— The Erimtan Angle —

Katy Osborn writes that “Wednesday evening [, 17 June 2015] is expected to mark the beginning of Ramadan, a month of sunrise-to-sunset fasting for nearly 1.6 billion Muslims across the world . . . For Muslims, Ramadan is a holy month dedicated to prayer, Quran recitation, introspection and fasting during the sunlight hours. But the Arabic word for fasting—sawm—doesn’t only refer to abstaining from food or drink. It translates literally to “refrain,” and encompasses abstinence from food, drink, having sex, and all evil thoughts and deeds in the interest of self-purification. Muslims observing the holy month break the daily fast with an evening meal called Iftar, often beginning with a few sips of water or something sweet, like an odd number of dates”.[1]

Osborn explains that “Ramadan is believed to be the holiest month of the year within Islam, and the month in which the Quran was revealed to the prophet Muhammad. In this month, the gates to heaven are believed to be open and the gates to hell closed. Muslims are instructed to fast in the Surat Al-Baqarah, the second and longest chapter of the Quran . . . Technically, all ‘healthy’ Muslims are expected to fast, but there are a number of exceptions. Children, elderly people and pregnant, post-natal, breastfeeding or menstruating women are exempt, as are travelers or people who are physically or mentally ill. Non-fasters can compensate by fasting at a later date or feeding a person in need”.[2]

In Turkey, as in other well-to-do Muslim locales, I imagine, the Real Hunger Games are primarily seen as an opportunity to display piety during the day and gluttony after sundown. As explained by the self-styled Turkish Food Expert Elizabeth Taviloglu: “From a culinary standpoint, Ramazan is a true paradox. Despite the diligent fasting that’s carried out by so many, Ramazan is also a time that’s very focused on cooking, eating, entertaining and dining out . . . During Ramazan, most cooks return to their roots and go for traditional Turkish favorites as well as preparing the standard fare that’s expected to be part of every “iftar” table. Cooks shop in a frenzy as markets and bazaars begin advertising their specials for Ramazan several weeks before the start of fasting. Tender dates, pistachios, Turkish Delight, ‘güllaç’ (gool-LAHCH’) and cured meats like ‘pastırma’ (pahs-tur-MAH’) and ‘sucuk’ (soo-JOOK’) are some of the most popular items. Many markets set up separate displays to make Ramazan shopping easy. It’s truly a wonderful time to stock up your pantry with classic Turkish ingredients and Turkish spices. After carefully choosing the day’s ingredients from the local markets and bazaars, the ladies of the house commence with peeling and prepping vegetables, marinating and stewing meats and preparing soups and desserts, all in anticipation of the evening meal”.[3]  But the real deal goes down in the numerous up-market hotels and restaurants offering special Ramazan and İftar deals, this is where the unholy marriage of piety and gluttony is duly consummated on a daily basis for the duration of a month.

Participants lacking sufficient financial liquidity to frequent such ostentatious establishments can instead rely on their municipal authorities to supply them with public so-called İftar tents when they can partake of a minor version of the Ramazan gluttony.

The now-opposition (or Gülenist, if you will) newspaper Today’s Zaman reports that the “cost of a fast-breaking dinner for a family of four during the holy month of Ramadan rose from TL 44.88 in 2014 to TL 51.49 this year, a 14.7 percent increase, a recent report published by the Turkish Public Workers’ Union (Kamu-Sen) has revealed. The most recent annual inflation rate announced by Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat), on the other hand, was 8.09 percent for the month of May, far greater than what Kamu-Sen calls ‘Ramadan inflation’ . . . In its report released on Wednesday [, 17 June 2015], a day before the start of Ramadan this year, Kamu-Sen said individuals on average need to consume 3,000 calories a day in order to maintain their daily activities. That much calorie intake for a single person, however, costs TL 12.87, or TL 51.49 for a family of four. The corresponding amount was TL 44.88 last year, Kamu-Sen said. Kamu-Sen’s daily menu includes 120 grams of meat, 150 grams of soup, 160 grams of rice, 30 grams of cheese, 300 grams of fruits, 300 grams of salad, 350 grams of pide (a traditional flatbread prepared mostly during Ramadan), 60 grams of dessert, 30 grams of jam, 20 grams of olives and 50 grams of dates, which all make up 2,940 calories. The monthly cost of iftar dinners during the whole month of Ramadan was calculated as TL 1,493.21 this year, TL 147 more than last year’s amount, TL 1,346.40. Due to changes in the lunar calendar, Ramadan this year will last 29 days, a day shorter than last year”.[4]

And, in a blatant example of how piety and gluttony combine with cupidity during the Holy Month, the paper adds that the “Turkish Bakers Federation President Halil İbrahim Balcı said last week the prices of pide in Ankara, which have remained unchanged in the last two years, would change this year as they will be sold at the same price but will be smaller in size compared to a year ago. A pide in Ankara cost TL 2 and weighed 300 grams last year but will weigh 250 grams this year. On the other hand, Faik Yılmaz, the president of the İstanbul Union of Chambers of Artists and Artisans (İSTESOB) said on Tuesday [, 16 June] the weight of pide in İstanbul will go up from 250 grams to 300 grams this year and that the price would increase from TL 1.50 to TL 1.80”.[5]

[1] Katy Osborn, “Why Muslims Celebrate Ramadan” TIME (17 June 2015). http://time.com/3924190/ramadan-2015-guide/.

[2] Katy Osborn, “Why Muslims Celebrate Ramadan”.

[3] Elizabeth Taviloglu, “The Tradition of Ramazan In Turkish Cuisine ” About Food (s.d.). http://turkishfood.about.com/od/DiscoverTurkishFood/a/The-Tradition-Of-Ramazan-In-Turkish-Cuisine.htm.

[4] “‘Ramadan inflation’ hits 15 pct, iftar dinner costs TL 7 more this year” Today’s Zaman (17 June 2015). http://www.todayszaman.com/business_ramadan-inflation-hits-15-pct-iftar-dinner-costs-tl-7-more-this-year_388263.html.

[5] “‘Ramadan inflation’ hits 15 pct, iftar dinner costs TL 7 more this year”.

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