Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Afiyet olsun!

Turkey offers numerous opportunities to food lovers to explore - in its restaurants but more so on the streets. Istanbul, Selcuk, Goreme, Sirince all have interesting eating joints lining up the streets. Some of the best eating joints in Istanbul are the ones dotting both sides of main road at Sultanaahmet Square near the Blue Mosque, and along the walk from the Topkapi Palace toward the Spice Market. Am sure Taksim Square has its share of good eating joints too but could not check out any given the midnight hour we visited there! 

We also had the pleasure of spending leisurely afternoons in the local markets at Goreme, Sirince and Selcuk where the senses are heightened with the smells and colours of local produce that ranges from about two dozen+ varieties of Peynir (cheese), honey and edible honey comb (I tried the latter too...a first for me), assorted fresh and dried vegetables, spices and dry fruits, freshly squeezed fruit juices...I fell in love with the fresh fruit - a couple of times such as at the Goreme local market after our quadbiking ride, I just made do with the juicy pears and peaches for lunch.

On reading my earlier blogposts, some of my Facebook friends wanted to understand about Turkish food, especially if there was enough available among the vegetarian fare. So dishing out here through my experiences and pictures, a little from what I tried out.

Leaving aside the lavish spread for the first 2 days at Istanbul, our typical breakfast on the rest of the trip consisted of slices of tomato, cucumber, olives, watermelon, grape,bread with butter / jam / honey, with an egg preparation, and one or more varieties of cheese. A couple of places also served Simit, a sesame covered bread 
ring, but I found this too dry for my liking. Before long, I was addicted to having my salad and fruit with a bit of fresh feta cheese and was it delicious! 

I also ordered Menemen once. It's a nice Turkish version of our very own egg bhurji with lots more vegetables loaded. A good option for breakfast, it can also serve you well for lunch if you're not too hungry. 

This consists of several types of mostly vegetables mixed with herbs and spices. You can eat these individually as an entree, or as a combined ‘mezze plate’ where you can choose from the counter (or the menu) an assortment of vegetable dishes. 

Clay pot Turkish dishes
The clay pot has a special place in Turkish cuisine, given that it renders itself wonderfully to slow cooking and gives the food a unique taste of its own.

A must-have among these is the Testi Kebap, which is a meat and vegetable dish slow cooked in a sealed clay pot over a fire oven. here's the dramatic is brought from the oven to your table, where the waiter breaks open the clay pot with a flourish of gentle taps (ofcourse which also necessitates not having bits of the pot get into your food). I had this in Cappadocia, which is said to the origin of this dish, as well as Istanbul and was satisfied with both preparations. While I did not try it myself, the vegetarians may want to check if there is a non meat version available as the sauce, herbs and spices definitely do justice to all those vegetables in the pot. 

The clay pot lends its special flavour so beautifully to other dishes too such as the mushroom n cheese preparation that we had at The Ulan Pide and Restaurant at Sirince, along with the Pide. The pide is the Turkish equivalent of the pizza, but unlike the round pizza we are familiar with, it is long and rectangular. Would recommend that you have your Pide in specialist pide restaurants that are equipped with wood fired ovens where it is also a pleasure to watch them roll and bake one right in front of you. 

The best pide I had was at The Ulan at Sirince, a quaint little old Greek village on the hillside above Selcuk, known for its wines, orchards and some very well preserved houses from the 18th and 19th Centuries. The Ulan is a lovely 100 yr old structure run by Ibrahim whose wife worked at our hotel down in Selcuk. The warmth and charm of the place reminded me of the old Iranian cafes in Mumbai and Pune, many of which have now sadly vanished.

Many of the village homes in Sirince had assorted stuff and vegetables drying out in the sun, some of them to be used as decorative items in their homes, and some to be used as food items, especially during the winter. A few homes at Sirince are run as hotels and while checking out the Oz Garden House the owner, Rahima, taught us to prepare Tarhana, a Turkish tomato soup made from dried powders that she had just prepared from tomato, red bell pepper, onion, flour, herbs and yohurt.

Soups, locally known as Corbasi, are also available in other varieties, both with and without meat. If you are particular about vegetarian, you may also want to make sure your soup is not cooked in chicken broth. 

A traditional specialty of the Central Anatolian region, this turned out to be a particularly huge favourite with me. It is similar to the Indian paratha, in that it is hand-rolled and filled with various stuffing, and cooked over a griddle. This again is available with meat or non-meat stuffing. An absolute must-have is the spinach and feta cheese Gozleme, which we were lucky to have prepared for us in its native origin land while meandering through the Ihlara Valley along the Mendeliz river on our Cappadocian Green Tour. You can also get to try this in Istanbul.

Sarma and Dolma 
These are again vegetables either fresh or dried eggplants, peppers, tomatoes or zucchinis stuffed with a mixture of rice and onion with various spices. When wrapped within vine leaves, they are served as Sarma (Yaprak Sarma). These are available with meat and non-meat stuffing.

Kofte (meatballs) and Kebap (Kebabs or roasted meat) 
These are must-haves for the meat lovers. Our most popular Turkish staple was the Doner kebab - especially as it was the easiest to pick up and munch on when on the road. It comes close to its Arabic equivalent "shawarma". Of all the places where I had the doner I loved it best in Istanbul...I am unable to remember the name of the place, but it was the first restaurant on the side of the Blue Mosque at Sultanahment Square. 

For the sweet toothed, there is lots to tempt - but decent helpings of Turkish icecream and the famous baklava, which is just heavenly when had fresh at the sweetshop and which has too many varieties to choose from, are enough to keep one satiated. 

The Ayran (a cold yogurt beverage mixed with salt - similar to the Indian Chhaas) is lovely and always a refreshing choice between long walks as well as to end meals. Turkish tea is nice, especially the apple tea (which interestingly has little trace of tea!), but Turkish coffee?...well, not my cup of tea! 

Overall, if you are a vegetarian, you needn't find the prospect of feeding yourself all that daunting as the vegetarian options are many and interesting, as long as you are open to different types of vegetable, especially eggplant and mushroom :)

On that note, Afiyet olsun!...if you didn't already know / guess that..that's Turkish for Bon appetit!.
Fruit lunch purchase at Goreme  
Sirince and Pamukkale had the most amazing pomegranate

Cucumbers and pumpkins soaking in the sun. Some will be used as decoration in the house, some will be eaten.

A dried pumpkin lamp at Rahima's cozy home stay in Sirince

Ibrahim baking our pide and mushroom n cheese

Our spinach and feta cheese Gozleme being rolled out in Ihlara Valley 

The honeycomb was a new one for me
One of the many restaurants lining Istanbul's streets

Wrapping the Sarma in vine leaves 

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