Never Return an Empty Plate | Turkish Traditions

Never return an empty plate is a Turkish tradition I quickly learned.  Not long after we moved into our new home our neighbour (Komşu) brought around a plate of homemade dessert.  We gratefully accepted and enjoyed the dessert.  I washed up the plate and then next day I asked my husband to accompany me to return the plate, as my Turkish was basic and I was a little nervous about going on my own.  At that point my husband asked me:

What have you made?

Made what I replied? Looking a little confused

What have you made to give back with the plate?

Oh! I suddenly understood.

I couldn’t just hand back the plate empty but would have to make something to give back in return.  As I realised this, my husband explained to me that it is traditional that when a Komşu passes a plate in it is polite to return the plate full and not empty.

Of course at the point of realisation I panicked slightly as I had no idea what I would make in return and what they would think of my cooking.  I must admit my first offering back to my Komşu was not the best but I have improved a little and don’t worry too much now and I hope they enjoy my offerings as much as I enjoy theirs.

Since that day many plates of food have exchange hands around our block of apartments, especially on holy days such as Kandil nights and one of my favourites is during Aşure when everyone passes around there own take on Noah’s Pudding.  I don’t think I have reached the excellent skills of my neighbours yet but I must admit to loving this particular tradition as we get to taste lots of lovely treats.

So remember if you are living in Turkey or have Turkish neighbours at home, if they hand in a plate full of lovely food, always return the plate full and not empty.


© 2011 – 2015, Kerry Arslan. All rights reserved.

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12 Responses to “Never Return an Empty Plate | Turkish Traditions”

  1. 17th November 2011

    carole Reply

    I must admit when I first moved here I had no idea about returning a plate with food on. Even my husband didn’t tell me!!!
    I finally cottoned on when I dished out some surplus strawberries to my neighbours and all sorts of treats came back!

    • 20th November 2011

      Kerry Arslan Reply

      Its not just the language you have to learn when moving to Turkey its all the little traditions you have to learn. I really do like this tradition especially as all my neighbours are such good cooks!

  2. 17th November 2011

    EarthLaughsInFlowers Reply

    Never Return an Empty Plate | Turkish Traditions | Earth Laughs In Flowers

  3. 17th December 2011

    Duke Dillard Reply

    Never Return an Empty Plate | Turkish Traditions //important to understand and a good practice no matter where we live

  4. 26th December 2012

    Jake Olson Reply

    Hey Kerry, my wife Rana Şakırgil Olson recently wrote about how the contrast is true in American culture. Check it out, she’s still finding her voice, but I think she’ll be a great blogger

  5. 26th December 2012

    Ozlem Warren Reply

    I am so glad I am catching up these wonderful posts, you are so right : ) Turks are generous in giving, and it is a custom to return the plate with something back -mind you a little smile always goes a long way, so I am sure that would be very much appreciate it too. Lovely that you share these traditions : 0 I don’t know why it took me soo long to stop by, I look forward to reading more of your posts and will give you a link at my blog – Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

  6. 3rd July 2013

    Zineb Reply

    Hello !

    I’m from Morocco and I used to know that there were lot of similar cultural habits between my country and Turkey (a country that I adore to the core), but I was surprised when I’ve read about the “returning the plate” thing was also one of them 🙂
    Maybe, I won’t have serious cultural shock if I ever marry a turkish haha

    Thank you for your posts !

    • 4th July 2013

      Kerry Arslan Reply

      Hello Zineb

      Its nice to know this tradition is the same in Morocco, what other traditions are similar that you have noticed?


  7. 5th July 2013

    Zineb Reply

    Well, there are so many, for instance :
    – the ascendancy of the consumption of the tea;
    – arranged weddings (but it’s in decline nowadays) and also some wedding traditions such as the first night for “Henna”…
    – importance of family;
    – patriarchal society;
    – etc…

    When I met a friend from Turkey for the first time, I haven’t really felt that we belong to different countries because of the similarity of our both life styles, faiths and some convictions.

    • 7th July 2013

      Kerry Arslan Reply

      Thank you for your reply Zineb its nice to hear the similarities thank you for sharing them 🙂

  8. 16th July 2013

    Sue Reply

    Hi Kerry, a young Turkish couple have bought the house next door to me and at the moment are decorating before they move in next week. I would like to know if there are any Turkish customs to wish them luck in their new home and to welcome them to the neighborhood.

    • 4th September 2013

      Kerry Arslan Reply

      I think Sue I am to late, anything a nice plate of food, ornament for the home much like you would for someone in the UK. An evil eye is always good to. Hope you found something and that they are nice neighbors. Sorry for the late reply have been on holiday x

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