I have been asked where I came up with the idea of “Five Hands.” After all, hands do come in pairs.
The hamsa, the open hand displaying the five fingers, has always fascinated me. Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, this symbol has been called the Hand of Fatima, the hand of Miriam, the hand that protects against the evil eye, the protecting hand, and is prominent everywhere. In Istanbul, it even appears as the logo of the city.
Regarding my current project, I am reminded that hands are the tools that create a meal. In Turkey, at the end of a splendid meal, the cook is complimented with this expression, “Eline sağlik,” Bless your hands.
I love when cooks use their hands as another cooking implement, mixing, blending, stirring, the hands that roll dough, that blend herbs into batter, that squeeze juices, the fingers that separate eggs, the palms that form little balls of goodness: dumplings, falafel, köfte.
As to the number five, of course there are five fingers on each hand. Some say the five in the hamsa represents the original five tribes of Israel. In my own story, my research in Turkey is to find and record the recipes and stories of the five generations of my family that I can trace, from my children and their cousins (the youngest), to my great-grandparents, Clara and Isidoro (as far back as I know).
Here are some of my favorite Istanbul hamsas: