What an incredible country.
When I told people of our plans to visit Turkey, they often responded with a confused "Why?" or "What made you pick Turkey of all places?" With the recent protests, since I've returned, many have treated me like I just got back from a war zone.
Why visit Turkey? Turkey is a cradle of civilization. It's location straddling Asia and Europe has made it home to some of the most well known civilizations in history. Archeological remains from the Greeks, Romans, Ottomans, Hittites, and Byzantines can all be found in Turkey. Often, the ruins of different civilizations are located just a quick walk away from one another. Until our trip, I didn't realize how many important events in the history of Judaism, Christianity and Islam happened in Turkey.
Turkey has some of the most incredible scenery. Even though we stayed in a small area on the Turquoise Coast, the landscape changed dramatically from cove to cove.
Turks were some of the friendliest people I've met, always willing to strike up a friendly conversation or help with directions. From the shop owners at the Grand Bazaar to our waiters to the boat crew, the customer service was fantastic! People go out of their way to make sure your trip is memorable.
And the recent protests? If we didn't watch the news, we wouldn't have known about it at all. If fact, on the last night of our trip, Scott and I felt safe enough to take a community taxi that dropped us off right outside Taksim Square, since it was a lot cheaper than taking a personal taxi. Saving $70 > personal safety.
Scott and I traveled with my dad and stepmom, who had been to Turkey three times already, and my brother. Our first two days were in Istanbul. Since there are so many sites to see, we stuck to the biggies - Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, Suleymaniye Mosque, Topkapi Palace, and of course shopping at the Grand Bazaar and spice market. From Istanbul, we flew to the Mediterranean coast, stopping at Ephesus, the House of the Virgin Mary and the Bascilica of St. John the Apostle, which has a view of what remains of the Temple of Artemus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. We boarded a boat in Bodrum and spent the next week exploring the Turquoise coast. The boat trip was by far the most relaxing vacation I've been on. We tend to travel at a pretty frantic pace, constantly hopping from one place to the next. I'll never be a week at the beach kind of gal, but I have to admit it was pretty nice to spend a day doing nothing but soaking up the Mediterranean sun. Plus, being on a small boat, we were able to see many impressive, but lesser known sites, like Knidos, Loryma and Dalyan.
And then there was the food.
Given it's location, Turkey's cuisine is almost a fusion of Mediterranean foods with Middle Eastern flavors. The food was as flavorful as it was healthy. Seasonal vegetables played a starring role. Here's a look at what and where we ate and links to recipes so you can recreate them at home!
Tamara is worth it for the stunning view of the Blue Mosque alone. Luckily, the food was pretty great too. After a day of traveling, we were all pretty hungry, so we started with a meze platter and pide, Turkish-style pizza, topped with spicy sausage. My entree was the best (yes, I stole bites of everything) - a spiced lamb sausage pressed flat then pan fried, served over eggplant and cucumber in a creamy yogurt sauce.
Sultanahmet Fish House
One of the most memorable meals of our trip, in no small part due to the fantastic service. We started with a plate of fried calamari and creamy yogurt sauce, pan-fried sardines (FYI - a low mercury fish rich in omega 3s) and dolmas, which are grape leaves stuffed with lemon and dill seasoned rice. My dad and stepmom's entree was the highlight of our meal, a salt baked fish served with the most delicious parsley and olive oil sauce. The presentation was quite the production, complete with flaming raki and a random French kid helping our waiter break the salt crust. It's such a simple preparation, but it yields to most tender, flavorful fish. I enjoyed the stuffed cuttlefish, which is similar to calamari. It was stuffed with a rich bread and fish stuffing and served in a creamy tomato sauce. A fantastic Turkish white and (too much) raki completed our meal.
After drinks and meze at Seven Hills (great sunset view of Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque...food and service was pretty horrid), we went to Antiochland. I don't have any good pictures since we ate outside and it was dark, but the food was definitely up to par with it's number two rating on Trip Advisor. I ordered eggplant stuffed with spiced rice and lamb. My dad, brother and Scott, who apparently hate to share, all ordered a rich braised lamb in a fruit sauce. It was delicious, and oddly reminiscent of Chinese food. There was an outdoor concert at a nearby bar, so we were able to enjoy some Turkish rock music while we ate.
