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Culture = Food.

This is a post I have been thinking of for a while. Endivio’s comments on another post recently brought it back to mind.

Two countries I have visited fairly recently are Poland and Turkey. The first is a secular majority Catholic state, the second a secular* majority Muslim state.

So in what way do they differ? Obviously they have different histories and cultures driven by centuries but what really struck me is food. Now, at least in Western Turkey (I don’t know about the sticks) getting a bit of booze is easy and the same can of course be said for Poland. But meat is different. Meat in Poland is almost synonymous with pig. You don’t get much pig in Turkey. Indeed I saw one restaurant that served pig in Istanbul (it was a Spanish gaff). Just one. Once when picked up from Krakow Airport we had to dodge a deer on the road. I asked if they ate ‘em. “Er… not really” came the reply. When you consider in dear old Blighty venison is considered a king of meats this seemed odd. The place was apparently wick with dear but did you see it on a menu? Is there any particularly compelling reason meat in Turkey almost invariably means lamb? It is culture and tradition and cooking what your mam made. Women walk the streets of Istanbul in mini-skirts** sitting outside cafes and bars and drinking Efes Beer***. So hijab is out the window for many (by no means all) Turkish women as does going out for a pint but pig is off the menu.

Whereas in Poland if there ain’t pig involved it ain’t dinner. I have to say Polish beer is better than Turkish but Czech beer is most excellent. It is an odd thing. The persistence in culture of food. It seems to last longer than anything I can think of.

And it exists within countries. I am I think peculiar in living in the same house from birth to going to university – basically from 0-19. At Nottingham University I met southerners. They would talk about Christmas dinner with bread sauce. Never heard of it but everyone from south of the Watford Gap swore by it. I’m still not entirely clear what it is. Food is culture and a Turk might relax with a beer with her hair out but offer her a ham sandwich and you’ll get a funny look. Offer a Pole some venison and ditto. Offer me bread sauce and much the same. Food is something we tend to stick with perhaps more than any other religious or cultural aspect of life. As a Brit who lives with a staggering diversity of food (thank you Empire!) I find this odd. Perhaps foreign folk find our curry habit odd. Well, apart from South Asians obviously.

If I might push the boat out food defines us more than almost anything. My wife and I have a lot of cook books and a lot of those (most) name a country or area on the front and spine. You don’t get that with novels.

OK, I’m off to write as shopping list**** for we are having Mexican tonight.

*Though Mr Erdogan seems to doing his level best to fuck this up.

**Should I even mention what they wear in the “Russian Quarter” – if you have seen movies from the ’80s you’ll know. And it is all priced in Turkish lira and rouble.

***Remarkably similar to US mass-made lager. Yes I know there is good American beer but mainly you get stuff like Coors and I used to drink that but now I am older Budweiser. Terrible joke, sorry.

****Am I th only one who thinks of that as a Chopin Liszt? That’s an even worse joke.


  1. Julie near Chicago says:

    Nick, you just can’t help pun-ishing everybody, can you. ROFLMAO!

    *Ee-e-ew-www,* VERY well done, sir.

    About the lamb — the ME do lots of lamb & goat. I always thought it was because, basically, they do better there than cow. As to pig, I adore it (but heck, I adore red meat in general) but it was better when it really was. Red meat I mean. The flavor’s all been bred out of pig and beef (and chicken) on the theory that Fat Bad. Maybe that’s why people who’ve lived on no-fat diets all their lives have no brains.

  2. RAB says:

    Climate denotes the food and the food denotes the culture. Eskimos aren’t big on Rice.They don’t have 500 words to describe Risotto like they do snow, do they?

    Britain is a temperate climate in which you can grow and rear most things, except exotic fruit, hence we are a temperate people who will eat most things that are indigenous, pork, lamb, beef etc and the vegetables to go with them.

    It is generally thought that our love of spicy food like curry came along with our Commonwealth immigrants in the fifties and sixties, but not so, the Medieval diet (at least for the Aristocracy) was incredibly rich and highly spiced.

    It was all the wars we fought that blunted our palete. From the 100 years war to the Napoleonic wars, which cut off our access and hence taste for wine, to the two world wars that damn near starved us to death. Woolaton Pie and Snook anyone? British food is as good as anyone’s when done well.

    And what is food for the rich today used to be food for the poor yesterday. Oysters, Mussels, Cockles ( I have never had a Winkle, what the hell happened to them, everywhere?) used to be gathered by the poor folks for free to supplement their diet, and good high protein stuff it was too. Now it is gourmet.

