Leyla Yvonne Ergil
The Turks have the ritual of dining down pat, they labor over preparing and enjoying lavish meals while still remaining relatively svelte. Learn some top tips about how Turks keep fit and healthy, while also dining like sultans
Anyone who visits Turkey will know that the cuisine is both sumptuous, diverse and laden with dough and rich desserts, so how is it that for the most part, Turks are generally quite fit? Well, as you’ll see there are a number of inherent customs in the culture that promote extremely healthy ways of eating to both feel good and thoroughly enjoy each meal, while not being weighed down and letting the number on the scale go up.
Here are some top tips on how to eat like a Turk, keep your form and enjoy every bite!
The dining ritual
For Turks, each meal is considered precious, while obvious in restaurants, even at home the table will be set properly for every meal and a lavish spread will be put out, which will include cold and warm dishes. There is an inherent rule that at least three different dishes must be included in meals, which in most cases will include a soup, a vegetable dish accompanied by rice or bulgur and nearly always a large salad. Dessert at home, as is also the case in restaurants, is often just a selection of fruit. What will also be on hand at every home-cooked meal will be freshly baked white bread and, in many cases, multiple loaves of them.
So, how does this work as a tip to stay fit? Well, it’s because they enjoy their meal thoroughly and pay a lot of care to have a diverse array of dishes satisfying every savory craving with ingredients like yogurt, fresh greens, pulses, seasonal vegetables, pickles, olives and tomato and red pepper pastes. In other words, Turks enjoy satisfying and well-rounded meals that provides immense nutrition and so they eat well.
Turks eat slow
With the exception of when Turks chow down on fast food items such as a döner wrap or fish sandwich, Turkish meals usually last a long time. From Turkish breakfast to meals at home and dining out on fish or kebab, Turks take their time and linger over every bite. It is always fascinating to me how the tiny plates of meze can remain on tables with parts still untouched for hours. It’s not that it isn’t delicious or that they don’t love it, it’s just that they savor every bite and take their sweet time. You will also notice that while there are fast food options, drive-thru fast-food chains are nearly non-existent and eating in the car or standing up is also not a regular habit shared by Turks.
Water, oil or yogurt
Turks actually have an entire genre of water-based dishes that consist almost exclusively of vegetable and bean dishes and the occasional meat stew. This means that the majority of Turkish meals do not consist of creamy sauces, nor do they contain many dairy-based ingredients with the exception of yogurt, which we all know is laden with healthy bacteria and thus easily digestible. Meanwhile, there is also a genre of olive-oil-based dishes and most of those are prepared with a base of tomatoes and onions. Olive oil is great for digestion and a staple of Mediterranean cuisine, which is now deemed by many to be the healthiest diet in the world. And it makes sense, as even the meat and fish are prepared simple and not served doused in an additional heavy sauce. So, the sauces are light and the nutrition is high in these dishes that constitute the basis of Turkish cuisine.
Many Western visitors will also notice that Turks do not start off their meals by spreading butter on bread and you would be hard pressed to even be able to get butter at most restaurants if you wanted to do so. Butter is a precious commodity and the baskets of bread placed on tables in Turkey are exclusively for lapping up the lovely aforementioned juicy dishes prepared with olive oil.
Turks Like their Spice
Dried herbs such as red chili flakes and paprika, sumac, thyme and mint are all spices that you could easily find set on the table as condiments in any home or restaurant. All of these herbs are really healthy ways to spice up a meal. In addition, many Turks like their dishes hot, and by that I mean spicy, which they achieve through sprinkling red pepper flakes on almost everything and by eating whole peppers, which are served alongside almost every dish as a garnish, grilled or otherwise, and from bowls of pickled peppers that are sometimes also offered on the side. Spicy foods are said to rev up your metabolism and so the Turks definitely have that motor rolling all the time.
Turks love fruit
Turks pretty much exclusively only consume seasonal fresh fruit and produce and will go to lengths to try to source produce and dairy products from certain regions in the country. Fruit is a big part of the daily cuisine, especially in the summer months when plates of watermelon begin to adorn every table at every meal, including breakfast. Dessert is many times just a plate of fruit, while other fruits and nuts such as unripe plums and almonds are also prized seasonal snacks.
Turks eat together
It is a well-known fact that people eat less when they are sharing a meal with others. Perhaps this is also why Turks manage to remain lean because most of them share nearly every meal with other people. Turks do not tend to dine alone and instead will invite anyone and everyone they can to join them. The more, the merrier is definitely the mentality here in Turkey, which just makes every meal a good time and a lighter one at that. Turks also love to digest their meal with tea no matter what the hour and then per tradition, especially in the summer months, they will take a stroll after a meal.