In Turkey, the art of picnicking is a way of life and has been in this part of the world for many centuries.
A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread – and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness –
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!”–
From Omar Khayyam’s 12th-century Rubaiyat
A timeless way to spend a day
The picnic, or mesire, in old Turkish, which has a similar but not exact meaning, has been one of the most popular ways to spend a spring or summer’s day for many hundreds of years.
In Fethiye, just like in villages, towns and cities all over Turkey, the art of picnicking has become a way of life and an opportunity to relax in the sun, while cooking, talking, eating and enjoying each others company.
This activity is as popular in the southwest of Turkey as anywhere else and here it is an activity witnessed by the many foreigners who visit or live in the Aegean and the Mediterranean regions.
It is a scene that sums up the relaxed food-loving culture.
Turkish families get together in some shady place, these days mainly in official picnicking sites but also on beaches, prepare enormous feasts and then sit around relaxing and often dozing in the afternoon sunshine.
The history of the Turkish al fresco meal stretches far back into the country’s past.
The Turkish word for the family outing and all it entails is ‘mesire.’
This is an important part of Turkish culture and applies to all feasts, whether they are for a sultan or a simple meal for an ordinary family. In fact, the word picnic is really new to Turkey.
A simple or a sophisticated feast
It can be very simple or very sophisticated.
It just depends on who is doing it. Very often the food is cooked at the mesire but also dolma and sarma and of course ‘börek’ [stuffed vine leaves, peppers, cabbage leaves and pastry rolls] are very popular.
Bread plays an important role too to put the meat and fish inside, which saves on plates and such like.
Families visiting picnic sites find a shady spot under the pine trees, overlooking the sea and unload the car.
Within minutes the fire is ready and the women are preparing the food: no chopping boards in sight, a knife is all that is required to make a salad and a bowl for kneading the minced meat to make the köfte.
Hands are washed from the big flagons of water brought along and the chopping begins.
The salad is prepared and all the other treats, previously made at home, are laid out on a cloth, which covers the kilim.
‘Mesire’ ritual is steeped in history
The origin of the word picnic is rather vague but there are several suggestions as to its possible derivation.
One rather charming idea comes from the French word “piquenique,” a word first used in the late 17th century.
It describes how diners had to bring their own wine with them to a restaurant.
It has also been said that it related to a meal eaten outdoors, to which everyone contributed something. “Piquer,” or to pick, combined with “nique” or something small is another possibility.
The “mesire” however has a very ancient history.
The etymological origins of merise are Arabic but the origin of the ritual dates back more than 5,000 years, to the Mesopotamian area, but also to early Shamanistic Turkic cultures.
The Turkish mesire is linked with May 6, Hıdrellez Festival, in those times, the year was divided into two equal periods: Hızır and Kasım. The Navruz Festival celebrated the spring equinox.
Both these festivals involve food and fire: two prominent features in the modern Turkish picnic. It is a timeless, classless and egalitarian aspect of Turkish culture.
Although the fire or mangal still plays an important role, they are not allowed any more.
Do’s and don’ts for picnickers
The forestry department in Fethiye gave us a list of helpful do’s and don’ts for picnickers, which will hopefully mean a cleaner, tidier, fire-free countryside this summer:
- Don’t leave your garbage, or litter of any kind in the countryside. It is strictly forbidden
- Don’t leave broken bottles behind. They are a health and safety hazard for both people and wild animals. Put them in the nearest trashcan or take them home with you
- Do take a trash bag with you when you go picnicking for those places where trashcans are not available. Put your garbage into plastic bags and take it home with you
- Do remember that authorized sites are equipped with trashcans, hand washing facilities and toilets
- Don’t forget there is an entrance fee for these picnic areas, which contributes towards the cost of cleaning and maintenance
- Don’t make barbeques and fires. They are not allowed in most picnic areas and are completely forbidden in forest areas
- Do cook all your food beforehand
- Do make a note of the fire department and forestry department in case you witness a fire. For general fires it is 110 and for forest fires it is 177. The forest fire line is also called Alo 177, Orman Yangını İhbar, meaning Forest Fire Alert. It is a free call. It should work even when your mobile phone is out of credit.
- Don’t forget that the minimum fine for littering and damaging the countryside and historic sites begins with six digit numbers.
- Do leave the place where you have your picnic clean and tidy for the next visitors. Our countryside is a precious resource.
Enjoy your picnic!
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