Author: Fırat Büyükcoşkun, YOUTHART Media Team Member, Media Trainer
Food For The Local, Experience For The Global
With the emergence of new means of transportation and communication, the ‘local’ has started to lose its’ attachments to a specific territory or land. Like everything else locality is travelling throughout the globe both inwards and outwards. It is affecting what we call as global and in return is affected by the ‘global’. The global, when it merges the local, it is glocalized. Local food is also travelling around the world and transforming itself or is transformed to fit into the taste of the other local. Following these arguments, i chose an Iranian restaurant at the heart of Istanbul as an observation place. The place offers its’ visitors not only the Iranian food but the ‘authentic feeling of the east.’ as well. The restaurant owners are very proud of their claim to be original and authentic. The ingredients are brought from Iran, but also the decorations even the tablecloths are from Iran and uniquely knitted.
Culinary tourism is a way of experiencing other ‘cultures’ or the ‘other’ through eating their food, consuming their locality. Jennie German Molz (2007) states that the culinary tourism gives travellers a chance to taste the other. “Culinary tourism frames food “as a subject and medium, destination and vehicle, for tourism.”, (Molz, 2007). In this paper, not only the ‘tourist’ in a sense of who travels to experience the other, the different, the exotic, but the ‘tourist’ who looks for the familiar, for the past is included throughout these paragraphs. Food, and the restaurants can be a way of creating, consuming the difference but also can be a way of re-creating, remembering the self at the same time. Despite having the culinary tourists as target customers, these immigrant restaurants are serving their fellow compatriots as well. “Not all travellers engage in culinary tourism; many tourists abroad desire familiar rather than strange foods.”, (Molz, 2007). My observations in the Iranian restaurant go parallel with this statement. Apart from me and couple of other Turkish customers, all the people who were eating in the restaurant, and all of those people who came and went back were all Iranian. Especially big Iranian families with elderly people were eating in the restaurant. It is not surprising to see one immigrant Iranian elder wrote “I felt like i was in Iran for a moment.” on restaurant’s Facebook page. The place seems to evoke memories from her home country, actually the place is designed to resemble Iran. The way they cook their food, how they serve it claimed to be traditional and properly done according to the Iranian customs. Thus how waiters speak (they are able to speak in Persian language) is creating a deeply familiar atmosphere for the fellow compatriots. As the restaurant is visited by Iranians, so does its’ web-pages. Molz (2007) describes this situation as he argues in his paper that the certain tastes and foods evoke ‘intimations of home’. Both the owner of the place and the Iranian visitors create a familiar place, revoking their memories (in the ‘palate’ sense) from the past and fulfilling their longing by ‘interacting persons like themselves.’, (Bruner, 2005). Why do Iranians choose this specific restaurant to eat? When asked waiter replied that they are cooking the food in a traditional way as this is what customers seek. In this context food in this restaurant creates a feeling of ‘hominess’, (Molz, 2007).
After taking the first step into the restaurant (depending on who you are), it is possible to feel like a stranger or perceive the place as ‘unfamiliar’. But as they state in their web page, their the restaurant is a place where the ‘traditional Iranian and modern architectural patterns meet’, so that the visitor does not feel completely estranged and can find particular symbols to feel comfortable as Mak, Lumbers and Eves (2012) argue, “…tourists travel in quest of novelty; yet, most of them need an ‘environmental bubble’ (a certain degree of familiarity) of their home environment in order to fully enjoy the tourist experience.” Particular things in this restaurant give that feeling of certain degree of familiarity to the visitor. Molz (2007) asserts that eating local food (or the food of the other) has nothing to do with experiencing local but instead it is to push oneself to discover the boundaries of how far he/she can go and while doing this ‘the local’ is excluded from the experience he maintains with an example. But opposed to his assertation, in this Iranian restaurant, local (or the other, native) is included. You are eating in an Iranian restaurant with Iranian people having their meal along with you.
This restaurant not only with food, but with its’ atmosphere and decorations reconstructs an Iranian identity and welcomes you as a visitor to their ‘culture’, reinforced with the ambiance, music, decorations. At the entrance, the restaurant welcomes you with a sign including Persian language as well. This points out that the restaurant is also targeting Persian customers. Furthermore, usage of the Persian language on the sign (in a country where only 618.000 Persian people live which only makes the 0.79 of the whole population) is kind of a way to reinforce the Iranian identity and culture as well as well a way of preserving it in an unfamiliar environment. Another indication of this strong identity preservation is a comment on TripAdvisor by a visitor, he clearly states that the restaurant is first ‘non-Turkish’, and moreover according to him the restaurant is ‘non-touristic’. It is possible to interpret this statement as the restaurant is not there for tourists but for the locals, another Italian customer’s comment also supports this assertion as he writes the restaurant is ‘local and it is frequented by the locals’.
As it is mentioned before, the restaurant put itself forward by exhibiting how all the ingredients come from Iran and cooked by Iranian chefs in a traditional way. Not only the ‘exotic’ and ‘unfamiliar’ food is a way for promotion for this specific restaurant but the way they prepare it is also a promotion for them. Mak, Lumbers and Eves (2012) argue, it is worth quoting in length:
“Given the importance of the ‘symbolic’ aspects of food consumption in tourism, destination marketers and culinary suppliers may jointly promote the traditions and customs of the local food to enhance interest. In addition, gastronomic products can be linked with special activities and experiences available in the destination to augment the experiential aspects of the consumption experience.”
Apart from their given example in the paper, this Iranian restaurant has its’ own offer for this specific quote. It is easy to notice the brochure box in the restaurant while eating. In one of the brochures, the restaurant is promoting a three-day musical experience for the people interested. The music is of course Iranian music, but they are open to any kind of new adjustments and innovative sounds as they welcome participants to bring their own musical language. This can be interpreted as the preservation of the local culture but also they are open for divergence. They are creating a common ground for transforming the global and other ‘locals’ and their own locality throughout food, poetry and music. “Furthermore, various eating etiquettes, unique cooking methods, and ‘grammar of food’ (in Barthes’ (1975) terms, food can be interpreted as signs in a system of communication.” (Mak, Lumbers and Eves, 2012).
This interesting Iranian restaurant has particular specialities that we can oppose basic arguments of ‘globalisation as a bad thing’ advocates as well as implement some of its’ specialities to the good part. They say the Iranian food is only cooked at home, but this restaurant implies food is only a medium to the whole Iran experience. While feeding yourself with unfamiliar food, you can quench your thirst for familiarity with Coke.
Bruner, E. (2005). Culture on tour. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Germann Molz, J. (2007). Eating Difference: The Cosmopolitan Mobilities of Culinary Tourism. Space and Culture, 10(1), pp.77-93.
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