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Eating habits

When dining, Turkmen usually sit on the floor, and food is spread on a cloth called a sachak. Guests should be particularly careful not to step on this cloth because it is considered sacred. According to Islamic tradition, only the right hand is used for dining. Although some may eat with their hands, other Turkmen use utensils. Even utensils should be used only with the right hand. Turkmen eat chorek (bread) at every meal. Never cut bread with a knife or tear it with only one hand because chorek represents the source of life. Break bread with two hands and eat every piece. It is taboo to place chorek on the ground or to put it face down.

In some rural regions, Turkmen eat at a low circular wooden table around which cushions are arranged for guests to recline. Because people use their hands to eat and passing food by hand is appropriate table etiquette, guests are usually given the opportunity to wash their hands in a wash basin near the dining area or, in rural settings, at a tap outside in the courtyard. Food such as bread, meat, or fruit is always passed around the table with the right hand. The left hand is considered unclean, and food passed with the left hand is considered defiled. When a meal is finished, guests are once again expected to wash their hands before coffee or tea is served. In some regions of the country, Turkmen avoid eating when on the streets. Such public eating may be regarded by locals as strange behavior.

Types of Food - According to tradition, guests should be served more food than they can eat. Large arrays of salads, fruits, breads, sausages, meat and chicken dishes, and sweets are offered. Frequently, the first course will be a chorba, a rich meat and vegetable soup. This may be supplanted by a thick stew made from meat (often mutton) and onions called dograma. The highlights of any meal are the main courses such as manty (large ravioli-like dumplings stuffed with ground meat and onion), shashlik (grilled, spicy kebabs of meat or fish), or the Central Asian rice favorite, plov (palow), a mix of rice and meat.