Ramadan Fast Broken Between Orders
by Natalie Villacorta | Jul 31, 2012 1:37 pm
Between bites of a vegetable stew and lentil soup, Mahmut Turan took down orders for pepperoni pizzas and Alpha Delta Pizza’s signature Wenzel, a buffalo chicken sandwich popular among Yalies.
It was approximately 8:19 p.m. Monday. Turan hadn’t eaten since 2:30 a.m. He was hungry, but so were Alpha Delta’s customers.
Another Ramadan fast day was coming to a close. Meanwhile, business beckoned.
Muslims throughout New Haven are at the beginning end of the month-long Ramadan cycle, during which they fast from sun-up to sundown, a particularly long stretch this time of year. This year Ramadan began the night of July 19 and ends Aug. 18.
For people on the job—six observant Muslims who work at Alpha Delta Pizza at Elm by Howe—breaking the fast gets woven into the daily routine, as evidence by the scene at the pizzeria Monday evening.
“We have food right in our hands, but we can’t eat it,” said Turan, an Alpha Delta employee of six years.
That didn’t tempt Turan, who has fasted during Ramadan and every Monday and Thursday since he was 8 years old. Being in the restaurant isn’t any different from growing up in Turkey where his mother and grandmother cooked all day for the evening meal, he said.
That is one difference between the restaurant and a Turkish home. In Turkish culture, the kitchen is a woman’s domain. Men don’t even go in for a glass of water, Turan said. At Alpha Delta, Turkish men do all the cooking.
In between preparing Wenzels for customers Monday afternoon, Ismail Durdu prepared for sundown by kneading a dough of flour, yeast, salt, sugar, and olive oil. He baked it in the pizza oven into a golden bread—crisp and flaky on the outside and warm and soft on the inside. He chopped up eggplant, squash, potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers and threw them into a stew with chickpeas, green beans, and oregano to make a dish called turlu. He prepared a pot of spicy lentil soup with carrots, rice, mint, and garlic.
Lastly, Durdu made a pizza different from the Greek-style pan pizzas customers carry out the door — it’s thin and made without tomato sauce and sprinkled with strips of gyro meat. When the sun set, Durdu took a long gulp of bottled water, smiled with satisfaction, and bit into his special pizza.
Durdu and Turan (pictured) are among the six Alpha Delta employees who are fasting for Ramadan. Each day, the time they may eat moves forward one minute. Some days are tougher than others —Alpha Delta has no air conditioning, so on hot days, going without water is rough. Some of the guys lose weight; others put on a few pounds.
At Alpha, there is no elaborate feast to celebrate the end of another day of fasting. Most of the employees eat standing up, balancing their plates on the cutting boards, poised to fill an order for another pizza. Others sit in the dining room among the customers who do not notice that the cooks are munching on black olives from Turkey and sipping on sweetened Turkish tea. They fill their empty stomachs for 15 minutes and get back to delivering pizzas or making sandwiches.
Alpha is one of many pizza parlors in New Haven owned by Turks. Others include Empire Pizza, A One, and New Haven Pizza.
“A bunch of Turkish guys making a Greek-style pizza. … It is strange,” Turan reflected. But as much as the Greeks and Turks have feuded, their cultures and traditions are similar, Turan said. Greeks used to live in the town where he lived until he was 12, near Giresun, Turkey.
Two months ago, Alpha went halal (meaning it would abide by Islamic dietary restrictions). It took everything off the menu that contained pork — bacon, pepperoni, ham, and salami. The meat now comes from animals that were turned toward Mecca, read a prayer, and then slit across the throat by a Muslim man. (The bacon does not come from pig, in keeping with halal restrictions.)
“Now we don’t have to touch pork no more,” said Turan. Pork is forbidden for Muslims in part because pigs “don’t fight for their females” and were “created by God to clean the Noah’s Ark,” he explained.
The change was made in response to customer requests for halal food and the growth of the Muslim faith, Turan said.
“People love it,” he said, adding that some customers have even said they prefer the beef pepperoni over the pork. But it does cost the restaurant more — about $10 extra per 30 pounds of sausage. “We don’t mind paying extra so we can be happy and our customers can be happy,” Turan said.
Regular customer Tolga Koker, a Yale economics professor, walked right past the front counter Monday, served himself a bowl of stew, and grabbed one of the flaky rolls. The guys call him whenever they’ve made Turkish food, which he has missed since moving to the U.S. in 1990.
Before they close up the restaurant at 3:30 a.m., the fasting pizza-piers consume another meal of yogurt and vegetables. For this month they have something in common with the Yalies who flock to their restaurant on weekend nights: late-night eating.
Tags: Ramadan, Alpha Delta Pizza
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Perhaps the reporter should ask him why “Greeks used to live in the town where he lived until he was 12, near Giresun, Turkey” rather than quoting him unquestioningly. His hometown is in the Black Sea region, home to hundreds of thousands of Greeks since ancient times, until the Pontian Genocide of 1919-23. Mr. Durdu doesn’t look that old. Perhaps he is talking about those remaining Greeks who fled after the Istanbul riots of 1955. If you were interviewing a Warsaw Pole, would you repeat a statement that Jews used to live in his town until 1942?
That being said, Greeks and Turks in America typically get along just fine, especially in New Haven where many Greeks have ancestral roots in what is now Turkey. Why do so many Turks own Greek pizza places? It’s the common immigrant story. One guy works in a place, learns the trade, saves his money, buys his own, hires his friends. Lather rinse repeat.