    Look at us now. We can eat any food we like, from any part of the world, in season or out. There is a street in Cardiff called City road. In my childhood this used to be the hangout of Arthur Daley types in sheepskin coats flogging dodgy motors, now it is half a mile of continuous take-aways from every place on earth. It’s current nickname is … The Gaza Strip. And yes there are 5 star restaurants in Gaza too, SAoT. Starving to death they are not. ;-)

  3. Tim Newman says:

    If you want to see a country where the culture is intertwined completely with food, look no further than France. They seemingly talk about nothing else. If you ask a Frenchman what any random French town is like, he’ll mention the food and wine before anything else.

  4. Paul Marks says:

    Sadly Turkey is changing (in Asia Minor even underground churches that attract tourist money are being destroyed – as our ancient monasteries), Still (I am told) that the Turkish Republic of Cyprus is still more Turkish Nationalist than Islamist.

  5. ItalianStallion says:

    So you want to eat meat? The choice is to eat an animal that eats grass so grows slowly, only has one calf a year that also grows slowly = beef or horse, donkey, llama etc (so maybe sheep occasionally has 2 lambs), or that eats more vegetation like a goat but is a bit like a stinky sheep, or an animal that is omnivorous, has huge litters and puts on weight at a fantastic pace = pig, and if pig is on the menu, then you have a lot of protein in your diet very quickly!

    Pig also tastes delicious!

  6. NickM says:

    Well that is an interesting point though is it one Mustafa Kemel would exactly agree with?


  7. RAB says:

    Well Mustafa kemel did his damndest to secularise Turkey, they’ve been at it for almost 100 years now, and as you said yourself Nick, once outside the major cities and tourist resorts you are back in Hijab land. Turkey is very Curates egg.

    Northern Cyprus now, is the most secular ,ostensibly Muslim, place I have ever been to, and I’ve been there lots. I was sitting outside a restaurant in Farmagusta one time having a beer and a smoke and some Meze, which is right across the road from the Mosque (ex Christian Cathedral) when the call to prayer rang out. A whole two people turned up. The rest just stayed put drinking their beers and Raki.

    And as food is what we are on about here, I’d rate Turkish food in the top five of the world’s cuisines. Anyone who still thinks it’s all Kebabs is barking up the wrong tree. A vegetarian can eat like a king or queen on the Mezes alone.

    We have a lot of Turks in Bristol, and there is one place just down the hill from me called Bristanbul (great name eh?) well it sells all sorts of Turkish stuff, they even have the little old lady sat crosslegged in the back doing the pancakes. And the Baklava (a kind of stuffed pastry smothered in honey and nuts ) are to die for!

  8. Ed P says:

    America now has more (micro) breweries than the UK – most produce tasty well-hopped ales & lagers, totally unlike their gassy bland mainstream brands.

  9. NickM says:

    You don’t have to tell me of all people. I’m married to a vegan. No hassles in Turkey. Thank God (or Allah) because it is fucking nightmare in other gaffs. Try it in France. They thinkyou are doolally. I will just add one point. A lot of Turkish food is kebabs but I discovered kebab means something different. A proper Turkish kebab can be a whole variety of things. It’s a much wider term than is I think generally understood in the UK where a kebab is something you throw-up behind a night-club in Sunderland at 2.57am after having made a drunken and flatulent attempt at shagging a fat slag round the back of a piss-stained bus-stop. And no, that ain’t from experience. That’s Viz but if you have ever been to Mackem-land you will have seen such a tableau vivant. And then there is Hartlepool. The monkey hangers. Hull, Hell and Hartlepool. They have built a marina there. Club Tropicana it is not. It’s kinda like sticking a hot-tub in Strangeways and claiming it is a five star hotel. For foreign readers Hartlepool is a town on the NE coast of England and Strangeways is a prison in Manchester full of the mad, bad and dangerous to know.

    Ed P,
    Actually one of the things I really like about the USA and beer is the number of pubs that brew their own. You can see it being made whilst drinking it. I like that. I had a great night out once on Christmas Day in Miami with some Jews. Those sorta places and they had Cuban cigars. Technically from the Dominican Republic.Technically. Good food, good company, good beer and good cigars. Great to spend Christmas with Jews. While all the “Christians” do the family stuff you can partee instead.

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