I'm pretty convinced that in Turkey there is a fifth food group, especially for children.
SUGAR... beautifully delicious white sugar.
I'm a big fan of sugar. In my mind I'd love to be one of those people who cook with alternative natural sweeteners, I'd love to rid my home of the toxic chemical (as my friend Deyna calls it), but in reality I just can't stop eating the stuff. I LOVE sugar. I love foods made with sugar. I can't imagine cakes and cookies and cobblers and freezer jam made of anything else and tasting nearly as good. I eat it and I feed it to my kids. I know that kids around the globe love sugar, but kids in Turkey (and the adults who give it to them) take sugar consumption to a whole new level.
There are some cookies we buy our kids from time to time. They're called Cici Bebek (translation: cutie-pie baby) cookies. They taste like nilla wafers and I think they're basically the same thing, except that the package advertises that these amazing cookies are packed full of vitamins and minerals. They're sooooo good for kids! Interesting, because they taste just like nilla wafers to me... sugar and white flour. But I guess if it says so on the package, then they must have a little bit of vitamins in there somewhere, right?
I don't know if it's because of the misleading advertising, or just because kids love them so much, but these cookies are bought year round by Turkish mothers by the truckload. Stores carry them in all different size containers, from the small bags James and I buy before a road trip to the giant aluminum tins I see in the corners of my Turkish friend's kitchens (to envision the size, think of those big flavored pop-corn tins that we start seeing in the stores around Christmas time). Kids eat the cutie-pie baby cookies as if they're addicted. Come to think of it, they probably are.
The cookies are just one example of sugar consumption. Kids (starting before they can even sit up) drink lots of tea. Turkish tea glasses are tiny. They hold probably 1/3 cup of tea, and yet kids can somehow mix 6-10 sugar cubes in before they drink it. Moms also mix sugar up in glasses of milk before they give it to their little ones.
I bring this up to say that like it our not, our kids end up getting a lot of sugar too. From the holiday visits where they are stuffed full of chocolate and sugary baklava to the random lady on the street who is passing out candy to all the kids that day in hopes that God will see her good works and grant her wish, our kids definitely enjoy sugar.
Honestly it usually doesn't bother me too much, but there have been a few times when the American mother in me just wanted to scream....
One day when Elise was only five or six months old, I went to a tea party with some neighbors. One of the other women offered to hold Elise while I ate the assorted sweet and savory treats on my plate. Elise was a bit fussy so the woman decided maybe she was thirsty. She stirred a bunch of sugar into her glass of tea, then poured it onto the saucer to let it cool. I was watching her, but had no idea what she was doing or that it had anything to do with my to this point only breastfed baby.
The next thing I knew, I had a sarma (stuffed grape leaf) hanging out of my mouth and out of the corner of my eye I spied the woman dribbling sugary caffeinated tea into my baby's mouth! My brain froze... what? why? huh? I really didn't know what to say. No one else in the room thought it was at all strange, and I didn't want to offend the woman by making a scene. I ended up swallowing my sarma, wolfing down the rest of my food, and taking my baby back before too many more spoonfuls of tea went into her little mouth.
Another day a neighbor couple dropped in to visit us. Elise was a little bigger by this point... probably 9 months old. She scooted around on the floor while we sat and chatted. At the end of the visit, the wife of the couple pulled an extra large sized chocolate bar out of her purse. She said it was a gift for Elise and began unwrapping it so she could feed it to her. Luckily this time my brain moved a bit faster and I said something like, "Thanks so much! It's late now and so I'd rather save that for another time." She handed it to me and I set it on the table so I could "give it to Elise later (yeah right!)." As I set it on the table I noticed that it was chocolate covered coffee beans!!! WHAT WAS SHE THINKING?!?
Of course any kid who hears these stories is probably thinking about the sugar (and caffeine) consuming Turkish kids saying, "LUCKY!!"