Turkish lifestyle is a vivid mosaic; juxtaposing the West and
the East, the modern and the ancient
Life in Turkey is a rich variety of cultures and traditions,
some dating back centuries and others or more recent heritage. The
visitor to Turkey will find a great deal that is exotic, and also
much that is reassuringly familiar. The intriguing blend of East
and West makes up the Turkish lifestyle.
The official language of the country, Turkish is spoken by 220
million people and is the world's 5th most widely used language.
Today's Turkish has evolved from dialects known since the 11th
century and is one of the group of languages known as Ural-Altaic
which includes Finnish and Hungarian.
Turkish is written with the Latin alphabet with the addition of
6 different characters. Turkish is completely phonetic - each
letter of the alphabet has only one sound-, so each word sounds
exactly how it is written. During Ottoman times Turkish was written
in Arabic script, that a limited number of people were able to
write. In order to improve literacy and therefore to overcome the
difficulties of learning and reading Turkish using Arabic script,
Turkey switched to the Latin alphabet following the initiative
started by Atatürk in 1928. English has replaced French and German
as the chief secondary language taught in school and is becoming
more widespread. English is widely spoken and understood by many
throughout Turkey. German, Russian and French are also spoken
especially in popular holiday destinations.
Although 99% of the population is Muslim, religion is seen as
strictly a private matter in Turkey. In fact, Turkey is the only
secular country in Islamic world. Secularism is enshrined in the
constitution that religion has no place whatsoever in governing of
the country. Like other European countries, the weekly holiday is
Sunday - not Friday as many are mistaken- and the Gregorian
calendar is used in Turkey. The constitution secures the freedom of
belief and worshiping. During the time of the Ottoman Empire,
people of many different faiths lived together in peace, and since
then this diversity has been preserved. Today there are 236
churches and 34 synagogues open for worship in Turkey.
Tourists visiting Turkey are unlikely to see much evidence that
they are in a Muslim country, except for the call to prayer which
can be heard 5 times a day. People wear contemporary dresses like
any western country, and especially in big cities and popular
holiday destinations, one can easily spot many who are closely
observing fashion of Paris, London, Milan. There is probably no
difference between the way in which people dress in especially
large cities in Turkey and the rest of Europe. It is only in
smaller villages, more remote areas and the east of the country
that dress codes are more local. It is quite common for village
women to wear headscarves but this is generally as much out of
practical and cultural than religious considerations.
The only time when you need to worry about dress codes is when
visiting a mosque. Everyone should wear clothes which cover their
legs, so no shorts for either sex. Women should also make sure that
their shoulders and head are covered. Shoes should be removed
before entering a mosque. There is usually a rack or storage area
where they can be left or you can carry them with you in a bag.
Mosques are usually closed to visitors during prayer times.
There are two major Islamic Festivals which are celebrated in
Turkey. The dates of both change each year, according to lunar
calendar. Eid (Ramazan or Şeker Bayramı) falls at the end of period
of fasting. Greater Eid, the Feast of Sacrifice (Kurban Bayramı)
falls almost two months after Eid, when wealthy believers usually
sacrifice a sheep or a cow and it is distributed to the needy
including friends, family and neighbours. Government offices and
some other institutions are closed during these periods but life in
resorts continues much as usual, and many Turks also head to the
Visitors to Turkey are often pleasantly surprised by the
friendliness of the Turkish people, who will go out of their way to
assist and happily spend time chatting. Hospitality is a
cornerstone of Turkish culture, and Turks believe that visitors
should be treated as "Guests sent by God". This attitude has
survived to the 21st century and does not appear to have been
diminished by mass tourism. In fact, quite the reverse, most Turks
welcome the opportunity to meet foreign visitors, learn about
different cultures and practice their language skills. It is usual
for Turks - even the men - to greet each other by kissing on both
cheeks. As a tradition, Turkish people treat their national flag as
sacred. Therefore one should avoid insulting or showing disrespect
to the Turkish flag.
Turkish cuisine is renowned as one of the world's best. It is
considered to be one of the three main cuisines of the world
because of the variety of its recipes, its use of natural
ingredients, its flavours and tastes which appeal to all palates
and its influence throughout Europe, Asia, the Middle East and
Africa. The cuisine originated in central Asia, the first home of
the Turks, and then evolved with the contributions of the inland
and Mediterranean cultures with which Turks interacted after their
arrival in Anatolia.
Turkish cuisine is in a sense a bridge between far-Eastern and
Mediterranean cuisines, with the accent always on enhancing the
natural taste and flavour of the ingredients. There is no one
dominant element in Turkish cuisine, like sauces in French and
pasta in Italian cuisines.
While the Palace cuisine was developing in İstanbul, local
cuisines in Anatolia were multiplying in several regions, all
displaying different geographical and climactic characteristics.
These cuisines, after remaining within regional borders for
centuries, are now being transplanted to the big cities and their
suburbs as a consequence of large scale urbanisation and migration
towards new urban centres. As a result, the national Turkish
cuisine has been enriched by the contribution of a great number of
Turkey is self-sufficient in food production and produces enough
for export as well. This means that Turkish food is usually made
from fresh, local ingredients and is all the tastier for it.
A main meal will usually start with soup and the meze, a variety
of small cold and hot dishes which are made for sharing. In many
restaurants a waiter will bring these round on a tray for you to
inspect and make your choice. Tarama salad, cacik (taziki), dolma
(vine leaves or peppers stuffed with rice), börek (pastries) ,
arnavut ciğeri (cubes of fried liver) are amongst the many types of
mezes found in most of the restaurants.
The main course is usually meat or fish. Turks always eat bread
with their meal and main courses are usually served with rice.
Typically çoban salatası, a salad made of tomato, cucumber, parsley
and onion, dressed with olive oil and lemon juice, will be offered
as a side dish. Lamb is the most popular meat and prepared in a
variety of ways, including "şiş kebap" (grilled cubes of seasoned
meat on skewer). "Köfte", which are like small lamb burgers are
well worth trying. Those who prefer something hot and spicy should
try "Adana kebap", which is made of minced lamb but with the
addition of hot peppers and spices formed around a flat skewer.
There are numerous variations and regional specialities of kebap.
Somewhat rich but very tasty, is the İskender or Bursa kebab, named
respectively after Alexander the Great and the town in which it is
originated, which is slices of döner meat laid over small bites of
a freshly cooked flat bread and covered with tomato sauce and hot
butter all served with yoghurt. Turks traditionally are fond of
stews called sulu yemek or ev yemeği (home cook) and therefore
there are many restaurants offering these foods which are usually
displayed in the entrance of the restaurant in large
Fish and seafood restaurants are widely found in Istanbul, in
the other big cities and in the coastal resorts. Mostly fish is
simply grilled to bring out its natural flavour and there is a wide
variety of seafood meze including midye tava (fried mussels),
kalamar (calamari), midye dolma (mussels in shells stuffed with
seasoned rice). It is worth asking for recommendations but some of
the tastiest are levrek (sea bass), çupra (sea bream) and kalkan
(turbot). Fish is also sold by weight in specialist restaurants
where some customers prefer to make their choice from the fishes
offered on a large display.