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Turkey: Finally, the Food

Antalya Lunch on the BeachI don’t know if I have any readers left who believe that I was ever going to post about the food in Turkey. After all, it’s been almost a month since I went to Turkey and I haven’t posted yet. Sure, I’ve made promises, here, here and here. But still, no post. Instead, you got Pearls Before Swine comics. And my Celebrity Chef-ness. I know I have regular readers, many who prefer anonymity, and loyal ones who even commented on the Pearls posts, with its barest hint of connection to the rest of this blog. Today, I aim to rectify that. I am at the computer on the weekend, ready to post my final thoughts on my trip to Turkey and guide you through some of the food.

Although I am always eager to experience the food in a new country, even if it’s as close as Grenada, I was especially interested this time, having had a couple coincidental communications that gave me expectations and intentions. The most coincidental, especially in timing, was an IM conversation with an old high-school friend, as I sat in the airport in Guyana all those hours. While we are in contact, it’s somewhat sporadic as he’s been in the US since high school (many years ago) so it was a complete surprise that he was online on a Saturday morning and had recently returned from a trip to Turkey. He was still raving about the experience and the food, sending me the pictures and his blog post, and being ever so excited. I couldn’t wait. Of course he’d trekked around Turkey with some Turkish friends, so he would have had a better insight into local foods, being able to learn the names and ingredients of some things, but not having known him previously for a foodie, the enthusiasm was especially inspiring.

Turkish CoffeeThere was my discovery of Turkish coffee, from this photo a month earlier. At the time, I didn’t have any idea I’d be heading to Turkey to try it myself, I just wanted to know how to make this. And then I had to figure out what was Turkish coffee and how to get it ground so fine etc. I never got a chance to explore this before my trip, but now I am the possessor of two bags of Turkish coffee beans – dark and medium roast. And a little grinder, turkish style. Because, this, my first cup of Turkish coffee (Türk Kahvesi) was great. Rich and with a flavour that’s more complex, and different from regular made coffee, with foam, and silty at the bottom. Yummy. As with anything, there can be bad Turkish coffee, as I discovered in the airport in Istanbul, trying to have a goodbye cup. Yech. Chain store commercial coffee can be awful anywhere. But, I am ready to try to reproduce this, I just need a small pot. I should have bought one of those cool Turkish coffee pots, but there was only so much I could justify cramming into my suitcase. I’ll find something suitable.

The Coffee Geek gives a good step by step guide to brewing Turkish Coffee, and this is an interesting post on the history of coffee in Turkey.

Turkish TulumberThen there was the mention of Tulumber, a Turkish/Yugo dessert (according to my friend Tamara) that is somewhat similar in description to Trini Gulab Jamoon i.e. fried dough, dipped in syrup. Of course, there are differences. Tulumber is made from a yeasty dough, so that when you bite into it there are little air pockets. It’s also dipped into a syrup that remains wet, unlike the hardened coating for the gulab jamoon. In fact, when we were served these, the guy dipped them into fresh syrup before serving, so we got something to dip the airy insides into. Of course, I did have other desserts in Turkey, delicious as well.

But this was just the intro.

From Wikipedia:

Turkish cuisine inherited its Ottoman heritage which could be described as a fusion and refinement of Turkic, Arabic, Greek, Armenian and Persian cuisines. Turkish cuisine also influenced these cuisines and other neighbouring cuisines, as well as western European cuisines. Ottomans fused various culinary traditions of their realm with influences from Middle Eastern cuisines, along with traditional Turkic elements from Central Asia such as yoghurt. The Ottoman Empire indeed created a vast array of technical specialities. It can be observed that various regions of the Ottoman Empire contain bits and pieces of the vast Ottoman dishes.

