In the southeastern Turkish city of Gaziantep, a member of UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network, colorful strings of dried peppers, pumpkins, eggplants and snake melons decorate local shops and bazaars. Sundried vegetables are an inseparable part of the famous local cuisine that draws visitors from far and near.
These sundried goods reach the tables of Turkish families thanks to the intense efforts of field workers. The produce collected from the fields in Gaziantep province is thoroughly cleaned and threaded onto strings by local women. After the fresh vegetables are soaked in water for a while, they are transported to designated areas of the city for drying.
The veggies are left under the scorching heat of the sun until they reach optimal conditions – a process that can take up to 15 days. The final step is packaging and dispatching the vegetables to various regions of Turkey.
These sundried goods, trademarked to Gaziantep, are especially prized during winter months when fresh produce is scarce.
Yasin Eken, a field worker in Gaziantep province, said he has been tending the fields every year with his family since he was young and noted that it is very difficult to work under the hot sun.
"The sun burns us and the peppers are spicy. Additionally, the soil is very hot. We are working on these hills from the early morning to late night," he told Anadolu Agency (AA).
"These dried goods reach the desired consistency in about 15 days. We work meticulously because the quality is crucial. We are working under the heat of the sun so that we can add some rich flavor to our tables," Eken said.
Eken’s fellow worker, Hacı Mehmet Kaya, said the drying season starts in July and runs until November.
Noting that they had been working under the sun for four months, Kaya told AA: "We put enormous effort to create hormone-free and pesticide-free dried goods. First, we collect the ready products in the morning and then we hang the new ones on the rope (to dry). It is a lot of work. We get about TL 70 ($10) per day. Thank God, we get solid compensation for our work.”
Eyüp Kum, a tradesman at Gaziantep’s historic Elmacı Bazaar, where the demand for the dried goods is high, told AA there has been a bumper crop this season.
Kum added that the prices have not changed since last year. "One of the blessings the sun gave us is dried goods. The new crop is on the market. Prices vary between TL 18 and TL 26. Gaziantep's dried goods are thin, so they are easy to cook. Therefore, women prefer these dried goods," he said.