The freshest loaf of bread is still warm from the oven: Crusty and soft inside. As morning stretches around the world, families everywhere start their day with a visit to the bakery for the ‘freshest loaf of bread.’ and in Istanbul this is not the exception.
There’s a bakery, located deep within the Beykoz District, that works around the clock to keep bread fresh. It’s 10:00 pm and the work shift has just begun. How is the bread still warm at 9:00 am? Employees work intensively for ten hours to make that happen. To unravel method behind mystery, one must consult the artist behind the dough.
The team at the bakery consists of four head bakers, each with his own helper. Mr. Sedat, a head baker, entered to the bread making industry at 14 years old. “I couldn’t even reach the table and they used to hand me a chair so I can work with the dough,” he recalls.
Mr. Sedat and his helper are charged with the preparation of traditional Turkish pastries like Poğaça (bread baked in the ashes of a fireplace, and later in an oven), Börek (bread made from a recipe used by the Ottomans), Ay Çöreği (bread preceding the French Croissant), and Simit (Iconic Turkish bread, circular with sesame seeds).
The bread at bakery is made downstairs. Upon descent to the basement, and with each step, once can feel the temperature rise. The room at the bottom of the stairs is 30°C. The sound of the arabesque music fills the area and the bakers appear to be taking part in some sort of ritual.
Approximately 2.000 loaves of bread are made every shift. The types of bread vary from Buğday Ekmeği (Whole wheat) Çavdar Ekmeği (Rye) Afyon Ekmeği (Traditional bread that originates from the city of Afyon), and regular bread that is distributed to restaurants and local shops.
Due to the large migrant population from the Black Sea area, Beykoz District bakeries often use vinegar during the preparation of the dough. The dough consists of flour, water, salt, vinegar, dry yeast, milk, and olive oil. The bread is baked for 15 to 20 minutes, using a wooden oven that reaches almost 190°C.
These bakers work every day, and time spent with their families is limited. Mr. Erkan can barely see his wife, as she goes to work each morning he goes to work each night. If these bakers get the chance to rest, it is for only around 15 days during the year. What do you do during those 15 days? “If you’re single you go on vacations, but if you’re married you’ll sleep the whole day at home“, says Mr. Erkan.
For those who wonder how much money these bakers received for one month of work, it varies depending on many things like level of expertise. The base payment starts at 1600 Turkish Liras, or $543 USD. According to the bakers, salaries are decreasing due to the influx of immigrant workers that are willing to work for less.
Would you like your kid to be a baker? “Are you out of your mind?” Mr. Erkan says.
In collaboration with Kristen Kuhn and İlker Yaman
Colombian journalist wandering around istanbul!