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Two Way Trade Closer Thanks to China-Turkey Cuisine Compatibility

Similarities in food preferences and diets make mutual exchange of foodstuffs highly practicable between China and Turkey, according to attendees at the recent ITE World Food Products and Processing Technologies Exhibition in Istanbul.

Photo: Turkish cuisine: Will Chinese fare find favour?
Turkish cuisine: Will Chinese fare find favour?
Photo: Turkish cuisine: Will Chinese fare find favour?
Turkish cuisine: Will Chinese fare find favour?

With Turkish cuisine rightly famed around the world, it was a brave move for a number of Chinese companies to set at their stalls at this year's ITE World Food Products and Processing Technologies Exhibition in Istanbul. Nevertheless, there they were, offering a variety of products, ranging from green raisins to noodles.

Around a dozen Chinese companies made the 8,000-mile round trip and their timing couldn't have been more prescient. They were in the ideal position to take advantage of a number of recent price hikes in Turkish food, the consequence of an unusually dry summer. Significantly, food inflation in the country was 14.4% in August, compared with just 3.6% in China.

Despite this, the trade in foodstuffs is clearly going both ways. Turkey, for instance, has recently signed provisional agreements to export fresh fruits and vegetables, pistachios, poultry and dairy products to China.

Food links between China and Turkey have a long history, particularly through the Uighur people, a Muslim ethnic group from the Xinjiang region of western China. Their food is typically halal, spicy and deeply rooted in a nomadic tradition. Tellingly, there are a considerable number of Uighur restaurants in Istanbul.

As with a number of similar Mongolian tribes, the Uighurs moved westward around 600 AD and became herdsmen. They brought with them noodles and manti. The latter are tiny dumplings stuffed with meat or cheese, similar to Italian ravioli, and are now a firm favourite in Turkish homes and restaurants.

Speaking recently, Dr Çağdaş Üngör, a China specialist and lecturer at Marmara University, said: "Although in Turkey we call China a Far Eastern country – something that sounds very distant – only when you are in China do you realise just how close Turkish and Chinese cultures actually are."

In light of this, Turkey designated 2012 as the "Year of Chinese Culture" and there has been an increasing flow of people and goods between the two countries over recent years. Not only are more Chinese tourists visiting Turkey, but more Turks are travelling to China for study.

Based in China's Uighur region, not far from the border with Kazakhstan, Urumqi Xinweiao Commercial & Trade Co Ltd is a major food importer and exporter. Typically, it imports black and fruit flavoured tea from Turkey, with Manager Gulbostan Muhtar saying she also intends to sell green raisins, speckled kidney beans, pumpkin seeds, walnuts and safflower seeds into Turkey.

Explaining her reason for attending the show, she said: "Coming to exhibitions like this is an important way of making contacts sharing information. Turkey already has red and golden raisins, but not green ones. The taste and drying method is different here too. Green raisins are dried by the wind, red raisins by the sun and golden raisins via chemicals."

 

Photo: Turkish Delight, Chinese delicacy.
Turkish Delight, Chinese delicacy.
Photo: Turkish Delight, Chinese delicacy.
Turkish Delight, Chinese delicacy.
Photo: China-bound: Turkish walnuts.
China-bound: Turkish walnuts.
Photo: China-bound: Turkish walnuts.
China-bound: Turkish walnuts.

She also sees opportunity in importing Turkish Delight (lokum in Turkish), saying: "Lokum is too sweet for the Chinese palate, but the Uighur people love it. We will try to import other confectionery items from Turkey too."

Yisikandan Nijazi is a partner in the family-owned Ayishe Food Culture Company, based in the Xinjiang province in northwestern China. The business began life as a tiny cake shop in 2003. After 11 years of hard work, the company now sells and exports award-winning cakes, dough-twists, breads and pastries.

Nijazi was on his first visit to Turkey on company business, with the intention of learning more about production methods and ingredients. He said: "If we can interest customers in our products, so much the better."

Also on a fact-finding mission was Lei Dong, a manager with Xinjiang Catering, a mainland fast food company. Explaining his thinking, he said: "I want to learn more about exporting and see what similar companies in Turkey are doing."

In Turkey with a different agenda was Sandy Li, Sales Manager with Shanghai-based Kunshan Meile Aluminum Foil. Li was hoping to find a joint venture partner for her 80-employee company, a manufacturer of wrapping paper and associated products for the confectionery market.

She said: "We have come to Istanbul to get ideas and see if we can work with local businesses. We sell inside China and also to the United States, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. The aluminium packaging industry is quite traditional and I am not sure what unique selling point we might have over Turkish providers, but we will see."

Looking to trade in the opposite direction, a number of Turkish cherry producers are hatching plans to export to China. In 2013, a delegation of food safety experts from China visited Turkey. Part of the group's remit was to review Turkey's cherry production procedures, with the country having a yield of around 500,000 tonnes last year.

Commenting on the delegation's conclusions, Dr Saleh Bush, President of the Uludağ Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Exporters Association, said: "Our cherries come in various sizes and have different flavours, all of which were admired by the Chinese delegation.

"We met all the Chinese health and safety requirements and provided them with all the information they needed. The delegation also visited our cherry orchards and agricultural facilities."

Back in 2013, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the Turkish Minister of Food, Agriculture and Animal Breeding, Mehmet Mehdi Eker and Zhi Shuping, Chinese Minister of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine. Eker said this move was an important step forward for Turkey in its bid to export higher levels of agricultural raw materials and foodstuffs to China.

He said: "At present our food exports to China are worth US$70 million. We aim to accelerate work in this field. We have the potential to greatly multiply that figure."

 

Photo: Turkish desserts: Sweet enough for the mainland?
Turkish desserts: Sweet enough for the mainland?
Photo: Turkish desserts: Sweet enough for the mainland?
Turkish desserts: Sweet enough for the mainland?

The ITE World Food Products and Processing Technologies Exhibition was held at the CNR Expo Centre, Istanbul, Turkey from 4-7 September 2014. It drew 15,934 visitors from 36 different countries. There were 278 Turkish exhibitors and 87 international exhibitors.

George Dearsley, Special Correspondent, Istanbul

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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