2020 was a hell of a year. Many people had to stay away from their families, be they in a different city or even a completely different country. Even under normal circumstances, homesickness is a silent shadow cast over you and can lead to depression.
There are several ways to beat that homesickness, and one that I personally found myself turning to is food. No, not gorging down junk food and wallowing in dark thoughts, but enjoying the whole experience of making it.
As a Turk abroad, you won't have much trouble getting your hands on some Turkish specialties if you are living in a big city – but as soon as you are a bit farther away, tough luck. You have no idea how excited I was in Germany to get my hands on those “seasoned” pretzel sticks I loved to eat during the summers in Turkey. Fair enough, I didn’t consider myself much of an expat, but it was one kind of homesickness nonetheless.
Call up your gran
No matter where you find yourself in these times, call up your grandmother or mother or whoever you used to cook with. Whenever my mother would feel homesick, especially around Christmas, we’d help her make poppy seed rolls. When the ground poppy mixed with the other ingredients, she’d always sigh and say she felt like she was home again with her mother. Maybe it is a bit nostalgic or a bit of homesickness, but we can only recommend that you hit up your most memorable recipe. The result itself is fun, and just making it will make you feel cozy.
I fondly remember those cold winter days with my grandma making some kuymak (a porridge-like dish out of cornmeal) on the coal-heated stove and me almost dozing off right next to it. No heater can give that cozy feeling but it was most fun when she would prepare the filling and the leaves for sarma – stuffed grape or cabbage leaves. We’d all sit around the low, folding table and chat the hours away as we rolled them up. Whenever I feel like I want to be part of that again, I prepare those rolls and enjoy them. You might not have the same attachment to this food, but at least you can give it a try.
Karalahana sarması (Stuffed black cabbage)
First off, you want to wash the leaves. Boil them in water for about two minutes and let them drip off, preferably over an overturned bowl or something similar. While the leaves are cooling off, chop the onions fairly small and pour 50 milliliters of oil into a pan. Saute the onions, and when they have started to soften, add the meat and continue roasting it. Add tomato paste and seasoning to your liking. When everything has mixed well together, add the rice, give it one last good stir and turn the stove off.
Depending on the size of the leaves, you’ll want to at least cut them in two, right through the middle, and carefully cut or scrape off thicker veins. If your leaves are very big, you can of course quarter them, but be careful not to tear them. Now, have the veins facing you, put a bit of the filling, about a tablespoon, and first fold the sides in and then roll the leaves up. Put them into a deep pot of your choice and rinse and repeat.
Once all of the leaves have been rolled and tucked into the pot neatly, you might have a few leaves left over, which you can put on top of the rolls. Finally, put a plate upside down onto them and fill the pot with hot water until the sarmas are just covered. Bring this to a boil and cook until the rice has softened. This may take 20-30 minutes depending on the rice you have chosen.
Once they have cooked through, serve with some yogurt on the side.
Not everyone is into cooking (but then I wonder why you are reading this piece), but treating yourself to some goodies can be a nice change. Many of my expat friends get care packages from back home, and my brother is kind enough to bring some of the things I miss from Germany whenever he visits, but sadly not everyone can do that.
So, I was pleasantly surprised to learn there is actually a service that sends out Turkish treats. They reached out to us with their product and were so kind as to send us one of their boxes. When I received it, I must say I expected a bigger box, but it was so packed full that there were no worries about it being smashed in the postal service!
This service is called “Turkish Treat Box” and offers two different kinds of boxes: the classic and the traditional. The classic one is literally what you can get at almost every corner shop here, while the traditional box is catered to the, well, more traditional tastes that one might miss.
While I was taken on a trip down memory lane by the marshmallow cracker called “Eti Puff,” I found the choice of “Sourpatch” jellies very odd. They are a bit too new compared to the true classic, “Çikolatalı Gofret,” a chocolate-covered wafer that has been around for ages, and they can actually be found in many countries around the world. My second gripe was the Turkish coffees that have milk included. I mean, it is great to have two to have some to share, but I’d rather have the most basic version to add milk or sugar based on my own needs.
Aside from that, I’m loving this box. Nothing screams Turkish snack food more than banana-flavored treats or an Eti Cin jelly cookie smiling at me. It could be especially fun for people living abroad and wanting to get a taste of Turkey.
Aren’t there any other boxes like this? Of course there are! There are services sending out snacks and treats from around the world and some specialize in certain countries (yes, I have had my eyes on some Japanese packages for a while). There is bound to be one that represents your country and will scratch that snack itch every once in a while.
Try something new
As much as you might miss home, you should open up to the community or country you are currently in. Personally speaking, I had moved to a completely different city just as the virus started to make its rounds and I had plans to join a sports club or something similar to get to know people. Well, that didn’t pan out, but I was so grateful to have had the opportunity to get to know my neighbors, the shopkeeper and all the other people that are so kind to me. I can only advise you to open up to people, while maintaining a social distance, and you’ll see that the homesickness isn’t so bad the more you get to know your surroundings.
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