Turks are enthusiastic, expert picnickers – there are thousands of piknik yeri (picnic grounds) dotted all over the country. Some riverside picnic areas even have tables and benches planted in the shallows so people can eat while dangling their feet in the water.
The usual plan of attack is for two or three families to decide who’s going to bring what. Typical picnic foods are bread, cheese, nuts, stuffed vegetables and different meats, either cold cuts or pieces ready for grilling on a fireplace or a portable mangal (grill). Kuru köfte (dry meatballs) are popular because they are firm enough to travel well in the hamper. The köfte are mixed and rolled at home then fried in olive oil on site. Fruit and sugar-coated nuts round off the meal.
Picnics can last from lunchtime until well into the evening. As it gets dark, someone will light a fire and the rakı will come out. Expect fireside singing, dancing, loud talk and laughter.
Edibles are just part of the deal. Sometimes it looks like a Turkish family could easily set up house with what they bring along for an afternoon in the park. As well as chairs, cushions, rugs and games (cards, maybe a volleyball net, definitely a soccer ball), there will be a tea semaver, music (rarely live, sometimes portable, often blaring from the car) and even electric lights.
Unfortunately, many long and lingering picnics leave a residue of litter. If there isn’t a bin on site, make sure you carry your rubbish out with you.
To plan your own picnic, pick up supplies from a pazar, gıda pazarı or arküteri. Your spread doesn’t have to be elaborate: bread, cheese, olives, fruit and something to drink are about all you need. İstanbul’s Emirgan Parkı is a wonderful place to head with your nosh and your blanket – as well as grassy, shady picnic spots there are tea gardens, a couple of stately restaurants and, on summer weekends, hundreds of Turkish families to make friends with.