At the Heart of the Aegean

14 Jan 2014

Izmir is at the heart of the Aegean – one of the cradles of civilization and food culture. A crucial Mediterranean port on the west coast of Turkey, its cuisine has been influenced by the traditions of the many minorities that have populated it.

In December 2013, we met up with journalist and leader of the local Izmir Bardacik Convivium, Nedim Atilla to find out more about traditional food in the region, and the work to preserve it…

What does Izmir represent to Slow Food members?

Izmir is home to a magnificent gastronomic culture, deeply intertwined with the multilingual and multicultural character of the city. From the moment we established the Slow Food convivium, we tried to give voice to this diversity, our treasure.

You often talk about the “population exchange” between Turkey and Greece in the 1920s, and its impact on food habits. Could you tell us a bit more about what changed in the local gastronomy after those tragic events?

Reached in 1923 at the Lausanne Peace Conference, the ‘Exchange Population Agreement’ led to vast migration: Christian people living in Anatolia were forcedly sent to Greece, while Muslims living in Greece were sent to Anatolia. In many ways, Izmir found itself at the epicenter of this large-scale migration. Izmir’s cuisine can now be seen as a cuisine of immigration, with the experiences and culinary traditions of immigrants absorbed into the city’s culture.

How would you describe the living food heritage of Izmir today?

Unfortunately our ancient and rich culinary culture has been undermined by our modern and fast lifestyle. However, it is still preserved in many households and some excellent restaurants.

On Terra Madre Day, your convivium presented awards to producers. Where did this idea come from and and how do you select the winners?

The Izmir Bardacık Convivium created this prize to recognize artisan producers who work to preserve our ancient food traditions. In previous years, the prize was awarded to one of the few cheesemakers still producing Armola cheese, and to producers regenerating the old Foça karası grape variety (today listed in the Ark of Taste). In 2013 the prize went to a family that produces Mugla Tarhana – a very special type of tarhana produced only in Mugla.

You are also a member of Mutfak Dostlari Dernegi (MDD) that is partnering with Slow Food in the ESSEDRA project. What does this project represent for Slow Food members in Turkey?

Mapping endangered food biodiversity, advocating for policy change and encouraging real support for our small-scale producers and rural communities are key challenges for us. As part of the ESSEDRA project, we have carried out research to identify some of the Turkish products at risk of disappearing. I think the ESSEDRA project will greatly contribute to our movement, also in terms of visibility and recognition.

If you could create a Slow Food Presidium in Turkey, what product would you choose and why?

I would like to start a Presidium project focusing on one of the many endangered cheeses… Tarhana would also be an excellent target as it represents a living ancient tradition, and is a symbol of homemade hidden treasures and food sovereignty.


This article has been edited for length. You can read the full article here.

Find out more about ESSEDRA, Slow Food’s project focused on the Balkans

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