ARTICLE: VEDAT BASARAN PHOTO: ONDER DURMAZ
“I was raw, I was cooked, I burned”
The ‘recipes’ given in the works of the great Islamic poet and scholar Mevlâna make up an important component of Konya cuisine even today...
When expounding his philosophy of life, the great Islamic thinker Mevlâna chose most of his symbols directly from nature. Foodstuffs also number among those symbols, as is exemplified by the expression, “I was raw, I was cooked,
I burned’, from his Divan-ı Kebir or Great Divan, a collection of his poems on divine love. And the recipes that this famous man of learning as well as other scholars of Islamic mysticism offer from time to time are a gift to us from the culinary culture of their age.
RESPECT FOR THE CHEF
The ‘Kitchen’ occupies a very important place in the teachings of Islamic mysticism, commonly known as Sufism. For this is the place where the dervishes began their training. The purpose was not only that they should learn to prepare food, but that they should at the same time learn respect for the food that is given to man through the extraordinary workings of nature. Great importance is given to the use and consumption of food in the most appropriate and efficient way possible. Indeed, out of respect for the food they were going to eat, the chefs in Mevlâna’s kitchens preferred to maintain silence as they worked and as they ate. For this reason, the art of cooking was a highly regarded profession in Mevlâna’s time, indeed an office of spiritual significance. The Mevlevis showed deep respect for cooks because they prepared with great skill the blessings offered by the sublime creator of the universe and were the vehicle for the feeding of his slaves. Outstanding proof of this respect is the tomb that was built in honor of Mevlâna’s beloved cook, Ateş-baz (literally, one who plays with fire) Veli, upon his death. The eternal resting place of Ateş-baz Veli, perhaps the only cook in the world who has had a tomb erected in his name, is located in Meram township of Konya province in central Turkey. The world-renowned food scholar Alan Davidson refers to this tomb in an article he wrote: “We arrived as tourists and left as pilgrims.” Visitors to Ateş-baz Veli’s tomb today bring back a pinch of the salt found there for their own kitchens that it may bring bounty and add flavor to the food they cook...
GIVING THANKS FOR EVERY MORSEL
The Sufis, who also place great importance on ‘somat’ or table manners, take their food twice a day, at noon and in the evening. The dervish novices (‘mürid’ or ‘can’) are responsible for setting the table. Salt has ceremonial significance at meals, which begin and end with it. When the preparations are complete, it is time to consume the food. The Kazancı Dede lifts the lid of the ‘kazan’ or cauldron, and the novices remove it from the fire. The Kazancı Dede’s prayer is the invitation to commence eating. Standing with their hands folded in front of them, the Sufis bow their heads in greeting upon arriving at the door and take their places around the table. The meal commences with the arrival of the ‘Sheikh’ and his prayer. Talking during the meal is strictly forbidden, eating being virtually a form of worship for Mevlevis. As they eat, they give continuous thanks for the morsels set before them. The meal ends in unison, as it began.
FROM FISH SOUP TO NOAH’S PUDDING
When we examine the works of Mevlâna, we observe that in 13th century Anatolia a wide range of vegetables, including leeks, eggplant, squash, celery, spinach, onions and garlic; of fruits, including apples, quinces, pomegranates, pears, peaches, figs, cantaloupe and watermelon; of legumes, including black-eyes peas, lentils, beans, chickpeas, and horsebeans; of nuts, including walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, and dried chickpeas; and of dairy products such as cheese, yoghurt and buttermilk was consumed. Other dishes and drinks such as paper-thin ‘yufka’ pastry, ‘tandır’ bread baked over a charcoal fire, meat-filled bread, savory pastries and rolls, ‘tutmaç’, ‘tirit’, honey, molasses, sesame paste, string pastry, saffron-flavored rice pudding and fruit syrups are also mentioned with some frequency in the works of Mevlâna. Compiled in English, ‘Sufi Cuisine’, the most recent work by Nevin Halıcı, a scholar of Turkey’s very estimable culinary culture, contains a wealth of information on the foods prepared by the Mevlevis. Furthermore, a work entitled ‘Edirne Postnişini Ali Eşref Dede’nin Yemek Risalesi’ (‘The Food Treatise of Ali Eşref Dede, Head of the Religious Order at Edirne’), which has been translated into Turkish by poet Feyzi Halıcı, who lives in Konya, is rich in information about the dishes cooked in Mevlevi kitchens. The prevailing culinary culture of Mevlâna’s time was one in which food prepared from pure and unadulterated ingredients evolved in line with Sufi ritual requirements. Besides being pure, the dishes of Mevlevi cuisine also exhibit a striking diversity, from a wide array of vegetable dishes to myriad species of fish.
But the recipes offered by Mevlâna are not confined to the pages of books. A large proportion of the people of Konya today still adorn their tables with Sufi delicacies, remembering Mevlâna with every morsel they take.