Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The traditional economy centered on animal husbandry, particularly sheep raising, and agriculture that combined growing grain and truck farming with viticulture. Even in the recent past, despite the cultural similarity of the Gagauz to the Bulgars of Bessarabia, there were important differences between them: the Bulgars were peasant farmers; although the Gagauz also farmed, they were essentially pastoralists in outlook.
Food. Many traces of their nomadic past may be found in the cuisine of the sedentary Gagauz, such as a special way of processing milk and the preservation of meat, curds, and sheep's milk cheese in a skin. The staple food is grain, in many varieties. A series of family holidays and rituals was connected with the baking of bread, wheat loaves ( kalaches ) and unleavened flatcakes.
The favorite dish was a layered pie stuffed with sheep's milk cheese and doused with sour cream before baking. Other delicacies were pies with crumbled pumpkin and sweet pies made with the first milk of a cow that had just calved. The traditional ritual dish called kurban combined wheat porridge (bulgar wheat) with a slaughtered ("sacrificed") ram and is further evidence of the origins of the Gagauz in both the Balkan world and the steppe-pastoral complex. A special place in the cuisine is occupied by peppered sauces for meat; one combines onion and finely granulated porridge; another is tomato-based. A red house wine is served with dinner and supper. An indispensable component in holiday meals is meat in jelly prepared from the heads and feet of livestock (head cheese).
Clothing. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, a Gagauz woman's costume consisted of a canvas shirt, a sleeveless dress, a smock, and a large black kerchief; in winter, they donned a dress with sleeves, a cloth jacket, and a sleeveless fur coat. Required features of female dress were earrings, bracelets, beads, and, among wealthy Gagauz, a necklace of gold coins. "So many of their decorations are hung about," wrote a pre-Revolutionary researcher, "that they cover the entire breast down to the waist."
Traditional male clothing included a shirt, cloth pants, a wide red sash or belt, and, in the summer, a hat; the winter cap was made of Kanakul sheep wool. The shepherd's costume was the usual shirt combined with sheepskin pants with the fleece turned in, a sleeveless fur coat, and a short sheepskin jacket, the latter sometimes decorated with red-on-green stitching.