For myself, this Saturday had been just a typical day of enjoying Izmir’s amazing weather and seaside parks, but for several local Turkish families, it’d been a time of mourning. And how had I found this out? Well, the families were giving away delicious fried dough to honor their losses.
Friends and I had been cutting through some residential side streets when we’d come across a food cart frying this doughy dessert called Lokma. Street food is pretty common here on the pedestrian streets, but never directly outside of an apartment building like this unless it were a private gathering, and I would’ve just kept on going if Soner and Sezgin hadn’t stopped to get some. Unable to understand what was being said in Turkish, I’d naturally went for my wallet until one of my friends stopped me. Soner gave me a reproachful look even as he’d motioned for me to put my wallet away, pointing to the pictures of an older man on the cart and instructing me to say what I would later learn means Take him to Heaven. Confused yet conscious of a cultural gap, I’d listened with curiousity as Sezgin went on to explain that the old man in these photos had recently passed away, adding in that these people were that man’s relatives as the female relative had handed him several of these churro-like pastries as a means of remembrance. In between mouthfuls as we’d made our way to the seaside, Soner and Sezgin took turns telling me more about this Izmir tradition that was just so perfectly befitting of everything I’d experienced in Turkey so far.
Lokma is a common dessert across all of Turkey, but here in Izmir it holds a deeper symbolism. Lokma celebrates life and death, and when a relative passes away or a baby is born, families in Izmir rent a cart to prepare this food for their community as a means of good fortune. The families set up their carts either outside of their homes or in parks nearby, and both neighbors and passers-by are presented with lokma after having paid their respects to the relatives (whether in the form of condolences or congratulations, depending). Several companies are dedicated to lokma cart rentals for families whose numbers have changed for better or worse, and it’s commonplace in the workplace that on such an occasion a colleague might purchase a batch Lokma for their office as well. Several weeks after I’d first learned about this tradition in the context of grieving, two different coworkers had stopped by my office carrying plates of pastry drizzled in honey, and I’d sheepishly hesitated to accept mine before it had become clear to me whether to come off happy or sad. Thankfully both offerings of lokma had been prepared for the birth of a niece or nephew, and the pastries were celebratory as opposed to comfort food.