Turkish fast food faces EU scrutiny as the country scrambles to get into the bloc.

Turks Troubled By Possibility of Tripe Ban

As their country works its way towards European Union accession negotiations, more and more Turks fear a popular tripe dish banned in Western Europe could meet the same fate at home.

Turkish fast food faces EU scrutiny as the country scrambles to get into the bloc.

​​Be it in the marketplace of bustling Ankara or along the Bosporus in Istanbul, Turks love to snack on greasy kokorec, a sandwich stuffed with lamb tripe that has placed the European Union candidate country under the crosshairs of Brussels regulators. As part of its efforts to qualify for EU membership, Turkey has passed legislation making its government more transparent and democratic. The government has also abolished the death penalty. But few in Turkey expected to have to change their diet in order to stay on track for economic and political integration with Europe.

However, under policies put in place in the European Union that ban the sale of animal intestines, livers, eyes, brains, spleens and other delicate parts that are difficult to cook safely and can contain concentrations of disease in an effort to combat mad cow disease and other livestock maladies, Turkish officials may be forced to ban the ubiquitous dish. Turks have plenty to fear – Brussels already banned the same specialty in Greece, where it is known as kokoretsi. But the long arm of European law has had little impact on the Greek tradition of eating kokoretsi during Orthodox Easter.

Tradition vs. EU prosperity

Rumors about an imminent ban have triggered an outcry across Turkey, where consumers fear that the path to EU membership may compromise national traditions. Turkish leaders have said they want to apply all EU political standards to national law by 2004 in order to expedite membership. At least one Turkish province has already implemented a ban in an effort to bring itself in line with EU regulations. In Izmir, in western Turkey, officials banned street vendors from selling kokorec, döner kebaps and Turkish meatballs. Under the law, the province fines snack bars about €50 if they are caught selling the specialties. Frequent offenders can be shut down by the local health authority.

Turkish public health researchers are also sounding the alarm. They warn that kokorec sold at street snack bars contains high levels of unhealthy bacteria. Researchers at the Turkey’s Uludag University found in a recent study that many restaurants failed to adhere to hygienic standards when preparing the dish. "The research unveiled the intestines used in kokorec production are not well cleaned and they included bacteria," researcher Seran Temelli told the Turkish Daily News.

Turks: "Get used to kokorec"

But public resistance is mounting in a country where love for the sautéed and spicy innards is akin to the American obsession with the hamburger. One pop singer even wrote a song about the spiced innards specialty, with lyrics calling the EU "strangers" who have come between Turks and their kokorec. "Europe had better get used to kokorec," said Mehmet Aztekin, head of the Ankara association of restaurateurs, according to the Internet news site EU Business. "Because there won’t be any going back." He said any kind of ban on kokorec, which some have rumoured could come as quickly as Jan. 2004, would be "absolutely impossible."- "Everyday I eat two or three portions," Hüseyan Dogan, a cook at an Istanbul restaurant that serves kokorec, told the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. "And I’ve never been sick."

Competition for McDonalds?

Others are so distraught by the idea of a life without kokorec, they’ve stooped to peddling conspiracy theories. Suat Kaya, who runs a snack bar serving kokorec near the main train station in Instanbul, believes Washington is pressuring Ankara to put the brakes on the selling of kokorec. "They’re afraid our kokorec will become competition for McDonalds," Kaya warned the Süddeutsche Zeitung. For now, Turks can continue to enjoy their kokorec. Earlier this month, the Turkish Interior Ministry denied a rumoured plan to pull licenses from cooks who continue to sell it. But as Ankara continues on its path toward Europe, the debate over kokorec is likely to simmer in the pans of fast food bars and homes across the country.

© 2003, DW Online

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