Taken as a whole, Turkish cuisine is not homogeneous. Aside from common Turkish specialities which can be found throughout the country, there are also region-specific specialities. The Black Sea region’s cuisine (northern Turkey) is based on corn and anchovies. The southeast—Urfa, Gaziantep and Adana—is famous for its kebabs, mezes and dough-based desserts such as baklava, kaday?f and künefe. Especially in the western parts of Turkey, where olive trees are grown abundantly, olive oil is the major type of oil used for cooking. The cuisines of the Aegean, Marmara and Mediterranean regions display basic characteristics of Mediterranean cuisine as they are rich in vegetables, herbs and fish. Central Anatolia is famous for its pastry specialities such as ke?kek (kashkak), mant? (especially of Kayseri) and gözleme.

The Wikipedia entry is quite expansive and makes for a great read, especially since I am not able to name all the foods I ate. It also makes me wish more that I’d been able to be a proper tourist in Turkey. But the food I ate was almost all good – tasting of fresh ingredients, lovely balance of flavours and seasonings, and varied treatments of meats and pastries. There weren’t necessarily a tonne of spices and seasonings in the food (not like our Trini cooking) but what was used was just right and it didn’t have that uhm freshness (in the Trini sense) that I tend to associate with meat cooked without the familiar green seasoning marinade.

Breads and Pastries

Bread at LunchThe first thing that impressed me about Turkish food was the bread and pastries. Apart from the fact that even the smallest diner/cafe gave you bread on the side (and lots of it), the sheer variety and quality of the breads was impressive. There were rich buttery breads, sweet buttery breads, fluffy and crusty breads, flaky pastries filled with cheese, meats and veggies, flat breads of all shapes, nutty biscuits, chocolate-y biscuits – all good stuff. I had flatbreads, round and dimpled, with kebabs or bought separately because they looked so good fresh from the open ovens. I believe these were pide, which is the Turkish version of pita, but not really pocketed. There were breads and croissant-like rolls with soft white cheese inside. There were white cheeses everywhere. Breads and biscuits tasting of sesame seeds, or tahini. Yum.

There were pastries made of phyllo, filled with cheeses, meats or potato. One borek in particular, I got from the food court in 5Migros – mashed potato, rolled in a long tube of phyllo, with the tube then rolled in a spiral – was excellent. At a gala dinner, one of the courses was a crepe/thin pastry wrapped around spinach, potato and diced salami (?) that was pretty good, in spite of my aversion to cured meats.

Breakfast Foods

This post from a Turkish blogger about her native breakfasts is excellent, and accompanied by photos. I should have read this before leaving, since I didn’t know how I was to eat the buffet available at breakfast. There was the regular assortment of loaves of bread and rolls, in addition to a different hot bread every morning (some sweet, some savoury, all delicious). Sausages and sliced deli-type meats were always on offer, along with an assortment of olives and cheeses. Fresh tomatoes too. The olives and cheeses were sometimes mixed with a spice mix (peppers). Lots of white cheeses, cubed or soft. Olive oil on the side. An array of honey and fruits in syrup, eaten (by me) with the yoghurt. But I really wasn’t sure what was the traditional way of eating these things, and there were no Turkish people in our party to explain. The hotel people were great, but the restaurant staff didn’t speak English so couldn’t really help. But I imagine, lots of bread, oil, cheese, olives and tomatoes are very typical, perhaps not just of Turkey, but Mediterranean.

Kebabs, Kofte and Chips

If you like kebabs, Turkey is the place to go. You may know shish kebab, maybe doner kebab, but then there’s iskender; kebabs served with rice, or chips (or, strangely, rice AND chips); kebabs on bread. And koftes – various forms of meatballs, different in the base meat, as well as the textures and techniques.

Beef Shish Chicken Shish Kebab

Shish (?i?) Kebabs are made from marinated cubes of meat, whether chicken, lamb or beef, skewered and grilled. I had Beef Shish in the hotel, served with a rice pilaf, grilled pepper, onion and tomato, and Chips (çips). I also had Chicken Shish out in the city, in this great little place, where I had the Tulumber. This shish was served with all its cooking juices on top a pide, with grilled pepper and onion on the side. So very good. Fresh bread, soaking in the chicken goodness. Yum.

