Exploring an important cultural bridge: food

November 19, 2014
Zeynep Kılıç

Zeynep Kılıç in Istanbul this past summer to film her documentary, Tables of Istanbul. (Image courtesy of Zeynep Kılıç)

Istanbul is a literal bridge between the global North and South. The metropolis sits on two continents, Europe and Asia, with the famous Bosphorus Bridge spanning the divide. Its one-foot-in-each-world placement is also a perfect metaphor for sociologist Zeynep Kılıç’s upcoming documentary. This past summer Kılıç and her crew kicked off filming, visiting the dining rooms and kitchens of chefs and families on both sides of the bridge to see what was on their tables and how it bridges cultural divides, ethnic boundaries and social class differences. She’s documenting food as business, food as social cause and food as lived experience. This winter, the crew will be visiting Kılıç to film her in her own kitchen here in Anchorage.

Bosphorus Bridge

The Bosphorus Bridge connects the two sides of Istanbul, one in Europe and one in Asia. (Image courtesy of Zeynep Kılıç)

As an academic researcher, Kılıç, a professor of sociology at UAA, was hoping to remain off screen in her capacity as co-director, producer and writer of the documentary, but no such luck. When she looked through the footage of famous Turkish chefs talking about food philosophies and trends and Istanbulian homemakers who do the cooking as part of their daily life, it became clear to Kılıç and her co-director, Sibel Sümer, that Kılıç’s own story is what connects the threads.

Tables of Istanbul

One spread Kılıç and her crew sampled for the documentary. Nar Lokantasi. (Image courtesy of Zeynep Kılıç)

“Why am I going to Istanbul? What am I searching for? Those stories are connected to my personal journey, which is that I’m an immigrant here,” said Kılıç. “Food has always been a bridge for me in terms of the way I connect to people here. When you arrive, everyone has friends and family. They don’t need you. Food was always my way of seducing people into being my friend, being in my life. No one ever turned me down.”

For Kılıç, this documentary is more than a creative passion project, it’s data collection. She plans to write a book about her research once the film is completed. That will mean returning for longer follow-up interviews with many of the film’s subjects, plus additional interviews with new subjects to get a wide-angle snapshot of food culture in Istanbul.

Drop date: December 2015

Istanbul market

Mısır Carsisi, the spice market. (Image courtesy of Zeynep Kılıç)

After a jam-packed eight days of shooting in Istanbul in July, Kılıç and her crew completed about 65 percent of their interviews for the documentary. They’ll reunite in December for the Anchorage shoot and then one final time in Istanbul next summer before they wrap.

Kılıç has interviewed top chefs in Istanbul, the American equivalents of Ina Garten or Bobby Flay. She and her crew also visited the homes of several families with diverse roots.

Fish and bread

A beloved street food, balık ekmek (fish sandwich) by Halic (the Golden Horn). (Image courtesy of Zeynep Kılıç)

“You have people of Kurdish origin moving from Eastern Turkey to the outskirts of Istanbul. You have Black Sea people. You have people coming from all over the world, for music, for creativity, for business,” said Kılıç. “And then you have the old Istanbul, which includes Armenians and Greeks and Jewish people. Their version of what Istanbul is and what that table reflects among all these transplants…what that globalization does, all that melding together does, I thought could be interesting to see if you were to traverse Istanbul metaphorically.”

Kılıç and her co-director will work together to edit the footage into the final cut, no easy feat considering their two-minute teaser took roughly seven hours to cut together. Kılıç will also be writing and recording voiceover for the film.

Fish and bread reimagined

A new take on balık ekmek, at Mikla Restaurant by chef-owner Mehmet Gürs. (Image courtesy of Zeynep Kılıç)

“It’s been a learning experience,” she said of working with her crew of eight. “As an academic, I’ve never worked with a team that large. I realized I really enjoy working in teams and I felt really isolated and lonely when I moved up here, even though I knew people and had friends.” Channeling her creative energy and turning her research focus to a collaborative project has reenergized her.

She and her crew plan to have the film finished in time to submit to international film festivals in December 2015. You can follow the film’s progress and see some delicious-looking food photography on Facebook.


Written by Jamie Gonzales, UAA Office of University Advancement 


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