A traditional Turkish barbeque
The Turks love to barbeque, mainly because it gives them an extra opportunity to drink raki, a traditional Turkish drink, and beer. So a barbeque is more of an event for them than just a meal, and filling yourself with food is not the main purpose, although eventually we do all eat.
At a Turkish barbeque it is the men who get everything done, while the ladies sit back and enjoy themselves. And while the men may look organised to an outsider, in reality the barbeque is totally disorganised, with the emphasis on having fun. People seem to choose the role they are comfortable with. Those who don’t know which end of a knife to hold build the fire. Those who feel particularly useless on the day serve drinks. A glass should never be seen empty at a Turkish barbeque, so this is actually the busiest and most critical job, and the man looking after the drinks really needs to be focused on his mission. Someone else takes charge of the music, and this is almost as important as the drinks. Someone else is allocated the duty of chopping up and making ‘coban’ salad, which is a staple on the table at a Turkish barbeque. A ‘coban’ salad is a combination of tomato, red pepper and onion, mixed with plenty of virgin olive oil. And finally, yet another willing man will take on the job of getting the communal table with plates, condiments and a few utensils. Everyone else can just sit back, enjoy the music and the constant supply of drinks (if the drinks man is on the ball and doesn’t get too involved in his supplies!), and keep the workers’ motivation high with fun and laughter. Coal is generally preferred over wood for the fire, to reduce the amount of smoke. Although coal takes longer to burn, this isn’t a problem as a Turkish barbeque is never a rushed affair anyway. Once the coal has been lit and the raki poured, people start to say ‘serefe’ (cheers) and relax. Most Turks like their meat to be cooked very well done, and it is cooked in small pieces. ‘Medium’ meat is only tolerated if it is good quality. Across most of Turkey, lamb or beef are the common choices for a barbeque, but in coastal regions the preference is unquestionably to put a whole fish on the fire. Now and again chicken wings may make an appearance, usually covered in a tasty ‘buffalo’ sauce, but the sauce is unfortunately not easy to find. We Turks do not use dry or aged meat, as we don’t have the patience to wait 28 days for it to be ready to barbeque! Salt and pepper is extremely important and is always added liberally to our meat just before serving, and no sauce or ketchup is used. Our one sine qua non is to place potatoes deep inside the coals for roasting. When the guests are ready to eat, the potatoes are taken out of the coals and used for making ‘kumpir’ (they are broken open and stuffed with cheddar cheese, butter and salt). While the actual eating side of the barbeque takes about two hours or so, the barbeque as an event lasts much longer, until everyone has finished having fun and drinking. This is why my final piece of advice is this: never make an appointment for after a Turkish barbeque. I’ve tried in the past, and it never ends well! Try a Turkish barbeque one day… it’s different, and you will love it.