These reflections commenced a cascade of emotions. I was a
sociologist who taught university classes in race and ethnicity.
Did I need to cook Turkish dishes in Anchorage? Was I to lose
my Turkish identity if I didn’t express it on the table? I became
curious about my overtly nationalistic tendencies in the kitchen.
Although I was – and am -- really turned off by patriotic
tendencies, I had to concede my Turkishness when it came to
my behavior in the kitchen. Did I really have to cook Turkish
dishes when I entertained? Could I not serve Indian or Chinese
foods or good old apple pie? Was I subconsciously suggesting
that I could only be good at making what was in my DNA?
My inner dialogue shifted to avoid responsibility for this
uncomfortable problem. It must be my guests! Yes, my
American guests expected me to cook Turkish dishes and so
I did, to avoid disappointing them. They could get rhubarb pie
elsewhere, but there were only a handful of Turks in Alaska.
Ah, so is that why you cook the most stereotypical Turkish
food that you never cooked (or ate much of) while you lived
Well, no. Americans liked meat so I chose main dishes that have
protein. Hence the Sultan’s Delight. They expected lamb so I
gave them lamb. And then they already knew of baklava, so
it would be a sure hit. It was just pragmatic and smart menu
Oh I see, it is not you stereotyping your cuisine, it is the
Americans shoving you into the Turkish corner, is that it? You
Well no, they mean well and so do I. I mean, should we really
complicate food this much? Honestly, shouldn’t we just enjoy it
without the hundred and one questions?
I became preoccupied with the identities we reflect onto our
dinner tables, and how I “represented” Turkish cuisine. As an
immigrant, I found this burden of representation difficult, as
I wanted to transmit accurate information and worried about
failing. I had a growing desire to study food culture and its
connection to identity. But, to be honest, I wanted to answer
these questions for myself by traveling back to Turkey and
getting acquainted with one of its food meccas, Istanbul.
I began a research proposal but couldn’t bring myself to
write a paper on the subject. This is what we academics do:
present papers, write articles, and publish books. But the topic