A tandir is a type of clay oven, and ekmek (which was perhaps the first Turkish word I leaned) means bread. In Turkey, bread is treated with incredible respect, and accompanies every meal. It is considered to be Allah’s abundant provision, the gift of life. Bread is never wasted or thrown away with the household trash. If there are scaps left after a meal, they are often fed to the animals.
The tandir can be found in a room on the lower level of the home. The tandir room is the heart of the house; the source of food and warmth.
While in İbrahimpaşa, I was lucky enough to be invited into a neighbor’s home to see how the tandir ekmeği is made. We arrived in late morning, and the process was already in full swing. I watched Abla as she vigorously prepared the dough, heated the tandir with brush and twigs, and happily explained her actions as she moved along. When the oven was hot enough, the bread was flattened out and an egg yolk mixture was spread onto one side before being slapped against the side of the cylinder shaped tandir. Once the oven is full, a lid is placed on the opening, and the bread checked and prodded until it is ready (about 20 minutes later). The bread is removed by placing a metal rod in the center each piece of bread, where a hole has been made, and with the other hand a scraper is used to remove the bread from the surface of the scoulding oven. It is then lifted out onto a waiting tray. This entire process is conducted with care, attention and vigor.
I was fascinated and happy with simply watching our cook as she moved effortlessly and with deliberate action throughout the entire process. However, I was eventually asked to try it out myself. I felt honored, but slightly nervous to place my hands in a scolding hot oven, but I am never one to turn down such an invitation, so I listened to Abla as she instructed me on how to stick the bread on the side of the oven. This she illustrated with exuberant hand gestures, making sure to get her point across. She wrapped a wet piece of cloth around my wrists, placed the sticky dough onto my flat palms, and spread the egg mixture on the up-facing side. I held my breath and stuck my arms into the anticipating oven, slapping the dough onto the wall. It stuck, but I could easily feel how it could have slipped off the walls and into the embers below. My successfully fixed ekmek was met with great praise and appreciation, and I was encouraged to try again. I held out my hands as the bread was again placed and prepared on my open palms. Again I quickly stuck my hands into the oven, using slightly more force to ensure the stability of the bread. As I pulled out my hands, I noticed a significant burn on my right thumb, but it only added to my appreciation for the difficulty of the entire process.
At the end of the day, after all the bread had been removed, scrapped of any burned bits and gathered into a pile in the kitchen…we sat on the terrace, gazing out over the village and enjoying the fruit of our labor; ekmek, çay, pekmez…I have never tasted anything so wonderful.
A traveler on the mystic path
is content with a loaf of bread;
By its light he may be turned
towards the Light of God.