Although the struggle between the families and within the families of The Bastard of Istanbul is the main theme of the book, food plays a large role in the novel. The food mentioned in the book serves as a connection point between the two families and also builds up to the climax itself. It is both something that individualizes the characters and brings them together.
The most obvious difference between characters is that of Rose and the Armenian family. Rose was a small town country girl who married Barsham, an Armenian man. The Armenian food was unappetizing to Rose and was a point of disagreement between her and her husband’s family. Once her marriage ended, Rose was able to cook the comfort foods she had been craving: “From now on she would cook whatever she wanted. She would cook real Kentucky dishes for her daughter (39)!” This shows her distaste for anything different from her own culture and comforts. Rose, however, was not the only one with an aversion. Her husband’s family felt quite similarly about Rose, “When you come to think that the only food she knew how to cook was that horrendous mutton barbecue on buns (58)!”
Food separates not only Rose and her husband, but the sisters of the Kazanci family. Asya can always tell who is making dinner by taste alone, “Each time she could easily tell if it was Banu or Cevriye or Feride who had prepared the peppers. If it was Banu, they turned out to be full of stuff they’d have otherwise sorely lacked, including peanuts and cashews and almonds (24).”
Despite the bad blood between the Turks and the Armenians, some of their similarities are shown in the novel. Many of the dishes eaten by the Turks are also eaten by the Armenians. For example, when Amy is in Turkey staying with the Kazancis she sits down to dinner and is able to name their dishes, “I see you have made hummus, baba ghanoush, yalanci sarma . . . and look at this, you have baked churek!
‘Aaaah, do you speak Turkish?!’ Auntie Banu exclaimed (156).”
Auntie Banu’s surprise and misconception that Armanoush spoke Turkish shows that the Turkish family didn’t even realize that the Armenians diet is very similar to their own. Food brings the members of both families together during meal times and is a reassuring substance.
Perhaps the most important role that food plays is that of the chapter titles. The title of each chapter is the name of a food that was involved in a crucial moment for one of the characters in that chapter. For example, chapter two is entitled “Garbanzo Beans”. This is the chapter in which Rose meets Mustafa and thus the relationship between the Kazanci and the Tchakhmakhchian family was established, which gave Armanoush the opportunity to travel to Turkey and befriend Asya. In the end of the novel, the reader discovers that the title of every chapter was, in fact, an ingredient in the dish ashura – a favorite of Mustafa as a young child, and ultimately the dish that was his downfall. Each chapter was one more ingredient in the dish, and each had one more event that brought the characters closer together until the climax in which the all of the events culminated in Mustafa’s death.
The significance of food is evident throughout the novel. The chapter titles symbolize the pieces of the puzzle that are added up to form a whole picture, which are the truth of Armanoush and Asya’s backgrounds as well as the demise of Mustafa.