Serife Ayakta: Living the American Dream While Keeping a Piece of Home

Serife Ayakta: Living the American Dream While Keeping a Piece of Home

Serife Ayakta (meaning standing in honor), carries a legacy in her name from the maternal and paternal sides of her family. Her grandmother instilled in her, “Whatever happens do not lay down, get up.”

Serife grew up near Istanbul,Turkey. After an earthquake killed her mother and destroyed her home and baby furniture business, her husband’s friend urged, “Go to the United States. America has big dreams for your children.” Serife explains, “My husband and I decided to come here to see if it was okay for our children’s future.” Upon their arrival they spent time with distant relatives and friends that had previously immigrated to New York City.

Relocating to New Jersey in 2001 with their three children, Serife, began working at a daycare center.  She loved the babies, but when the job would not provide the opportunity for her to travel to Santa Barbara for a week with her daughter, Serfie said, “I love the children, but I love my children too!”  Her strong sense of motherhood and family values led to the decision to quit her job.

Now having an abundance of time, Serife spent more hours in the kitchen cooking Turkish food that she could find in America, but wasn’t nearly as delicious as the traditional food she enjoyed in her home country. Turkish-Americans got wind of Serife’s home cooking and offered to buy her Turkish cuisine. Serife’s most popular dish, manti, consisted of small dumplings that she distinctly shaped into stars. She filled the signature dish with beef, or spinach and feta cheese or mushrooms. Realizing that her small operation could become something greater, Serife called the owners of several Turkish restaurants in New York.  They were more than happy to buy her manti.

Needing a larger space to grow her business, Serife rented a storefront in Delran where a “small Turkish village” exists. Serife said, “A lot of Turkish women at that time didn’t have a car and could not speak English.   I wanted to give them the opportunity to get out of the house and come to work. My mother always taught me to help others.” Together, the women worked to uphold the tradition of Turkish cooking in America while sharing memories and stories from their native land and new home in America.   It wasn’t long before the business expanded from shipping the manti to customers into a restaurant of its own. Star Manti is named after the dish that fostered the success of the business.   Other dishes are titled after different cities from Serife’s childhood and life experiences in Turkey, such as, “Gorali, that’s named after where I went to high school.  After school we would eat hot dogs and Turkish potato salad at my favorite restaurant.” Serife’s pride lights up the entire space at Star Manti when she shares her story and talks about her children’s college successes, careers, family life and their desire to carry forth Turkish traditions.  She affirms, “We did a good job because we came here and we started the new life.”

The napkin notes of gratitude shared on the walls at Star Manti tell even more of Serife’s story.  Come meet Serife and experience her exquisite cuisine this Saturday, July 28 at Taste of Poland and Turkey 10:00- 2:00 p.m., 30 Irvin Avenue at the Tastefully South Jersey Exhibition.  

The exhibit  is an exploration into folk art and culture through the lens of food traditions in New Jersey and features cultural artisans, fine artists and artifacts centered around foodways such as recipes, cookbooks, paintings, photographs and integrated with food tasting, dance, music, and storytelling performances. The event is free and open to the public.

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Anna Felcyn: Balancing American and Immigrant Identities Through Food Traditions

Anna Felcyn: Balancing American and Immigrant Identities Through Food Traditions

Anna Felcyn was born in Lesna, Poland, a small town of about 5000 people. All throughout her childhood, cooking was an important tradition due to the social, economic and political landscape. After World War II Poland was a communist country.  Resources were low and high quality food was largely unavailable. Although Anna’s family wasn’t always able to buy the best ingredients, the Polish tradition of cooking meant “making the best out of what you had,” says Anna. “People didn’t have much.”  But that didn’t stop her mother from teaching her the traditions that had been passed down through many generations. During Anna’s childhood, her parents worked all day and left cooking dinner to Anna and her two sisters. Despite their busy lives, enjoying dinners together helped the family come together.

When Anna and her family first tried to come to America, they had difficulty obtaining green cards. Since Anna’s sister was born in Germany and was technically considered a German citizen, she was able to immigrate to America before the rest of the family in 1965. As an American citizen, Anna’s sister was then able to invite the rest of the family into the country. Anna says, “I wish that i could have come sooner to attend high school in the United States.”  Anna has truly embraced the American identity both in her enthusiasm to be an American and her cooking. In Anna’s Polska Kuchina (Polish Kitchen), you will find her ingredients from many different cultures and she frequently searches the internet to find new recipes. About twice a month and on holidays, Anna cooks her  traditional Polish dishes. Her favorite Polish meals to prepare  include pierogies, soups and kielbasa.

To learn more about  Anna and other cultural cuisine artisans, visit Perkins’, Tastefully South Jersey Exhibition, 30 Irvin Avenue, Collingswood, NJ.  Special events accompany the exhibition through August 25.   On July 28 at Taste of Poland and Turkey, join Anna and Serife Ayakta to learn more about the cultural dishes  from their homelands. The free event is from 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. and features food tasting, Monique Legare International Dance Company, and a Turkish Lace Making Workshop with Ylvia Asal.

Tastefully South Jersey is “an exploration into folk art and culture through the lens of food traditions in New Jersey” and features art, artisans and artifacts.   Visit our WEBSITE  for more detailed information.  #TSJPerkins.

 

 

The Prosperity of Heritage: Federal and State Agencies fund Tastefully South Jersey Projects

Perkins Center for the Arts is the proud recipient of a National Endowment for the Humanities  (NEH) Common Heritage Grant and the New Jersey Council for the Humanities  (NJCH) Incubation grant for our Tastefully South Jersey Exhibition and Workshop Series.  Tastefully South Jersey is an exploration into folk art and culture through the lens of food traditions in Burlington, Gloucester, and Camden. The three-county engagement will celebrate diverse food arts through African American, Eastern European, Latin and Caribbean cultures.  The project is conducted by the Folklife Center at Perkins Center for the Arts.

Ukrainian Linen passed down through three generations

Ukrainian Linen passed down through three generations

In every family, there are a few people who end up with the family “stuff.”  But it’s the precious stuff of traditions, legacies and family heirlooms. The $5,000 NJCH award supports research to unearth artifacts and family stories that explore the ways in which foodways are a connecting thread to trace the commonalities and differences among groups in the same community. The$12,000 NEH grant funds three Heritage Preservation Days in the tri-county region in the spring of 2018 and at our special events during the culminating Collingswood, NJ exhibition in July and August.  Community members will be invited to bring  photographs, cooking instruments, recipes, pottery, glassware, news articles, herbal remedies, heritage farming and to share stories associated with their treasures.  Attendees will be gifted a digital copy of their artifacts and stories as family keepsakes.  See article on NEH Website.

Isaiah Beard, Digital Data Curator at Rutgers University will train Perkins Center for the Arts staff on the process of digitization in the month of February.  In celebration of the diversity in South Jersey, Heritage Preservation Days will be held through the collaboration of our  partners, Gloucester County Library, Burlington County Library and the Homestead Youth Association.