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Rescue workers in Turkey and Syria are turning to lentil soup to feed thousands of people

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

In Turkey, volunteers are working to get hot food to hundreds of thousands of people who were forced from their homes by earthquakes earlier this month. Even for people who didn't lose their homes, the quakes destroyed gas and electric lines, making it impossible to cook. And as NPR's Jason Beaubien reports, lentil soup has emerged as a workhorse in food relief efforts.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: One major problem in the days after this disaster has been the cold. In some parts of the quake zone, there's snow on the ground. In others, the temperature fluctuates on either side of freezing. People who've lost their homes and aid workers often huddle around open fires to try to warm up. Many people fled their apartments with only the clothes they were sleeping in. Aylin Kilincli (ph) was one of them. She's now living with her parents and her sister in a tent in a park in the hard-hit city of Nurdagi.

AYLIN KILINCLI: (Through interpreter) It was very cold in the beginning. We didn't have anything to keep ourselves warm, no covers or traditional wool blankets. But eventually, we were given some bedding, and now we've gotten used to the cold.

BEAUBIEN: Their tent is right next to a playground where kids are chasing a soccer ball. Around the corner, volunteers cook three meals a day. The 28-year-old Kilincli jokes that there's almost too much food here at the encampment. There's a food truck offering doner kabobs. Volunteers have set up a mobile bakery to make fresh pita bread. And from another van, a young chef ladles out steaming hot lentil soup.

KILINCLI: (Through interpreter) It's still cold here. But when we eat the soup, it warms us.

BEAUBIEN: At a municipal soup kitchen south of the city of Gaziantep, lentil soup was the first thing they made to distribute to people affected by the earthquake.

GULAY BOZKURT: (Speaking Turkish).

BEAUBIEN: Gulay Bozkurt is the food engineer at the kitchen.

BOZKURT: (Through interpreter) There was no natural gas here after the earthquake. So for us, the lentil soup was the fastest soup to make. Also, it is easy to serve. It is practical. And it is possible to eat while you are standing.

BEAUBIEN: She says lentil soup has many benefits. It's easy to prepare. You can eat it without utensils straight from a bowl.

BOZKURT: (Through interpreter) It has onions and garlic. So it has some kind of antibiotic efforts. It warms you. At same time, it is nutritious. And the lentils have a high level of protein. It is one of the traditional soups of Gaziantep. Therefore, it is a preferred soup at times like this.

BEAUBIEN: And there are 10 of these massive pots on this side of the room. And then it looks like there's another 10 over on that side, as well.

Even before the earthquake, this municipal kitchen was used to prepare free hot meals that they distributed to 21 different locations across the city. The director of the center says that in the first days after the earthquake, they went from producing 13,000 meals a day to more than 200,000. He says the most important disaster relief supply is bottled water. And the second-most important is soup, lentil soup. Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Gaziantep, Turkey. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.
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