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Feb 24
Monday
Features
The Salepçi of Sütçüler: The Hard Life of a Sweet Trade

Sahlep vendor Hüseyin bey, photo by Monique Jaques

By the name of the place, you’d expect the Sütçüler (“Milkmen” in English) district near Isparta in southern Turkey to be a dairyland paradise, thick on the ground with men carrying buckets sloshing fresh milk, cheese wheels stacked in cool dark sheds, verdant hills freckled with cows. But there are no milkmen in Sütçüler, at least not in the wintertime.The area’s name actually has nothing to do with anything going on in Sütçüler itself.

The mayor of Sütçüler, Hüseyin Müftüoğlu, confirmed this over the phone. “In 1938, the decision was made to name this area Sütçüler. For more than 100 years, in Istanbul, in every neighborhood there’s a milkman and almost surely, that man is from here, one of our Sütçüler brothers,” Müftüoğlu told us.

From a distance, it might seem like these Ispartans are dairymen, providing an important link between city folk and the farms back in the village, but spending some time among those from Sütçüler, we found their most common feature to be their willingness to grind out a living by dragging a push cart through the streets of Istanbul, winter after winter.

“There are no trades in Sütçüler. Men from Sütçüler used to be milkmen and now they are all salep sellers, nothing else,” said Osman, a taxi driver who himself narrowly escaped the fate of his kinsmen. “My uncles, cousins, everyone in my circle. All of them are salepçi in Istanbul.”

Read the rest of the story at Culinary Backstreets.

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