Istanbul Terroir

27 Mar 2013

Slow Food is well rooted in Istanbul, with three proactive convivia and around 500 members. Over the past three years the FIkir Sahibi Damaklar Convivium has gained great visibility and support for its campaign to safeguard the Lufer fish, one of the gastronomic symbols of Istanbul but today facing extinction. Members across the city are also engaged in numerous activities to restore links between Istanbulites and good, clean, and fair food from their region: from seed exchange initiatives to Slow Food Yogmur Boregi’s school education project named “Seed to Table” involving over 1,500 pupils.

What is Istanbul to Slow Food members?
For us Istanbul is home. It is everything to us, our history and simply a wonderful city.
However, in the past three decades the city has quadrupled in size; it had around three million dwellers in the late 60s and now official figures speak of about 15 million. It became an urban environment in its wildest sense.

Is it a symbol of Turkish modernity and progress?
There is nothing to be romanticized about that. Istanbul today is the heart of our fast-pace growing economy. This often scares me. Especially when I see the speed at which the city has been exploited and abused. Its green areas have vanished; its sea, the Bosporus, is becoming more and more polluted and is home to less and less fish; and many of its old quarters have been demolished because of property speculation.

Yet Istanbul historically has always had strong ties with the territory it occupies.
It is a city with a marvelous geography. It is not just the bridge between Europe and Asia. Because of the Bosporus, we have a specific climate, vegetation and animal species. Nature gave us a lot – water, edible plants, mushrooms… and fish so abundant we say you could walk on water. The city has always proved generous with its people, and open to new ones.

What about today?
Unfortunately, the city has become so big that it is nearly impossible for new dwellers to feel at home. You feel like a tourist, staying somewhere for a period before moving on. The city is a passageway, and therefore it is consumed. People don’t think about tomorrow. Slow Food in Istanbul wants to reconcile people with this city, hence thinking about sustainability, and explaining that it is in our responsibility to respect the city’s abundance.

Could you give us an example?
Not many people know that Istanbul has 151 villages, some of them still with on-going agricultural practices and traditions.

What food heritage do they have and what can we do to safeguard it?
I will give you an example. Some time ago an article about a village where they still graze water buffalos caught our attention. The water buffalo were being raised thanks to the region’s good water resources but a private company wanted to take over the springs to develop fabric factories. The village was trying to stop the project so we went there and offered our support. There are hundreds of stories such as this one.

How can we restore the connections between Istanbulites and their terroir?
Istanbul is a hectic city; it leaves you little spare time after commitments to your job and family. Few can take time off to join a demonstration. But we can always express ourselves through our food choices. Hence the best approach is through education. If we can manage to change the behavior of about 10% of the population, we will shape the whole city.

Are you faithful about it?
Unlike the U.S. where they are probably facing the fourth generation that does not know how to cook, here in Turkey it is today’s middle-aged population who are the first to have stopped cooking. If we just go back to our kitchens, the line won’t get broken, and by expressing our food choices we can build a community able to truly share Istanbul’s geography, nature and traditions.

Contact information for the three Slow Food Convivia in Istanbul:

Slow Food Fikir Sahibi Damaklar
E-mail: [email protected]

Slow Food Yagmur Boregi
E-mail: [email protected]

Balkon Bahçeleri
Email: [email protected]


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