From Ardahan To Etiler: A Story Of Success

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The phrase woman butcher reminds me of the late Meral Okay who acted a woman butcher in the legendary series “İkinci Bahar”. May she rest in peace, her bulk convinced us all that a woman could become a butcher. However, a
tiny woman becoming a butcher, standing up to the male world and making a brand of herself in real life is not quite something I had imagined. When I saw “ Butcher Lady ” Semrah Doğan, I said immediately “Greetings, Naim Süleymanoğlu of meat”. Let it not be misunderstood, that little woman single-handedly lifts and cuts those big pieces of meat with great precision. Let us take a look at her success story together. Oh by the way, long live women who glitter with their success!

Could you tell us about yourself?
I was born in 1984 in Ardahan. I am the number 8 of 11 siblings. We came to Istanbul when I was around 5-6. At an
early age we strove against life, driven by the motive of standing on one’s own feet. When I was very young, I would go to bazaars and markets right after school and make my money this way. I would carry the bags of people leaving the market, learn a thing or two helping the market staff. If there was nothing I could do, I would collect fruit from trees to put in cases and sell. At the time people would collect periodicals, some would miss an issue or a newspaper coupon.  I would collect these left and right, sell them by the sidewalk.

What is your Zodiac sign?

Cancer. Gemini is my rising sign.

Why did you want to blend in with the male world?

It’s a tough world, not easy to be accepted… They didn’t anyway. Once it’s been 20 years, they were like “OK, now this is your job”.

What does doing butchery make you feel? Meat kinda evokes wilderness. How does it feel to be a woman butcher when people still haven’t gotten used to woman taxi drivers? It’s not like you have a strong, huge build either.

There is actually a pretty serious contradiction there. I want to surface this contradiction. Who takes care of the
kitchen? Women. Who takes care of the cooking? Women. Who knows best the taste of meat going in the meal? Women. Yet here we are, asking for meat from the man who doesn’t know how to cook or crack an egg.

Is there a butchery school?

There are vocational schools that give butchery certificates. Still, this is not a job to be learned in schools, it is one that requires experience and practice. There have been other women who aspired for this job like me. Where there are women, there already are hygiene and rigor. For example, right now in the integrated meat plants of
Turkey, only women work in the area where the valuable meat of the animal is processed.

So the person you buy the meat from, should know how to cook as well? 

Exactly.Woman in the kitchen, woman in the butcher’s shop. I still don’t get it.

Why did you become interested in butchery as a child? 

I always liked the difficult ones. When someone goes to the butcher and says “I will make beefsteak”; the butcher can pick from the red meat the beefsteak meat, or hashing meat or roasting meat. It’s such a thing that only the butcher gets to know. So butchery is not something everybody can do. That’s what I thought.

Can you do the slaughtering of an animal from beginning to end? 

I can’t slaughter an animal while seeing its eyes. That’s why I never wanted to get into the slaughtering part of the job. There are fields to butchery too. Not every butcher can cut the head of the animal. I know butchers with blood phobia. To add to this, I am the only woman on the Anatolian coast who is the leader of 200 bovine slaughter organizations.

There are aspiring others right now, but are there other butcher women like you? 

Actually, if we are to look at Anatolian women, all of them are somewhat caustic. For example, my mother would take care of it so the animal doesn’t go to waste after a wolf attacks the herd. There aren’t any who have been doing it professionally since 20 years. There are those who have been doing it since 10 years. There are those I have trained. Though some couldn’t keep it up as this job can end social life or even marriage.

What does your daughter go through, what kind of reactions does she get when she answers the question “what does your mother do” with “butchery”?

My daughter is 8 years old. Back then she was more like “mom how can this be”. Now that I have gotten on television and newspapers, she says “I am the daughter of Butcher Lady”.

How did your family react to you wanting to be a butcher? That is to say, what did they have to say about your desire to exist in a world dominated by men, a patriarchal family structure?

None of them wanted it. I have actually graduated a computerized accounting program. Right now I am still attending university. I was pretty good at my job, I didn’t have a mentor to teach me. They condescendingly made me do all the chores there were, thinking I would stop the next day or give in because I was a woman. I wasn’t giving it away at home, as they didn’t want it in the first place.

