It will be just over 23 years ago that I first tried traditional Turkish food whilst on holiday with a friend. I had never visited a Turkish restaurant and actually don’t think there was one in Edinburgh at the time and so I was unaware of the food and also the culture. On visiting the travel agent we were given the usual choice of Spain, Greece, Tenerife- the usual hot spots and when we were offered Turkey we both hesitated , simply because neither of us had any idea knowledge of this country or where we would be going. These were the days way before the internet so in order to find out more about where were heading off to it was a visit to the library and use the old fashioned way of researching, looking through reference books – seems unthinkable and archaic now.
So we choose the cheapest option of a ‘bucket deal’ which meant that we would not know which resort we were booked up for until we arrived at the’ local airport’. This is how it was described in the brochure, which was actually 4 ½ hours of nail biting, seat clutching, hair raising rally driving up a mountain in a large coach that crossed over hair pin bends at such a speed and I remember looking down and seeing no road below us as we had straddled the bend rather than following the bend in the road! Thankfully the most of the journey was in the dark and so as we arrived crumpled and grumpy for the start of our holiday in the early hours of the morning we wondered what we had signed up for!
The pansiyon we were staying in was situated a few streets back from the waterfront, a white washed walled villa with a small fountain in the middle of a vine covered courtyard. The rooms were part of a family home and so had a wonderful homely and welcoming feeling and we fell in love instantly. We dumped our bags and headed off into the town to investigate further and look for somewhere to eat. Turkey was relatively new on the ‘menu’ of tourist resorts and the only Turkish food we knew were late night kebabs and having been given advice from many informing us that the food could be ‘dodgy’ and to stick to busy part of town we were reluctant to sample the local cuisine. We spent hour after hour wandering through the tiny little pedestrian- only streets that wound through the town in the searing heat. The wee roads were lined with leather stores, wonderfully smelling herb and coffee stalls, walls hung with handmade carpets and kilims, gold and silver trinket stores, and the air full of intoxicating smells from the endless road side restaurants. We were starving, having not eaten since the meal on the plane the night before, however fearful that we would end up with a bellyful of food poisoning we stuck what we deemed as ‘safe’ food. So having spent the whole day out exploring we wearily headed off back to the pansiyon feeling rather down due to the ache of our underfed bellies and hot heads having wandered around in the roasting sun. Not a good start to the holiday and were beginning to feel that we had made a mistake.
On entering the garden we were greeted by the tinkling of water, and the wonderfully cooling shade of the vines that hung over the whole garden, the walls lined with large kilim covered cushions to lounge on we found ourselves lying in a peaceful haven spending a few lovely few hours chatting about the sights we had seen and so began to feel better with the prospect of the evening’s entertainment. We were joined by the other residents taking the opportunity to grill them about where to eat and what sights to visit. It was then I became aware of a man sitting in the background who introduced himself as the owner’s son having just returned from working at the bank as was waiting for a friend. We asked him to join us all as we partook of our duty free to help get the evening started. When his friend arrived we chatted away about the town asking them the best places to go and finding out about each other’s backgrounds. It was after an hour or so that I said that I was so hungry that we should make a move to eat but wasn’t sure where to go, the two handsome men offered to take us all to dinner at a place of their friends. The other couple declined and so we found ourselves heading off to get ready for the evening ahead. Now it is was not in our nature to head off with complete strangers into the darkened night but having spent a few hours in their company they seemed pleasant enough and to be honest I so was hungry that I would have traded my soul with the devil at that moment at the prospect of food.
We piled into the car and sped along dark lanes which had no lighting as we both began to wonder if we had done the wrong thing when we arrived at a tiny fishing village, the restaurants sitting on the beach edge and the sea lapping at your feet. They behaved like gentlemen and choose meal on our behalf.
The first course is normally made up of a variety of small dishes hot or cold spicy and savoury known as meze. This varies from hummus, aubergine salad, calamari (fried octopus)kofte (little bundles of meats and spices), stuffed vine leaves, natural yoghurt with garlic and cucumber, olives, cigara borek (filo pastry stuffed with feta and parlsey and gently fried) all served with warmed handmade pide bread. This is then was followed by a mixture of either grilled meats or freshly caught local fish and salad. Finished off with fresh fruit usually watermelon. It was a banquet that lasted for hours and was absolutely wonderful as we sat in the warm night air with the sound of the sea in the background, sipping on the local raki and being treated like royalty. It was a memorable evening and a lovely introduction into Turkish cuisine.
The remainder of the holiday consisted of us being chauffeured around the peninsula from restaurant to hotel sampling the local delicacies and seeing the ‘real’ Turkey being able to visit little villages and hilltop restaurants that are so often passed over by tourists. My love of Turkish food began on that holiday and the passion is still there!
Here is a simple dish of hummus – your introduction to Turkish food.
- 200g/7oz canned chickpeas-drained and rinsed
- 2 tbsp lemon juice or more
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- Salt and cracked pepper
- 2 tbsp tahini (sesame seed paste)
- 4 tbsp water
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- Paprika for sprinkling
- 4 rounds of pitta bread to serve
- Drain the chickpeas and rinse.
- Combine the chickpeas, lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper, tahini, and water in a food processor, and blend to a creamy purée.
- Add more lemon juice, garlic, or salt to taste.
- Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with paprika.
- Serve with warmed pitta bread.
To this you can add sun dried tomatoes or oven roasted peppers at the time when blending. Or even oven roasted butternut squash – try different combinations be adventurous!