime. In many countries, the celebration of food is in the core, backed with a festive mood with entertainment and music throughout the night. In every country, the most precious and prized dishes of that particular cuisine will be on the table. Most of the time, it is the meat and rice dishes that are preferred, as both are expensive and costly ingredients. Even though each country’s food is different, when it comes to using the best of the best ingredients, the expense will not be avoided.

On the other hand, Ramadan is also a time to dull the appetite, to taste the hunger and thirst of fasting, to be content with less, it is a way to treat the soul by abstaining from greed and gluttony. In short, the true spirit of Ramadan should be a less-is-more attitude. If we look back in our past, we can see that many Ramadan meals were prepared with this understanding. What was left over from iftar was eaten at sahur, and many dishes were made from leftover bread or surplus ingredients from a previous meal, such as stale bread dishes ranging from “tirit” to “popara” and even certain desserts were prepared in the same manner.

Let’s have a peek at the world of such dishes that recycle bread in a glorious way. In the past, dishes like “tirit” were very popular and frequently prepared in Turkish cuisine. It is considered as one of the classic dishes of medieval Arab cuisine, “tharid” in Arabic, it is also known as the favorite dish of the Prophet Muhammad. According to a widespread belief, the prophet called the dish superior to all other dishes, adding that just as his wife Aisha was superior to all other women. Maybe because of the legend, the dish marks a strong Arab identity and especially consumed in the holy month of Ramadan. As a description, tharid is a bread soup, the stale bread morsels moistened with broth or bone stock, with pieces of pulled meat on top. But it should not be understood as a singular dish. There are many kinds of tharid or tirit made with various meats, ranging from poor people’s food such as tirit in plain water to elaborate ones with game, such as pheasant meat, which were served on rich tables in the most historical records.

In Persian, tirid or tharid means bread soaked in milk or broth. Technically, that is exactly what it is, but of course the idea travelled widely. Wherever there is bread, stale bread is used in one way or another, there are numerous variations especially widespread around the Mediterranean basin. Separately cooked boiled meat or pan-roasted minced meat can be used, in Turkish cuisine yogurt and melted butter can be involved, in other countries various ingredients are piled on a plate with pita bread, chopped bread or flatbread as a base to create a substantial dish. Sometimes such dishes are called “popara,” especially those that include milk or cheese. Then, there are those made with boiled chicken or turkey, or even goose that are called by names such as “bandırma,” “banduma,” “ıslama,” linguistically they all mean dipped, soaked, wetted, moistened or “çullama” meaning covered, if there is a final cover of flat bread that blankets the dish. If the bread is not placed under the dish, but chopped onto it, it is called “doğrama” which simply means “cut” or “chopped” referring to the cut bread pieces. For example, in Turkmenistan, “doğrama” is a dish in which tandoori bread is chopped into a dish with meat, onions and carrots.

Zero-Waste Kitchen

Türkiye’s efforts to declare March 30 as International Zero Waste Day at the United Nations General Assembly meeting is a very important step. On Dec. 14, 2022, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution to proclaim March 30 as International Day of Zero Waste, to be observed annually. Türkiye, with 105 other countries, put forward the resolution. During International Day of Zero Waste, Member States, organizations of the United Nations system, civil society, the private sector, academia, youth and other stakeholders are invited to engage in activities aimed at raising awareness of national, subnational, regional and local zero-waste initiatives and their contribution to achieving sustainable development.

Turkish cuisine is culturally sustainable and based on being waste-free. No part of the ingredients in the kitchen is wasted, everything is reused or recycled one way or another. Waste is considered a sin first and foremost. As we see in afore mentioned dishes, sometimes it is humble simplicity that creates the tastiest and much-loved plates on a table.

During the Ottoman period, we see that simple egg dishes were an important part of Ramadan meals. After the soup course, before the main course, a fried egg course would be served. It could be eggs fried with ground meat, confit meat, pastrami or spinach, or even with butter and dates. Eggs with onions made at the Dolmabahçe Palace on the 15th day of Ramadan was an event, the cook making the best one would be awarded a prize. One of these egg dishes was very interestingly recorded as an egg “tirit” with poached or baked egg placed on bread, covered with creamy garlic yogurt and doused with sizzling melted butter. This particular dish is now what we know as “çılbır” renowned mostly as Turkish eggs, especially in Britain.

Using stale bread to create delectable dishes is possible. The original name of the popular sour cherry bread pudding is “vişneli tirit” in Turkish cuisine, it is simply stale bread heavily spread with butter, baked and soaked with sour cherries syrup, or with cherry preserves. As all these dishes demonstrate, sometimes just eggs, onions or stale bread can suffice for a feast, or a simple broth and leftover meat can be revived as a festive plate, satisfying the palate of a prophet.

During Ramadan, it is time to go zero-waste, it is important not to waste a single morsel of bread, it is time to focus on fasting without excessive feasting!

Aylin Öney Tan,