After the boat trip, we went back to Istanbul for one last night. Scott and I went to Beyoglu, the "New City" of Istanbul. We walked along Istiklal Caddesi, a busy pedestrian street lined with stores and restaurants. After listeing to my brother, the tour guide's advice to look one street off the main drag for the best food, we wandered through a few side streets and noticed Ficcin's interesting menu of small plates and pretty outdoor seating. We started with lima bean pate, flavored liberally with dill and olive oil. Then came small plates of meatballs layered with eggplant and peppers, peppers stuffed with lamb and rice and a savory meat pie topped with an eggy crust. Not our healthiest meal, but worth the splurge! And so was the cone of Turkish ice cream we had afterwards!
We ate most of our meals on the boat, prepared by chef Malibu (best chef name ever, right?). I tried to find out as much as I could about how each dish was prepared and their Turkish names, but unfortunately Malibu didn't speak great English, and he seemed to be a little creeped out by my watching him cook. Each meal consisted of a main course with six or seven vegetable sides. Dessert was typically fresh fruit so perfectly ripe, I would have picked it over any baked good. The few times he did prepare a baked good, it was barely sweetened.
We spent our first night on the boat in a pretty little cove outside Bodrum. After a spectacular sunset, we enjoyed a fantastic 4 course meal. The meal started with a flavorful fish soup, a testament to how delicious simple food can be when it's made with quality ingredients. The soup was probably little more than fish cooked in a homemade stock with potatoes, rice, carrots, lemon and dill. Our second course, which I thought was our main so I chowed down, was puff pastry wrapped fish, zucchini blossoms stuffed with dill-scented rice, octopus salad, and a potato salad made with waxy gold potatoes, cucumbers and tomatoes in a lemon mustard dressing. After stuffing myself on all that, out came a pan fried fish! Luckily, I was able to made some room. Living down South, we're used to deep frying fish, but I much prefer pan fried fish. You can actually appreciate the freshness of the fish but you still get the crispy skin.
In Knidos you'll find the ruins of an ancient Greek city situated in a stunning cove surrounded by chalky white cliffs. We spent the morning exploring the ruins almost by ourselves, as there were hardly any other tourists at the site. Hiking up and down the mountain side, we worked up quite the appetite, so we were thrilled to come back to a delicious lunch of beef casserole with eggplant, tomatoes, and spicy little green peppers served over rice. Sides included a simple slaw with lemon and dill dressing, a salad with corn, tomatoes, cucumbers and a buttermilk dill dressing and green beans braised with garlic, tomatoes and plenty of olive oil. We also had our first taste of greens in a thick garlic and Turkish yogurt sauce, a dish we enjoyed many times on our trip.
Hands down, my favorite meal of our trip was in Datca at Fevzi nin Yeri. The main harbor in Datca was lined with touristy looking seafood establishments, but right off the main street in an alleyway, I spotted this restaurant. It's not much to look at, but I happened to read the chalkboard menu outside and deemed it much more interesting than overpriced fish, so I forced everyone to turn around. Fevzi is a family run establishment and our service was fantastic. The food was totally unique, unlike anywhere else I've eaten before. All of the dishes were small plates - perfect for tasting everything on the menu...which we basically did! Local herbs are their specialty. The family collects them from the mountains each winter, then preserves them. Many of the herbs are used in complementary medicine and the menu comes with a description of their traditional uses. We couldn't decide what we wanted at first, so our waiter brought us a sampling of almost all of them. Most were prepared in a similar fashion with lemon and olive oil, yet each tasted completely different and unique. He also brought us a plate of green olives stuffed with walnuts, pomegranate, and garlic and the most delicious soft cheese seasoned with garlic and nuts. It tasted almost like parmesan but had a spreadable consistency. Then we ordered an assortment of small dishes. My favorite was cuttlefish casserole, which came in a light buttery tomato broth with a hint of spices we just couldn't put our fingers on. When we inquired about the spices used, he just said it was "love." Hrumph. Well that doesn't help me recreate it at home! We also had snails in a rich tomato sauce with a slightly different but equally elusive spice mixture, pickled white fish (basically ceviche), pan-fried angler fish, and fish cakes. We finished our meal with a gooey caramelized fig and - stay with me on this one - artichoke heart topped with ice cream. I know you're probably gagging right now, but the artichoke was prepared in a way that it tasted sweet, but it still had the texture of the artichoke heart. It was incredible and obviously unlike anything I've had. In all, we must have spent 3 or 4 hours over our leisurely meal.
