Aşure – Noah’s Ark Pudding

Have you tried the asure at Saray Muhabellicisi?

For a Turkish person, not having enough food to eat is as unthinkable as not being able to breathe. So imagine Noah’s delight when the ark finally came to rest near Ararat in eastern Turkey after the great flood, in finding enough leftovers to create the gourmet delight known as aşure. Also called Noah’s Ark Pudding, it’s made from a combination of chickpeas, walnuts, apricots, barley and sultanas. I first came across aşure more years ago than I can remember. After only one spoonful of this mix which resembles congee in texture, I was hooked on the combination of healthy grains mixed with dried fruit.

Much as I love it, even I have my limits as to how much of it I can eat. When I lived in Kayseri, in central Anatolia, in 2002 I worked at a large government university. Everyday I’d eat lunch at the yemekhane, or dining hall, with my husband and colleagues. The menu changed every week and one day I was excited to see they had aşure on the menu. When I told my colleagues how much I loved it they offered to bring me some. By the end of the week I had five enormous jars full of aşure. There was so much we started to give it away to our neighbours rather than see it go to waste.

Luckily we didn’t have any children, because we might have got more than we bargained for with each gift of aşure. In the past, Turkish women with marriageable daughters made Noah’s Ark Pudding in spring and then sent the girls out to give it to neighbours with unmarried sons. It was an unspoken form of matchmaking everyone knew about but never mentioned.

Aşure also has an important place in religious history. In the 17th century, the great Muslim traveller Evliya Çelebi observed that it was always cooked on the 10th day of the Muslim month Muharrem, which is the first month of the Islamic calendar. In Islam it honours the prophet Moses, and it is a special day of observance in Shia Islam. In addition, members of the Alevi sect cook and share aşure after fasting and abstaining from eating meat in commemoration of the Battle of Karbala. On this 10th day of Muharrem in 680AD, their leader Mohammed’s grandson Hussein ibn Ali and his followers, were murdered.

Have you heard of the famous traveller, Evliya Çelebi?Known as The Day of Aşure, this date also figures in both non- and pre-Islamic beliefs. In early Christianity it’s connected to the idea that Adam was accepted by God because he repented. In Judaism it’s related to the story that the sea was divided because the nation of Israel was delivered from captivity and Pharaoh’s army was destroyed. Then there’s the name, which celebrates the belief that Noah’s Ark survived this great flood.

More generally, aşure is considered an offering of peace, safety, and spiritual nourishment. In a table of desserts rich in dairy products, aşure is one of the few Turkish puddings that contains no animal products. Consequently, it’s suggested that serving aşure is a statement against violence and bloodshed.

Whatever its origins, aşure is delicious. I’d like to eat it more often than I do, but I have to confess I’m a much better eater than I am a cook. I don’t have the patience for recipes with more than five components and I read once that each aşure ingredient has to be added separately and carefully stirred round to ensure the resulting mix is clear in colour, not murky or grey. The home cooked version is the best, and I can highly recommend Ozlem Warren’s recipe if you want to make it for yourself. Get cooking!

You can find more information about holy days in Turkey here.

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About Goreme1990

I’m Lisa Morrow, the person behind www.insideoutinistanbul.com. I was born in Sydney, Australia and grew up a leafy middle class North Shore suburb. After finishing high school I went to Sydney University but failed to find my niche. After working as a public servant, cleaner, sales assistant, waitress, bar maid and car counter, I went overseas. Once there I hitchhiked through the UK, travelled in Europe and arrived in Turkey just as the Gulf War was starting. My three months stay in the small central Anatolian village of Göreme changed my life. On my return to Australia I earned a BA Honours Degree in Sociology from Macquarie University. An academic career beckoned but the call to travel was louder. After several false starts I moved to Turkey and lived there for ten years. In 2017 I moved to Lisbon, Portugal, but continue to travel regularly to Istanbul. In addition to my blog I've written a travel narrative memoir called "Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul" and two collections of essays, "Inside Out In Istanbul: Making Sense of the City" and "Exploring Turkish Landscapes: Crossing Inner Boundaries". I have a regular segment on San Francisco Turkish radio and in early 2017 I released an audio walking tour called "Stepping back through Chalcedon: Kadikoy Walk", through VoiceMap. In addition I write for various international and Australian magazines and websites, as well as for this blog. A full list of my published articles, with links, can be found on the Writing on Turkey and Writing Beyond Turkey pages.
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