The empowered Turkish housewives of London: using Instagram to monetise homecooked meals

Nearly 20 Turkish women in London have harnessed the power of Instagram to turn their pictures of food into a source of income, empowering many in the area. 

London is a city mostly comprised of migrants. The Harringay Green Lanes region in north London is one of the city's most cosmopolitan areas with international cuisine from every corner of the world. Still, when someone mentions the name Green Lanes, the first thing that comes to mind is Turkish food complete with all the country’s traditional delicacies.

No matter how good the food was in restaurants in Green Lanes, many Turks missed homecooked meals similar to what they grew up eating in Turkey. However, now the Turkish housewives in London are filling that gap. 

One of those housewives in Sultan Şahin, who is a 46-year-old mother of three living in London’s Colindale region. Şahin is originally from central Turkey's Kayseri, a city known for its mantı, a Turkish-style ravioli and one of Şahin's specialities. Şahin’s business ventures on social media contribute to finances at home.

Şahin told Ahval News her origin story by explaining that her daughter and nephew took it upon themselves to create a social media account dedicated to her cooking.

“Previously, I had been making mantı for the neighbours. There wasn't much profit, but at least I was getting pocket money. Now, I have a real job and regular clients. Ms Sema, who lives close to me, is a working woman and cares after her sick father. They buy mantı from me every week, and I even make special adjustments to the salt and oil in the food, because her father is ill,” she said.

According to Şahin, the best part of the work is the feedback she gets from her customers.

"Most of all, I'm happy when they write to me. Because I'm more motivated then. I say [to myself] that it means I'm doing my job so well that they're calling on me again. Because for me, return customers are important." 

Gaining clients from Instagram has widened Şahin's network and has allowed her to pass along job offers to family members.

"My niece came here from Turkey and does cleaning jobs here. One of my clients told me they were looking for a worker, so I suggested my niece. So, this job isn't just beneficial to me but also provides jobs for my family."

Among Şahin's clientele includes students from Turkey, who are then able to get a taste of home.

"Students usually buy 1 kilo of mantı or 1 kilo of stuffed grape leaves. They say, 'it's exactly like my mom's food.' After all, at home, I give whatever I'm making to my family. Same fat, same flour, same ingredients. Moreover, I usually sell dishes I know how to make. I wouldn't be comfortable making and selling food I don't know how to makeselling it, even if it just for someone to try."

Canan Dikmen, a 35-year-old woman with two children and her own Instagram account, studied in Sivas in central Turkey and makes food from that region, such as kalburabastı dessert, which fried dough soaked in syrup. Dikmen also mentioned that students are frequent customers.

"This one time a woman called from Turkey after finding my account online and said 'my son is going over there to study - would you go and make food for my son?' I directed her to someone who does this. They go to a students' house, cook for a few days, put everything in the fridge and leave. Many have their own keys. Most of the time, the students don't even see them. It's like their mother comes and cooks."

Indeed other common customers include hosts who need catering for house parties. According to what Dikmen told Ahval News,

"Since I am prone to making pastries, my cousins would call me for help whenever they were getting ready for a party. My food was very popular. And then I said why not and made this my routine. Now, many people are looking for these things and placing orders online."

Many view selling the food they’ve cooked at home as “safe and clean,” particularly for women with children. Şahin mentioned that positive aspects of working from the safety of her own home.

 "I realised that I'm not as worn out as I was before. My memory is better than before. I wake up in the morning. I can keep an eye on the kids, and I do what I love. Doing this job has helped me a lot. Perhaps it made me feel better psychologically. So one day, I want to open my own place."

This line of work has given Ceylan, a recently divorced 49-year-old mother of four, newfound freedom after living in England for more than 30 years. She’s never worked before and can only speak Turkish and Kurdish.

“I sell mantı. If they want it, I also make stuffed grape leaves and filled pastries. It gives me spending money, but most importantly, I don't need a man. There are other women like me. There are still some things that our Turkish society doesn't understand. Divorced women are not treated favourably. That's why it's difficult for me to go out and work somewhere. This job is good and clean."

However, for the women who make and sell a dish like mantı, they earn less than the minimum wage in the UK, which is 7.83 pounds an hour. It takes two hours to prepare a kilo of mantı, which is then sold for between 10 and 12 pounds. The cost of ingredients is around 4 pounds, including water, electricity, and gas, meaning they earn an average of 4 pounds per hour.

But this number doesn’t mean much to Ceylan, who says,  

 "Ultimately, I can't find work anywhere so easily, because I don't speak the language. But now I'm at home, working in my clean kitchen. I'm not afraid that anyone will harass me. I'm with my family, and I'm making money honourably. I don't see it as making a lot or little - it's as much as it is."