Whether you’re eating outdoors with your pets or travelling to the beach in a convoy of twenty, getting together for a ‘quick barbie’ is a whole other world when you’re Turkish, writes Dilvin Yasa.
Dilvin Yasa

20 Apr 2017 - 9:10 AM  UPDATED 20 Apr 2017 - 10:10 AM

One of the most enduring memories of my childhood was when my uncle would roll a whole animal out of the back of his ute and set fire to it in our driveway (you’ll be pleased to know that the animal was already dead – a rarity in some Turkish households where they sometimes make you chase your own pet with a shotgun). Like the NYE ball dropping in Times Square, that cling-wrapped thud was our signal that the good times – our family barbeque – could begin, but as I got older I suddenly wasn’t so sure that our idea of the perfect barbeque and the Australian ideal quite married up. Obviously I could appreciate the mountains of shish, kôfte and salads that threatened to break the legs of the tables they were placed precariously upon (my parents subscribing to the great ethnic philosophy of always catering for 100 people even if you’ve only invited 12), but there was something about watching my brother simultaneously blast the coals with mum’s hairdryer for greater efficiency, and blow-dry his mullet for his hot date later that left me cold. Add to that the sight of both watching a lamb spin round and round like a record baby and my pet dingo watching that same lamb nervously, probably wondering if he might be next, and the threats of violence from my extended family that I eat more... or else {“If you don’t take another shish, I will break your legs and you will never marry”) and I was left wondering if the grass was perhaps greener on the more Anglo Saxon side of the fence.

It was a curiosity that was further compounded when we started taking our gargantuan barbeques off-site. Unlike most normal families who decide to head to the beach at last-minute armed with only their keys and enough change to buy a couple of serves of fish and chips at the local kiosk, doing beachside barbeques ‘Turkish-style’ was a massive undertaking. The preparation would start a week out when the kids would be instructed to phone everyone who was Turkish, married to a Turk or just wanted to be an honorary Turk and told them they HAD to come along (see line about broken legs, above). There was no such thing as doing a quick Coles run either; members of the family were dispatched to speciality butchers in Sydney’s Auburn to pick up the cartons of Adana kebabs that were made specifically to my father’s taste (triple the chilli and don’t be tight about it). Hundreds of kilos of potatoes were peeled and washed, salads made, and the ‘portable’ charcoal grill was pulled out of storage and re-mended with a combination of MacGyver-like skills and gaffer tape. And when all five cars were packed with 30 plastic storage tubs containing food, chairs, rugs (and I mean actual rugs) and an odd spare tyre or two to hang from trees, we were ready to go. It was only when we set up under a tree on a grassy patch (ethnics don’t do sand), that my parents would realise we’d forgotten swimsuits, sunscreen and hats so every photo we have of us at said barbeques as kids we’re in our undies, burning under the harsh sun as we boil potatoes on that charcoal grill – chain-gang style. Also, it’s worth noting that when you’re Turkish, there’s also an expectation from outsiders that you will cook mixed meats like a master so we always had both an audience and a crazy inner anxiety to perform like stereotypical Turks for our audience.  It was so exhausting, we would only have a barbeque once a year.

Of course, one person’s ‘traumatic’ is another person’s ‘character-building’ and in the years since I’ve left the safety of my ethnic childhood, I’ve had a lot of interesting experiences attending barbeques so different to the ones I grew up with. In various pockets around Sydney, I’ve been invited to some backyard bashes only to be asked to bring my own food (what’s up with that?), I’ve watched one host attempt to clean a Weber using his own spit (I didn’t stick around), and in one jaw-dropping incident, stood by mutely as a priest – snag in hand – ‘gobbled’ loudly at me in front of a crowd as he professed he too, could speak Turkish. But despite all that I have been through, there is nothing – NOTHING – that can ever match the horror of the time I went to a barbeque, ate my two sausages and asked the host for seconds. “No mate, you’ve had your allotted serve and there’s no more food,” I was told. Confused , vulnerable and hungry,  I walked away yearning for my family barbeques of my childhood so I called my mum and somewhere out in the evening sky head myself say, “You know what? I should have broken their legs.”


Lead image: Lim Ashley via Flickr.

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Turkish cooking
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