'Erishte Day' in a Kurdish village
Every fall, Turks around the country take in the harvest and begin to prepare their annual food supply. In the East this means coming together to make erishte, or thyme dumpling soup. The production method for erishte is complicated and unique to Kurdish culture. It is not just a food, but an age-old tradition that brings communities together.
First, flour, water, and salt are made into a basic dough. From this, chunks the size of a fist are rolled out into thin sheets, which are then dried in the sun. Each sheet is then cut into one-inch by one-inch squares to form the erishte noodles made only for this soup. “Erishte” is often translated as “dumpling,” but a more accurate translation might be “flat noodle.”
Ever since I can remember, “germiya erishte,” or erishte soup, has been cooked in our house in wintertime. It is believed to have healing effects. “This dish is a remedy,” my mother always tells us, “so have two bowls because you may not always have it around like you do now.”
Erishte was first made by village people centuries ago, one of the humble dishes of the poor. The Kurds’ erishte, the minestrone of the Italians and the Chinese noodle are predominantly made of the same basic materials, flour, salt, and water.
Every year in early autumn, Kurdish village women come together and roll out erishtes. In the village of Conag in the Xolxol district of Bingöl, the women rolled out erishte together this year. The house of village chief Şerafettin Tan was the second house to start making erishte. Tan’s wife, Besime, gathered seven women to roll out the dough. Then, Tan and another man, Bayram Taze, cut the erishte noodles into squares.
The previous night, the dough had been kneaded and readied for the next morning. All the equipment -- rolling pins, hevstivs (iron spatula for dough cutting), xonçes (wide, round tables), and big linoleum knives -- were taken out from storage. The host of the erishte making is also responsible for serving tea and food all day long.
The work generally starts at 9 a.m. with a team of ten, including two men. In Conag, 10-year-old Kurtuluş, who is staying with his grandmother, is the joker of the team.
Nuran, the woman who made the dough, sits next to a big basin. She kneads the dough on her xonçe, then cuts it into fist-sized pieces and distributes them to the other women. For the cutting process she uses a hevstiv, because the dough is too hard to cut by hand or spoon.
The dough is very salty in order to preserve erishte for a long time and to stop it from falling apart when boiling in the soup. In a non-humid environment it can be safely stored up to two years.
The women of Conag roll out the erishte for several. Güler is seen as the best erishte roller of the village, and is called to every erishte gathering. Being able to thinly roll out this thick dough takes real skill. Normally, Güler can roll out 12 lumps of dough per hour, but on this day she said she was only rolling out 10.
Güler, Hediye, Hatun, Kibar, Türkan and Nuran, with Aynur and Safiye joining them later. When Kibar first made erishte she was 14 years old. She has been making erishte for about half a century now. One sack of flour can produce about 20 kilos of erishte, Kibar says.
According to Türkan, the key feature of erishte is that it is dried in the sun. This is done in September because the sun is not so strong that it burns the bread.
85-year-old Amoja Xatun, despite being one of the oldest women of the Conag village, came to help, as did 80-year-old Aunty Miruni, who rolled out erishte until just a few years ago. Both of them say that erishte has been made in Conag since the village was founded. “Our grandmothers used to make us eat the soup as an antibiotic,” Türkan adds.
Back in the day, the host would serve the women zirvet, a traditional Kurdish bread, and a dried yogurt buttermilk known as çurtan would be added to erishte soup. But even traditions are subject to change.
Still, the main reason erishte maintains an important place in Kurdish culture is this tradition of people, mostly women, gathering to work together in a shared, communal labor in which everybody has a different duty.
For the most part, one person prepares the dough, another makes fist-sized chunks and distributes them, another rolls them out into sheets, another lays them out in the sun to dry, another cuts them, and so on. The workers, mostly women, rotate between these jobs, doing the work collectively.
In Conag, as in the surrounding villages, men can also join the process of making erishte. However, when we look at the general picture, Kurdish women dominate the erishte production process.
Besime, the host for today, is spreading dough on big sheets on the floor and serving refreshments. Lütfiye is running back and forth, laying out the freshly rolled dough and carrying the dried sheets to the village chief and her brother Bayram. While there, she takes the freshly cut erishte and passes them through a wooden sieve before laying them on the linoleum again.
Şerafettin, the village chief, is both a taxi driver and a beekeeper. According to him erishte is the national dish of the Kurds, especially the Conagians. The village chief, who has been cutting erishte for hours, says you know the erishte is well made when the sound of the cutting is beautiful.
When the erishte work is finished, everybody cleans up before taking their place at the dinner table. Besime has prepared a rich menu, but the dinner is eaten quickly. At the end of a long, hard day of work, the women are finally able to relax and catch up over glasses of tea.
Some of the women worry that communal erishte-making will disappear in time. Hediye is confident her daughter will carry on the tradition, while Hatun thinks the next generation will go out and buy ready-made erishte. “I don’t think it will be the same as home-made erishte,” she says.
It certainly would not.