Somewhere over the Atlantic, I wondered -- do the Turks just call it coffee and delight?
Chris and I were winging our way to Turkey for our long-awaited honeymoon, a trip we planned while nibbling on dolmas rolled by our dear friend Özlem; poring over Silvena Rowe's stunning cookbook Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume; and marveling at Cappadocia's vineyard-dotted moonscape:
Turns out the Turks call two of their best-loved culinary exports kahve and lokum, what non-Turkish speakers know as "Turkish coffee" and "Turkish delight". As anyone who has been to Turkey can attest, the country scores top marks across the board: genuine people, awe-inspiring sights, intriguing history and of course, delicious food. There isn't any other cuisine that would make me, a lifelong carnivore, believe that arugula, purslane, dill, parsley, mint, cucumbers and olives piled high on a plate constitute (part of) a dreamy breakfast to be repeated on weekends at home. The things Turkish cooks do with the bountiful ingredients astound.
Here is a list of our favorite nibbles and culinary experiences.
1. Simit with kaymak and honey
You haven't been to Turkey until you've tried this -- luckily it's incredibly easy to find! Simit are the sesame-crusted "bagels" (they are less pillowy and a touch firmer) you'll see sold by mustachioed men from red-colored wagons on nearly every street corner.
Kaymak is clotted water buffalo cream, something you'll most often find at breakfast with honey drizzled over it. You're meant to tear a simit in half, dip an end into a kaymak and honey dish, and groan with pleasure after your first bite.
2. Turkish breakfast
The spread at Taş Otel
The perfect mix of mostly savory with hint of sweetness, my ideal breakfast combo. This is why I love Turkish breakfast. The two hotels we stayed at in Göreme, Cappadocia and Alaçati, İzmir, had outstanding breakfast buffets: garden-fresh salad greens; yogurt, freshly baked cookies; fresh and aged cheese; simit and kaymak (of course!); eggs with deep orange yolks cooked to order; pastirma, a Turkish dried meat rubbed with paprika; fruit, nuts and olives; dried figs, white mulberries and raisins; and several types of honey and jam.
We love having Turkish breakfast at home now because barring the eggs, "preparation" basically requires just taking things out of the fridge and pantry and putting them on the table.
Thank you, Kebab Quest! It was on this site that we found Mehmet Usta, or Master Mehmet. The kebab he made the day we went for lunch did not look like the spindle on the web page, but it was still mighty tasty. It's a bit of a walk from Aksaray metro station -- don't give into the scores of kebab joints you'll see on the way! We stopped at one for dürüm kebab (meat and all the fixin's rolled in a thin Turkish bread called yufka) and it paled in comparison.
4. Stuffed artichoke at Çiya Sofrasi
Believe the hype framed on the walls: Çiya Sofrasi is worth the trip to Asian side of Istanbul, as the articles from the New Yorker, Food & Wine, The Guardian and scores of non-English language publications attest. It was hard to choose, but the most memorable thing we ate was a gigantic artichoke stuffed with rice and herbs, topped with a stewed sour plum. Nefis (delicious)!
Recipes for this bean appetizer call for simple ingredients: carrots, onion, beans, tomato paste and olive oil. It must be the Mediterranean climate that makes magic out of such humble fare.
Here's Chris dunking bread into the remnants of our pilaki appetizer. We ate these gigantes at Merih, a restaurant not far from our AirBnB in Beyoğlu.
6. Balkava at Karaköy Güllüoğlu
Right under the logo at Karaköy Güllüoğlu's sole shop, it says something like "This is the only Karaköy Güllüoğlu. We do not have a franchise." So don't be fooled if you see a baklava shop with a similar name; there even are Güllüoğlu Cafés in New York that people think are affiliated with this one but they are not.
We tried a lot of baklava and went to this one twice because it was our favorite. The factory is significantly less crowded than the shop, with groups of women chatting and finishing their day with something sweet, or single men enjoying a plate of favorites with the evening paper.
Baklava originates from Gaziantep, Turkey's culinary mecca as they say the best baklava and kebab makers come from there as well as countless other ustas of deliciousness. Gaziantep is definitely on the list for our next trip.
