When I first moved to Istanbul 10 years ago, I knew very little about the country I was choosing to call my new home. I made many cultural faux pas and doubted my decision many times.
I don’t remember much of my first months, but whenever I think back, I think of one day in particular.
It was the beginning of Ramadan (Ramazan in Turkish) and my colleagues invited me to ‘Iftar’. This is the special meal when those who have been fasting all day, break the fast.
That night together was one filled with warmth.
We fasted during the day (in solidarity with our friends observing Ramadan) and went together to the historic center. We sat on the grass between The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia and made our spot, unloading our food and calling over the man selling bread, or actually “pide”.
Back in those years, this was a popular Iftar spot. Families would gather in this beautiful and historic area to break their fast when the sun went down. There was even the Ramadan Market set up in the ancient Hippodrome area, selling handicrafts from all over Turkey.
I remember hearing the call to prayer and looking around to watch everyone slowly start to eat. Here I was, newly arrived, longing for a sense of ‘home’ and I found myself sharing a meal in front of one of the most glorious architectural buildings in the world.
I felt happy… and a sense of relief.
Ramazan habits change but it’s always pide time!
One of the main staples at this meal is always Ramazan Pidesi, a circular bread, shaped and dimpled so that it can be easily broken into pieces and shared around the table. This bread… warm, fresh… is simply put, incredible. I find myself looking at the calendar each year feeling giddy about the arrival of Ramadan because that means: IT’S RAMAZAN PIDESI TIME!
As the years have come and gone, Istanbul has changed and it’s rare to see these kinds of large gatherings in tourist places. Last year was especially different, as, during the whole month of Ramadan, Istanbul was in lockdown due to the pandemic.
However, something I find exceedingly beautiful is that bread can be the glue that holds people together, even during the toughest of times.
During last year’s lockdown, trucks of Ramadan pide came down the streets every day yelling out that they had hot and fresh pide. Neighbors would run to their balconies, yell down to the seller, and then drop baskets tied to ropes with their money inside the baskets. The pide man would then fill the baskets and the neighbors would pull up their bread, usually waving at other neighbors doing the same and calling out hello and wishing each other well.
It was a sound truly like music to my ears, signaling life and joy in these times.
Celebrating Ramazan during the covid pandemic
This year, for most of Ramadan we were able to go out and buy fresh Ramazan pidesi.
However now, as Ramadan comes to an end, celebrated with Ramazan Bayramı (Eid al-Fitr), the special holiday that marks the ending of the month-long fasting, we find ourselves back in lockdown for the duration of the holiday.
Normally, this is a holiday celebrated by Turkish families coming together, often with candy given to children. This year it will be a different kind of Bayram for many I’m sure, but I hope people are able to come together, in any way that is possible, and share a meal, share pide, and remember moments like this.
RAMAZAN PIDESI RECIPE
As I’ve already written, Ramazan pidesi is something that I look forward to with such joy every year.
Sometimes just smelling it fresh from a bakery fills me with so much happiness.
I never would have thought to make this myself, until we began to spend our days in lockdown, unable to wander the streets during Ramadan taking in the scents from the local bakeries.
Here is a recipe graciously shared with me by my friend Fatih Yenisoy who’s got a YouTube cooking channel called YeşilKediMaviKafe.
The trick is the final step, the “wash” which really gives it the true bakery look and taste. In Turkish, they have a saying, “Afiyet Olsun” which means: “may you enjoy the meal / Bon appetite”.
So, make this bread, enjoy it, you will be glad you did!
FOR THE DOUGH:
- 500g bread flour
- 350ml warm water (measure it with 300ml and 50ml separately. As you mix it with the flour you may not need all the water!)
- 10g dry yeast
- 10g salt
- 1 tsp. sugar
FOR THE WASH:
- 1 tbsp. flour
- 4 tbsp. room temperature water
- 1 tbsp pekmez (molasses) – you can substitute this with honey
- some black sesame seeds or nigella seeds for decoration
Proof the yeast about 1 hour before you will start to mix the bread.
Add the dry yeast with the sugar and 300 ml of warm water. Mix and let this sit for one hour to get foamy.
In another bowl, combine the flour and salt. When the yeast is ready, make a well inside the flour mixture and pour the yeast mixture into this. Stir together to mix a crumbly dough. If the dough is too dry, little by little add the remaining 50 ml of water. Only add as much as it needs to come together.
Turn the dough out onto a surface and knead it until it’s not sticky. Cover it and let it rest and double in size.
To make the coating: mix the water, flour, and molasses (or honey) together. Set aside.
When the bread is ready, set it on a parchment-lined baking tray. Flatten the dough into the shape of a large circle. Spoon the coating over the top of the bread (like you’re painting it). Then, make the pide lines by using your fingertips to press down into the dough (like focaccia) forming lines going horizontally and vertically. Cover this and let it rest another 30 minutes.
Heat your oven to 250°C (or as high as your oven can go).
When the oven is hot and ready, uncover the pide and sprinkle it with the sesame seeds, and put it in the oven. Bake for about 20 minutes, checking it to be sure it’s not getting too brown.