Iskender - Doner Kebab in YoghurtDoner Kebabs are made from ground meat, seasoned and shaped onto a big vertical spit to cook. Strips of the doner are shaved off for serving. Beef or Lamb doner seems to be the norm, but I have had chicken doner (shawarma) in the UK. I am not sure whether this is Turkish.

Iskender kebabs are doner kebabs in a tomato sauce, served with/in yoghurt. There seem to be different ways of serving this as well – as my friends had this served with chips and bread on the side and here, atop the bread.

Köfte (kufta)or fried meatballs are another staple on the Turkish menu, also found in the Middle East. Chicken KofteThey can be made from lamb, beef or chicken, with cumin and oregano, garlic or onion, and other spices. I had some different versions while in Turkey – some seemingly made from almost pure, seasoned ground meat, while others having a lighter crispier texture, from the addition of egg and either breadcrumbs or some other starch (one tasted like potato, one like rice, but I am not sure if I was right). While there are vegetarian kuftas (made from red lentils) I didn’t have any while I was there. The picture at the top of the page has what was called chicken meatballs on the menu, while this one, from the same place was chicken kufta. Different textures and tastes. That cafe served them with fuschia-coloured pickled cabbage and other salad items, with chips and a basket of fluffy bread.

Other meat specialities

Turkish Shepherd's Stew Turkish Pizza

Shepherd’s Stew is a very common dish here. I had it several times, in the hotel and out. This picture is from Mermerli (where I had the coffee) which is on a cliff overlooking the Antalya Marina. Gorgeous views and friendly staff. This is diced lamb cooked with lots and lots of onions and tomatoes and peppers, with herbs like parsley, and is a pretty good dish. Of course every cook probably has a different variation, but it’s a nice, basic kind of meal. Served with rice and chips… Someone must explain this to me, the serving of chips with regular food (i.e. rice and stew, or rice and kebab). Except for the rice, it’s like being in Belgium… odd…

I also had a Turkish Pizza (Lahmacun?) which was a thin stretched flat bread topped with a mixture of meat, tomatoes and peppers, and of course, cheese. It was a light and crusty base, and a nice balance of toppings. It was served on a wooden board, fresh from the big clay ovens behind the counter, and looked so long I didn’t think I could eat it. But I managed the whole thing by myself. It was lamb. So good. I didn’t know whether this should be meat or bread…


Gala Dinner - AppetizersAlthough I was eating meat all the time, a little overload perhaps given my normal travel eating habits, I did appreciate some of the vegetable offerings. Stuffed peppers, whether with bulgur, rice, or with meat. Mmmm. They really know how to cook eggplant in Turkey – eggplant stew, grilled, stuffed. Lovely. At that gala dinner, we got a plate of meze, with many offerings of such delights. Unfortunately, I can’t describe them all, but check the Wikipedia entry for some idea. I know I had a stuffed pepper, cucumber-mint-yoghurt, somethign made out of ground red lentils, something out of yellow split-peas, a orange vegetable purée (squash?), 2 kinds of cheese, hummus and a wedge of lemon.

At one of the kebab shops we also had an Antalya specialty – a bean salad, made with tahini and lemon juice. There’s a recipe here, but the version we had didn’t have eggs. It was unexpectedly good, because I am not generally a bean salad fan. This is called Antalya Usulü Piyaz.

Sweet Sweet SweetDesserts

Ah, sweet desserts. If you’re a fan of the Middle Eastern sweet treats like baklava and basboosa, then you’ll love Turkey. You’ll find such delicacies here also, in addition to the syrup-soaked Tulumber. Honey, pastry, pistachio, walnuts, rose-water… Yummy. The dessert plate from that gala dinner is a good example – 2 pastries made with phyllo pastry, and a cake in the back made from semolina, like basboosa. And ground pistachio all over. Syrupy. There are also somewhat less sweet biscuits, with sesame seeds, or chocolate, nuts, but delightful anyway.