7. Octopus stew at Marti
I was a little disappointed in the octopus we had in Istanbul but luckily the octopus stew we had at Marti, a family-run restaurant in the seaside town of Alaçati, gave me the octo-experience I had been craving.
Besides the delicious food, it's worth going to Marti to witness the antics of the couple that run the place: the dad is the chef and kept facetiously complaining that he needed more "medi-cheen" (medicine), aka raki to keep cooking; and the mom is the hostess and social media maven, we assume, as she snapped a photo of every table with her Samsung phone. This was all in between delivering plates and razzing her husband to stop being so lazy!
8. Meze platter at Topdeck
If we could have eaten here everyday in Cappadocia, we would have. Eating at Topdeck felt like eating in someone's cavernous, low-lit living room (hence the photo quality). In a sense, it is as Topdeck is the chef and his extended family works at the restaurant. His babaghanoush was the best we'd ever had -- everything on his meze platter had a discernible homemade taste to it, the sort of food that makes you stop and think that there's a real person behind the stove who sees refinement in making standout versions of Turkish staples.
9. Seafood in Dalyanköy
Dalyanköy is a sleepy fishing village in Çeşme that's worth the trip if you have a few days in the area and go stir-crazy lying on the beach for more than half a day, or if you love fresh seafood and watching fishermen dock as you stroll the promenade lined with restaurants. Although only a handful of travelers were in Dalyanköy when we were, it must be a popular place as a few restaurants we saw could easily seat more than 100 patrons. We picked one a place that looked comparatively modest and were not disappointed with our first taste of midye, an unusual street snack of mussels stuffed with cinnamon-scented rice sold all over Istanbul, and fresh, sweet shrimp grilled with paprika and garlic.
10. Turkish delight
What on earth was Edmund Pevensie thinking when he ate several pounds of Turkish delight and betrayed his siblings to serve the White Witch? To be honest, it did not seem all that appetizing when I first read of it in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a fourth grader. Rose-flavored candy? Blech!
However the real stuff you get in Turkey is pretty magical. I especially like the "double roasted" Turkish delight filled with plump pistachios. The best Turkish delight I tasted was on a culinary walking tour we went on with Istanbul Eats, something even the most DIY of travelers should consider as it's well worth the money and moving a notch back on the ol' belt.
What I haven't mentioned here is my top favorite Turkish food, which we learned to make on our last day. Stay tuned!
Kemalpasa Cad. 132, Yeni Mecidiye Mah. 3009 Sk,
35950 Alaçatı / İzmir, Turkey
Tel: +90 232 716 7772
Elysée Cave House
Orta Mahale, Mizrak Sokak No:18
50180 Göreme – Turkey
Tel: +90 384 271 22 44 and +90 533 715 52 82
Mehmet Usta Kebab
Buyuk Karaman Caddesi #3, Fatih
Tel: +90 212-533-8665
Caferaga Mah. Güneslibahce Sokak No:43
Kadiköy - Istanbul, Turkey
Tel: +90 216-330-3190
Kamer Hatun Caddesi 5/A, Beyoğlu
Tel: +90 212-245-4325
Karaköy Güllüoğlu Factory
Karaköy, Mumhane Cad. No: 171 34425 İstanbul / Türkiye
T: +90 212 249 96 80 - F: +90 212 244 71 17
Karaköy Güllüoğlu Shop
Karaköy, Rıhtım Cad. Katlı Otopark Altı No: 3-4 İstanbul / Türkiye
T: +90 212 293 09 10
Seafood Restaurant and Dive Bar
Tokoğlu mam. 1005 Sokak no:13
Alaçatı (Kemalpaşa), 35950 Alaçatı, Turkey
Tel: +90 232-723-1111
Topdeck Cave Restaurant
Hafiz Abdullah Efendi Sokak 15
Goreme 50180, Turkey
Tel: +90 384-271-2474
Dalyan Balikcisi Hasan
4255 Sokak No. 2
Dalyanköy, Çeşme, İzmir, Turkey
Tel: +90 232-724-020