How does this situation reflect upon your relationships? Do men fear you?

If I were to marry a second time, it would be with an actually strong, fearless person. I am not a woman to bow down
to any man’s hegemony. For 20 years I have been doing a job not everyone can do.

Do kitchen staff fear you?

I have an authoritarian personality. I want the rules to apply. They are my friends but once you have the business
gear on there are rules everyone must follow.

The butchery and cooking are two very different parts of the job. Cooking meat has become some sort of show nowadays. You are pretty well-versed with the meat, how long have you been involved in the cooking aspect?

Butchers know the best part of the meat. We know that the meat people classify as “for hashing” or “for mincing” can very well be made into beefsteak. When we see or touch the meat, we can analyze the cooking duration. There is definitely a show aspect to meat. When I sell meat to the customer I tell them the duration and the manner of  cooking it. When we look at the meat, we consolidate all our experiences to tell how to cook and for how long. Recently both those with and  without the know-how of meat have gotten into the show aspect. Those who worked as waiters in our sector, shaped their vision to get into the show aspect. What they are missing is however, is that the quality and taste of the meat are the best parts of the show. Lately they have been cooking meat by squeezing lemon
into butter. Meat is not cooked with lemon. Butter and olive oil don’t go with all meat. They are trying to make up recipes just for the show. They cook even with pineapple. There is a feature to pineapple, it is the only fruit that eats
meat. Eating pineapple after meat helps with digesting the meat. Those who use it for the show waste it.

Plain meat or sauced meat? 

Plain.

Rare or well done?

Meat is still not well known among Turkish population. There are those who have only recently got to savor the taste
of meat with steak. No matter how good the meat is, you can end up ruining it with wrong cooking. The inside of the
meat must always be watery, not bloody.

The wateriness gives the meat its taste. Lamb or veal?

Lamb is easier to digest in comparison to veal. I like the head and rib parts of the veal best. With the other parts of the veal I make pretty good meatballs.

With meatballs, is veal the way to go?

Veal and lamb.

Doesn’t lamb smell?

There are those that smell, and those that don’t. If you tell the butcher about this and the butcher is good, they won’t give you smelly lamb in the first place. Many people don’t like it because they haven’t come across lamb without smell, but I got many people to enjoy lamb. One of my customers told me he hadn’t eaten  lamb like this in the 160 countries he had visited. That’s the height of my claim. As I always say, I know no king, and I am the queen.

Are you a carnivore? 

Quite. I make rib steak even for breakfast, along with rocket, tomato, cayenne steak etc. That’s my breakfast. You have meat for breakfast? Why not.

You know how İbrahim Tatlıses put meat on skewer wherever he went, do you also do that?

Definitely. I keep my skewers and knife around. Like a tool box, I keep all my stuff around. There is always equipment in my trunk.

Have there been any customers who didn’t like something you cooked?

Thankfully none ever. Because I know what they like, the meat, how to cook it. I keep going at a 100% success rate.
I would also never sell meat I’m unsure about the quality of.

Do you have a few tips for us about cooking meat?

Griddle is something miraculous that has entered our lives. But since you are doing it with griddle, I suggest you
do it in an open area such as balcony. Griddle is also great from the health aspect. Hover your hand 30-35 cm over
the griddle, if there is heat coming then the pan is heated. Then we turn down the heat a little bit. Sear the tender meat in the pan, 2 minutes for one side and 2 minutes for the other. Once both sides have been cooked for 2 minutes,
it’s done. Its insides will be watery too, enjoy.

As a female entrepreneur and a successful woman, what do you have to say to women?

I have been to east and southeast a lot. I have seen our women there. Wherever I go, the only thing I see is that  women live under the hegemony of men. Women imprison themselves only if they want it. A woman should not submit herself to male hegemony, and raise her children specifically that way. I am raising my daughter to be like myself. As the twig is bent, so grows the tree. Especially if girls are raised to be stronger, everything will be different 10-20 years down the road. By the way, since I hold the upbringing phase in very high regard, we have established in Ardahan the Ardahan Educational Foundation, the first official educational foundation in Ardahan. So many  children without access to education, we established a robotics coding class for them. And they are very successful. In December they will go to a China for competition.

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