We spent the entire month of Ramadan in Turkey. The Turks call the holy month Ramazan. We did not visit the more conservative areas of Turkey so beyond some foods unique to Ramazan we didn’t really notice the holiday. None of our friends were fasting, and they joined us at the table throughout the day. The guidebooks had warned us we should eat indoors before sunset, but we were always invited to sit outdoors at the restaurants.

Istanbul was a bit different, however. The restaurants still served outside during the day, and plenty of Turks joined us in eating and drinking. But close to sunset things changed at these tables. We were no longer invited to sit outdoors. The long tables were reserved for those who were fasting. As sunset approached the tables were set with dates, olives, salad, and pide bread. People sat down in front of the food and talked quietly waiting to eat. As soon as the evening call to prayer was sung (and it was the shortest of all the days prayers) the fast would be broken. There was a made rush toward the food. The sound of forks, spoons, and laughter filled the air. The restaurants would bring out piles of soup bowls filled with lentil soup, then plates of stews. Around the Blue Mosque, as well, families were digging into their picnics. There was a buzz to the Ramazan iftar.

Istanbul also celebrated Ramazan with a carnival. The Hippodrome where the horses used to run was lined with stalls selling crafts, food, and sweets. We sampled the lollipops of caramel swirled around wooden sticks as well as pickled cabbage and cucumbers served with a straw in their hot pink pickle juice. We ate the Turkish delight (lokum) and hard candies offered up on plates at stalls.

We first visited the carnival on the last Saturday of Ramazan. We couldn’t move through the crowd. We went back to sample the lollipops on the last day of Ramazan as well. The crowds had left. This was the beginning of one of their biggest holidays. In Turkey the three days after Ramazan are called Şeker Bayrami or sugar holiday. Everyone had gone home to celebrate with family. Istanbul got very quiet over the next few days with all the shops closed and no one rushing off to work. But the parks filled up with families eating the food purchased from all the many carts outdoors in the sunshine. People now were not just celebrating the end of a day of fasting but the end of an arduous yet holy month.  It was a great way to celebrate our last days in Turkey.

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