ISSUE 2: MULTICULTURALISM| OCTOBER 2022 | ERCAN KESAL | Dumpling stories from Avanos

Dumpling stories from Avanos

As I grew from a child into a young man and got to know my butcher grandfather, grandmother, aunt and uncles better, I came to see that dumplings were not just a simple meal in their lives. It was practically an indispensable object in a sacred ritual that held the whole family together.

Köseler (Kesal) Family || Courtesy of Ercan Kesal

Avanos, Nevşehir || Photo: Cengiz Bektaş Archive, SALT Research

There is a sweet bustle at home. My mother is in good spirits. My father folds the newspaper he was reading and puts it on the corner of the sofa, as if he would soon grasp all the secrets of life. He slowly wiped his glasses with a soft cloth that always caused me trepidation because of the legend – who knows where I had picked it up – that the soft handkerchiefs used to clean eyeglasses were made from cat skin.

With a smug smile and a sideways glance at my mother, moreover in a tone she could hear, he said, ‘We’re having dumplings for dinner. Look, your mother is in good spirits!’

My mother entered the kitchen hurling her dimi.[1] It was obvious she had heard my father, but was ignoring him.

My father continued:

‘Son, their family is strange. They cannot live without dumplings. They eat dumplings and fight. They eat dumplings and make up.’

Honestly, he was right. My mother was the daughter of the butcher Hacı Mehmet of the Çarşı neighbourhood, one of three quarters in Avanos. My father, on the other hand, was Mevlüt, the orphaned son of the late Köse Mustafa from the Lower District, where mostly farmers lived.

My mother would recount how she could not eat anything put on the table the first two years after she joined the Köses as a bride and that she always missed the dumplings that were cooked every other day at her home growing up.

As I grew from a child into a young man and got to know my butcher grandfather, grandmother, aunt and uncles better, I came to see that dumplings were not just a simple meal in their lives. It was practically an indispensable object in a sacred ritual that held the whole family together.

Domestic quarrels never end in small towns. Most of the disputes are over mundane and trifling matters. That’s why a spat doesn’t long, and the two sides secretly await the right time to reconcile with an invitation for dumplings.

That day was likely one of those times they were on the cusp of a reconciliation.

In the evening, the house began to fill slowly. First, the little ones appeared: cousins, nieces, daughters-in-law and grandchildren. Then uncles and aunts. And then the grandmother and grandfather. The scent of the last fight and resentment still hang in the air. There seems to be a slight distance between them. Yet the water in the large cauldron over the big fire in the backyard has long began to boil. Next to it, the women line up at the breadboard with pins, quickly rolling out and cutting the dough that my mother had kneaded in a large bread trough the night before. With expert hand gestures, mincemeat and cheese are placed in the middle of dough cut into squares. Folded into triangles, the dumplings are already piling up on one side. On the matter of the size of the dumplings, my uncle’s standard holds sway. His measure calls for dumplings large enough to fill or even overflow a tablespoon.

A floor table will be set up soon, and dumplings will once again claim their important place in the history of our family. Applause and cheerful banter will join the appetising clink of spoons, and the table will be left as if no offense had been committed.

So many times has my father witnessed this inevitable situation that he sits silently and a little mischievously, watching this sacred ceremony from the edge of the table.

I once asked my youngest uncle, who is no longer alive, why dumplings were so important in our family’s life.

He told me a story.

The story of either my grandfather’s brother or his father’s return from the military, I can’t remember who exactly.

This soldier who is our relative saves his soul in the final years of the long war or wartime mobilisation years, but returns to the town in a wretched state far worse than death, arriving one evening at the home of my butcher grandfather in the Çarşı neighbourhood. No one is there. The soldier enters the courtyard and sees the fire burning. A tray of dumplings has just been taken off the fire and sits drained in a corner. Our relative, who throws his cap and bag aside, starts eating the dumplings with his hands. After he is full, he lifts up the vaşı, a large earthen pot to which the water is drained, to his mouth and starts to drink the water inside. He is satiated, but it is still not enough! He looks at the remaining water for a moment, then lifts it again, pouring it over his head to bathe in it.

Upon hearing the noise, the women of the house come to the courtyard. I can only imagine what they thought upon seeing this wretched but happy soldier dripping in dumpling water, but I will never forget the sparkle in my uncle’s eyes as he shared the story.

Ercan Kesal with his father and brother, 1960's || Courtesy of Ercan Kesal

Childhood of Ercan Kesal, 1965 || Photo: Alaaddin Primary School archive

Let me end the story of dumplings with a somewhat sad tale.

My father was in the last stages of Parkinson’s disease and had become bedridden.

While my mother was praying next to my father, she noticed that he was not making a sound.

‘I called to him … “Mevlüt, Mevlüt!” I said. He didn’t answer. I went to his side. I held his hands, they were cold. “Well,” I said, “his hands are always cold…” But his mouth was clenched shut. No breath either. That’s when I understood. Then I remembered you were eating dumplings. I called to the caregiver from the door. “Don’t tell your brother,” I said. “Let him eat his dumplings, then you can tell him. He’s crazy about his dad; he’ll come running, leaving his meal unfinished.”’

The story of the mother who waited silently next to her dead husband so that her son could finish the food he loved is actually the story of the unending grief of Anatolian women.

Mothers who were displaced from their homeland and drew their last breath on distant roads.

Mothers who lost their children early.

Like Anatolia, it is the story of patient, persistent and hopeful women.

Thankfully, we have a hearty, cheerful and delicious shelter from the storm in our dumplings!


Translation by Ayla Jean Yackley


  1. The local term for traditional baggy trousers around the region of Nevşehir, Turkey.