Turkish Tea while shopping in AntalyaTea (çay)

To end of such great meal, nothing could be better than some tea. When we were first offered Turkish tea in the souvenir shop, we were curious – what is Turkish tea? or rather, what makes Turkish tea Turkish? Well, the fact that it is grown in Turkey of course. It’s black tea and tastes like good black tea, but it’s the way it’s served that is so enticing! In these gorgeous narrow glasses, with matching saucers. Cubes of sugar and cute little spoons. I like tea.

And I like black tea in beautiful glasses, while I look at the Turquoise Mediterranean.

Tea by the SeaOther posts from this trip:

Turkey: Getting There

Turkey: Impressions and Antalya

Turkey: Touristing in Antalya

Turkey: photos on Flickr

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14 Comments so far (Add 1 more)

    he has a blog…no link?
    tulumber – looks like if it was piped…like an eclair or choux?

    hmm since you were on a meat eating extravaganza, it’s sad now because i have no clue how a vegetarian, or almost vegetarian would fare there

    1. Lilandra, Empress of Chocolate and Envious Sister on December 16th, 2007 at 11:50 pm
  2. well, in my anonymity, I can’t really put his blog post now can I? Yeah, I think it is probably piped and the insides do remind me of choux pastry.
    I think there are options for vegetarians, especially since they eat lots of beans and eggplant etc. I just didn’t know what was vegetarian on the menu, usually. And for once, was trying out meats.

    2. chennette on December 17th, 2007 at 12:07 am
  3. The tea looks very refreshing.

    And I missed Pearls?! I’m actually still looking the last couple of weeks worth up… 😉

    3. ewe_are_here on December 17th, 2007 at 6:35 pm
  4. This is such an informative post, Chennette. I’ve learnt a lot from it. Thank you.

    4. Cynthia on December 17th, 2007 at 6:39 pm
  5. Hey Ewe! So glad to see you back online :-) They also do cool things like apple teas, so you would have liked those. I just forgot to blog that. But in the spice stalls, they also sell cool teas.

    Thanks Cynthia

    5. chennette on December 17th, 2007 at 6:42 pm
  6. A suitcase is the baggage of you travels – cram it not :)

    I am reading this at 5:10 a.m and my last meal was about 10 hours ago. Now I feel hungrier than ever and a warm bowl of oats awaits. I have no more cinnamon.

    These photos and descriptions are not only tempting but likely to make me buy lamb in excess this afternoon. I like the coffee and tea cups.

    6. aka_lol on December 18th, 2007 at 5:22 am
  7. An overloaded suitcase incurs excess baggage fees – cram it not :-)
    Lamb is good. Oats without cinnamon require nutmeg.
    And I got some molasses today! With which I am deciding what to do…

    7. chennette on December 18th, 2007 at 8:13 pm
  8. that was one gorgeous virtual trip to Turkey. if i drink turkish coffee, i have to brush my teeth right after, it’s so strong.

    8. bee on December 18th, 2007 at 8:39 pm
  9. Hi bee! Thanks for the comments :-) I think sometimes I write too much, which is why I try to insert pretty pictures for people to distract themselves with 😉

    9. chennette on December 19th, 2007 at 11:15 am
  10. Only one thing missing at this time of year – turkey! (actually, I’m having capon).

    Happy Christmas.

    10. Trig on December 22nd, 2007 at 4:43 am
  11. We had turkey yesterday :-) since we’re not bound to the Christmas Day thing :-) Tried the brining for the first time a la Alton Brown, will probably blog.

    11. chennette on December 24th, 2007 at 5:41 pm
  12. You rock girl!

    12. Trinifood on December 27th, 2007 at 4:41 am
  13. What a great post!
    Turkish food…it’s not something that you can put your finger on. Thanks so much for this. This gives a much better spin to Turkey than Midnight Express!!
    Happy Happy New Year,

    13. sharon millar on December 31st, 2007 at 5:36 pm
  14. Dear Sir,

    I need a photo for our food packaging.
    May I use your photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/chennette/2023010442/

    If you say yes, could you please send me a formal e-mail.

    Thank you in advance.
    Best Regards,
    Onder YUCE

    14. Onder YUCE on October 14th, 2010 at 5:06 am

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