We spent the next morning swimming and snorkeling in a cove outside Datca, then enjoyed a nice light lunch on the boat - chicken thighs, stewed white beans, watercress in a garlic yogurt sauce, leeks braised with tomatoes and olive oil and an arugula salad with tuna, red peppers, tomatoes, and onion. The white beans, stewed in a brothy tomato and olive oil sauce with carrots were especially nice and I will admit to going back for thirds.
Selimye is a cute little port town in the middle of a serene pine forest. The first night, we stayed in a secluded cove outside town. The crew set up a grill on the front of the boat and grilled a plate of chicken wings, kofte and lamb kebabs, which were served with a flavorful condiment of shredded zucchini in a spicy tomato paste. They also prepared the most amazing baba ganoush, made with eggplant grilled over pinecones, which infused it with flavor. I think all they did was mash it with onion and lemon juice, yet it tasted so complex. The meal was also served with braised watercress stems, leftover from the watercress leaves served in yogurt at lunch. I never thought of saving the stems from your greens to cook, but I love the thriftiness and the outcome was delish!
We spent the next morning exploring Selimiye. Being a dietitian and someone who appreciates landscaping, I noticed everyone's front yard was filled with fruit trees - figs, pomegranates, and citrus everywhere! After working up an appetite jewelry shopping (it can take a lot out of you!), we enjoyed a lunch of pan fried fish on the boat. The fish was a little scary looking - check out those spikes! - but tasty. It was served with fresh egg pasta in a thin puttanesca style tomato sauce, more greens and yogurt, confit red peppers, braised green beans and slaw with a creamy dill dressing.
Yes, those colors are real. Loryma was one of the highlights of out boat trip. Perched upon a cliff overlooking the most beautiful cove of clear, turquoise water are the remains of a Rhodesian fort. Little remains besides the walls, but what's left is perfect for exploring. No exaggeration, we risked death for a fantastic view of the Mediterranean. Worth it. After exploring, we ate lunch in the cove. The main course was kofte, or meatballs, smothered in a rich tomato sauce with potatoes. Sides included mushrooms in a tomato, garlic and olive oil sauce, roasted peppers and eggplant, a Caesar salad with dill dressing and cacik, the Turkish response to tzatziki. We also had green peppers stuffed with a dill-scented rice. Normally I'm not a big green pepper fan, but the ones in Turkey were sweet rather than bitter, with just a hint of spiciness.
Marmaris itself was nothing to write home about, simply our last stop before getting off the boat. Chef Malibu prepared a special feast for our last night - a whole roasted fish. Fish this fresh is best kept simple. Ours was roasted with a flavorful spice mix, olive oil and a bit of lemon. Perfection. Chef Malibu also made borek (like spanikopita), jumbo prawns, braised green beans, broccoli braised in olive oil, and slaw with big wedges of pickles (yes!). We finished our dinner with baklava made with watered down honey. It doesn't sound very good, but thinning the honey with water kept it light rather than dense and sticky.
If you are look to travel abroad this year, I highly recommend Turkey. Given everything going on politically, prices will be down, but I felt it was still completely safe to visit. If a big trip isn't in your plans, have fun recreating these dishes at home and at least eating like you're there!