While a special Turkish flatbread prepared with wheat flour and yeast, pide, can be found year round at some bakeries, experts point out that Ramadan pide is made with a superior quality flour and that’s what makes it special.
“Well, you could get pide in months other than Ramadan too,” Ercan Bayraktar says. Bayraktar, the owner of Bayraktar Firini in Beyoglu, is a third generation baker. “But the pide you get in Ramadan is special, the flour is of a better quality,” he says. “It is a wheat flour that is more water-absorbent. It smells different when baked.”
When asked for more details about the Ramadan pide flour, Bayraktar says the flour factories begin preparing this special quality flour months in advance. “Ramadan pide production was the same 20 years ago, or even in my childhood, as it is today,” he adds.
Bayraktar says the small bakery tucked away in Balik Pazari (fish market) in Istanbul’s Beyoglu district has been there for at least 100 years. “We don’t know for sure exactly when it was established,” he notes, “but it goes back many decades”.
Baker Rahmi Burman at the Bayraktar Firini says the Ramadan pide would stick if they didn’t use wheat chaff to separate it from the wooden shovels they use to place pide into the brick oven.
The Ramadan pide, prepared upstairs in the production area that looks heavenly in all white, under fluorescent lighting on white tile and covered in flour, is something special, worker Izzet Boz says. He sums up what makes it special with one word: “Sifa [healing].” Aydin Ozleyen, his colleague, is a little more forthcoming: “It’s the quality of the flour,” he says.
Food historian Nazli Piskin confirms that within Istanbul, pide is more of a common sight during Ramadan, but that it exists beyond the Muslim holy month. “Yet if we are to look at Anatolia, pide is eaten year round.”
“Pide is kind of a flatbread. We call it flatbread but of course it has yeast,” she says. “It’s not like yufka [phyllo dough used for borek], which is without yeast.” According to Piskin, the pide maker’s mastery comes into play because “pide is not moulded but shaped by hand.”
“That’s why,” Piskin says, “each bakery’s pide is different.” She adds that the heat from the oven may also differ from bakery to bakery, but the most significant difference is the pide master.
“Pide can be prepared with or without eggs,” Piskin points out. “I don’t mean mixed into the dough. I mean brushed onto the surface of the pide after it has been shaped by hand and before it is placed into the oven.”
The pide baked with eggs has a more yellow to brownish cast, while the pide baked without eggs is whiter. “There is no such thing as superiority of one type over another,” Piskin says. “It simply is a matter of the family’s preference.”
Piskin says Evliya Celebi, the 17th century Ottoman traveller, had observations about Ramadan pide.
“He has written about Istanbul’s Ramadan pide traditions, and he notes that saffron water was brushed onto the surface of the Ramadan pide before it was baked.”
She says saffron would have given a yellow cast and a pleasant fragrance to the Ramadan pide.
As for toppings, Evliya Celebi notes that bakers would put a mix of poppy seeds and anise seeds on top of the pide, as opposed to the mixture of sesame and cumin seeds that is used nowadays. It is not clear, according to Piskin, whether cumin and sesame seeds were used during Evliya Celebi’s time, but he does not mention it.
“Saffron is exorbitantly expensive,” Piskin says. “No one would expect it to be used on pide these days, but there could have been poppy seeds,” she tells TRT World.
Piskin says there is a ritual to eating Ramadan pide: “As you know, Ramadan pide is preferably eaten warm out of the bakery,” she says. “So for years on end, families would send their young kids to the bakery to wait in line to buy fresh Ramadan pide out of the oven, and consume it warm during iftar [breaking of the fast at sundown]”.
According to Piskin, Ramadan pide is special because the smell of the freshly baked goods surrounds the neighbourhood, as people gather at the bakery before iftar to take home Ramadan pide.
“Everyone is fasting and is quite hungry, they form a line and wait patiently, their will being tested at the end of the fasting day,” she says. “Then they dig into the Ramadan pide at the dinner table.”
Piskin says Ramadan pide goes stale quite quickly as it is a high-gluten flatbread: “No one would want to eat cold stale Ramadan pide,” she explains. “That’s why families only buy as much as they would consume, so there wouldn’t be any left over the next day.”
Telling TRT World she hates to see bread go to waste, Piskin says “Let’s assume there was Ramadan pide left over. You could steam it, in a sieve placed over boiling water in a pan.” She also suggests cutting it into small pieces and roasting it to make croutons.”You could turn it into breadcrumbs after the crouton stage by grinding it as well,” she mentions.
She says that every family has their favourite bakery to buy pide from. “For example, my husband and I go to a bakery ten minutes away from our home even though there is one closer to us, which is a chain bakery that we don’t prefer,” she explains.
She also says that families should “embroider into their children’s food memories” the story of Ramadan by taking them to a bakery during the holy month, regardless of whether the elders are fasting or not. “It forms pleasant childhood memories, it is a nice tradition,” she concludes.