Re-discovering traditions in a new setting – Turkish dinner in Volpower Slovenia

by volpower
4 years ago

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Sundays? To Serena it is a table. Like the big wooden one around which she gathered during those big family dinners with lots of food.

Blogpost by Francesca Lori (Zavod APIS) and Serena Durmazgüler (Slovene team)

Serena is from Turkey. She studied visual communication design in Istanbul and since February 2019 has been volunteering as a graphic designer in Ljubljana, Slovenia, for the social business Skuhna. Last May she was selected by the APIS Institute to enter the Volpower project as a member of the Slovene volunteering team. Three months ago, she was the main engine behind the utterly successful VOLHUB that took place at Markos’s apartment, her fellow team member in Volpower Slovenia.

VOLHUBs are interactive hubs designed for volunteers and/or the organisers of volunteering activities to engage with one another, as well as with experts and community leaders. So far, Slovene VOLHUBS have been offering volunteers the chance to discover Slovene traditions, as well as to learn and exchange skills and knowledge. Our volunteers have travelled to a small farm in Lower Carniola and helped a family and their neighbours with the yearly tradition of corn-husking. They have also taken part in a street photography workshop and had the chance to grasp moments and details of one of the most interesting and special streets in Ljubljana, Trubarjeva street. Finally, they came up with the idea to organize a Turkish dinner.

The dinner turned out to be a cozy and lively whole-day event which encompassed the collective preparation and, of course, tasting of traditional Turkish dishes re-adapted to local ingredients and tastes. It was accompanied and followed by Turkish, Anatolian and African music, traditional (and less traditional) dances and the exchange of stories around the dining table. In this blog post we will be sharing the interview with Serena, who dedicated a whole week to researching and trying out different menu combinations, picked out the ingredients for the final menu and coordinated the rest of her fellow volunteers in the preparation of the dishes. 

How was the idea born?

“The idea to organize a Turkish dinner originally came from Markos. One day he asked me: “Can you cook something Turkish? Come to my place and let’s cook for the VOLPOWER team!” And I must say I really enjoyed it. I have been wanting to do something for other people here in Slovenia for a while, but it had never happened so far; others had always something else to do and, on the other side, I didn’t really have a concrete idea of what I wanted to share. And when Markos came up with this idea, I immediately started googling what I could make: the whole week I was checking recipes and trying them out myself… and I’m still doing it.”

So, how did you decide the menu?

“Well, the first thing I did was taking notes of what I can do – I still have those notes. Then, I started checking videos of traditional Turkish and Armenian food. As a matter of fact, I am West Armenian and our cuisines are very similar as we are living together since Anatolia gradually became Turkified. I was watching so many videos of people making traditional dishes and explaining which ingredients are easy to find. Finally, I decided to make these meatballs, because it had to be something with meat! I called my mum and asked her how she makes them, as I really like her meatballs. She also gave me some ideas of what I could add to the menu. But I didn’t add everything she proposed and told her: “Mum, these people can’t eat like us!”. We eat a lot! So, I reduced the menu: I took inspiration from the traditional one and adapted it to our group. I checked all the videos, wrote every ingredient and their doses, and finally the shopping list. I was writing all the time.”

When did you find out you liked to cook?

“It happened in Turkey, when I tried to change my eating plan to follow a diet. I was trying to eat something new. So, I started cooking and I also got interested in my grandma’s recipes. But here in Slovenia I just cook basic things, I never cooked traditional Turkish dishes for myself, because I would have to make the time for it. In general, I feel l don’t want to take time just for myself: if I do something complicated, I want to share it with the people I love. However, now I am trying to stick to cooking and I really enjoy it. As a matter of fact, I just remembered that before going to university, when I was thinking what to study, I was also considering gastronomy as an option.”

Was it the first time that you had a team to coordinate?

“Yes, and it was helpful obviously. I never had so many people helping me cook, but I helped many people in the past. I enjoyed asking them “Can you help me with this? Can you help me with that?”. As it was Markos’s place, he said: “I can’t cook, but I can fry the potatoes”. Neva offered to help as well, so she prepared the salad and peeled the potatoes. She also selected the music – I was really surprised when she came up with some really traditional Turkish songs. As soon as we put music on, Markos started dancing and then we all started to dance. Also, I loved the dessert Ivan prepared and brought. In Turkey hospitality has a long tradition and big gatherings represent an occasion for the host to honor such tradition. Guests, on the other hand, usually bring something to the host, maybe a drink – like the traditional ‘Rakı’ – or something to eat – mostly baklava, cakes, or cookies. Lately, when new generations invite friends over, guests usually bring wine or pastries. So, when Ivan brought those sweets, it was nice. They added something to the menu which was missing anyway – there should be dessert!”

Did you enjoy the dinner?

“Yes, I am so happy we did it and can’t wait for the next one. I am really thankful to Markos, who came up with the idea. As I said, it was the first time I prepared something Turkish since I came to Slovenia. So, this was really exciting! We cooked together while singing and dancing. It was a lot of fun. And of course, my traditional side made me enjoy it even more: seeing us having dinner like a family, sitting together and talking about many things. Since I was a child, with my family we used to have big dinners around a big table. Lately, we are spread everywhere or older family members unfortunately passed away and we can’t do it anymore. I miss the feeling of having those dinners… and everything that is connected to it. And the Turkish dinner with the Volpower guys reminded me of that. I feel we are really close friends, so it was really cozy: we talked about everything, told jokes. It was like a family. After all, there don’t have to be Armenian or Turkish people at a table to make a family maybe.”

Did you get some inspiration for the future?

“In the future I would like to do something similar with people who are really interested in learning how to cook. I would like to take part in culinary workshops – both as a mentor and a participant. I would like to gather and cook with people, create new dishes, experiment, create something I’ve never tried before. I also got the idea of making a vlog recording people’s reactions to new dishes. And the next dinners can be more a collective experience, where everyone makes something.”

How would you relate the Turkish dinner to inclusion?

“On that day I included people in my culture, because there were Turkish food, Turkish music, and Turkish expressions written down on paper cards. It was the idea of culture. I would say it was an unusual dinner, an unusual event: maybe my teammates experienced something new that they can be included in. What made them feel included? Dialogue. They were asking me how to prepare the different dishes, what to put inside. There was curiosity from their part. Dancing and music came from their curiosity, as well. As for me, I was being myself. If they asked me questions, I was trying to give examples of what I do, what my family does, and Turkish-Armenian families do in general: what do people cook, eat and dance to. We talked.”