Eating My Way Through Turkey

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Incredible fresh bread is just a small part of why eating in Turkey is amazing. photos by Erin Phelan.Incredible fresh bread is just a small part of why eating in Turkey is amazing. photos by Erin Phelan.

Bit by bit the balloons rise and the pilots share a joke. Maybe I’m paranoid, but I’m pretty sure I know what they’re laughing at: How are we going to get off the ground, given this group of women have been eating their way through Turkey for the last 10 days?

Tribe Travel Tours, reassures me the pilots are not laughing at the size of my behind.

But Omer has been plying me with unlimited cherries, peaches and plums, pistachios and hazelnuts, borek and pide, and has taken to calling me lokum, which we know in English as Turkish Delight.

I have to wonder: Has Omer started calling me this because it is a Turkish term of endearment? Or whenever he looks at me he finds me stuffing my face with Delight?

Cappadocia's amazing hills. Cappadocia’s amazing hills.

Istanbul

suggests an urban crisis brewing. However nothing can take away from breakfast on the patio overlooking the sea at our boutique hotel in Sultanhamet, the old quarter.

The Blue Mosque. photos by Erin Phelan.The Blue Mosque. photos by Erin Phelan.

The kitchen chimneys at Topkapi PalaceThe kitchen chimneys at Topkapi Palace.

The importance of food in Turkey, historically and today, cannot be understated. Commanders and high-ranking officials in the Ottoman military were known as “Soupmen or “the Baker” though their duties had little to do with cooking.

In this environment the Sultan chefs, who dedicated their lives to their art, developed and perfected dishes still made today. Manti, for example, a small, ravioli-style dumpling stuffed with meat and served with a garlicky yogurt sauce, came from the 12th C. and is clearly a labor of love, as each parcel – the size of a pea – is wrapped by hand.

Traditional Turkish lunchTraditional Turkish lunch.

Bosphorous. Omer takes us to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant, the kind of place the average tourist would never stop, and speaks with women clad in scarves rolling dolma, vine leaves wrapped around fragrant rice pilaf.

Spices are in abundance in Turkey's bazaars.Spices are in abundance in Turkey’s bazaars.

Spice Market

Every five feet salesmen offer samples of their Turkish delight including the Viagra Turkish Delight (scientists have yet to determine its medicinal effects!).

Celsus library in Ephesus.Celsus library in Ephesus.

We walk to Koska on Istilklal Caddesi (just up street from the Blue Mosque and share nightingale nests, a variation of baklava dripping in honey, crunchy on the tongue, and buy the freshest Turkish delight I’ve ever eaten. Though others have argued that Haci Bekir, another Istanbul shop, owns bragging rights my stout belief is: Always trust the local.

Thank the Gods for Ephesus. The ancient city on Turkey’s East Coast was established in 10 BC and the massive amphitheatre and antiquated highways running through its core show off its majesty. Ephesus passed under the rule of many – the Greeks, the Persians, the Romans – and the Celsus Library, still intact, is an amazing spectacle that symbolizes the grandeur.

A gulet, or sailboatA gulet, or sailboat.

We start with an eggplant soup that is delicately spiced but so rich I long for a bottomless bowl. Plate after plate emerges: lamb stewed with a local plant root that doesn’t have an English name as it is only found in the Sirince hills, a creamy macaroni and cheese dotted with walnuts, six types of spinach tossed with herbs, and woodsy mushrooms filled with cheese.

Along the BosphorusAlong the Bosphorus.

Sailing the Blue Lagoon

Peaches in seasonPeaches in season.

Center of Anatolia

When we pull up to the Hotel Alfina jaws drop: we are going to be sleeping in a cave! I run my fingers along the walls of my suite, and grains of sand come off – I briefly think about what might happen were a devastating earthquake to hit this area, but shake it off as I’m called to discover the area.

Hot-air balloonHot-air balloon.

But my stomach is now conditioned to eat every two hours and before long it grumbles. Omer takes us to the town of Avanos to a bakery where we sample the local bread and watch it being made and stuffed.

We sit overlooking the village square and sample two types of pide from the bakeryone with a mellow cheese, one with spicy lamb; I can’t decide which I like best; a fresh Arugula and onion salad, and spicy tomato salsa round out the meal, and we head home to our cave. I fall into bed and don’t think twice about being buried alive.

The balloon is afloat and we topple inside the basket. As we lift off the ground I know it isn’t simply a feat of engineering. I checked the scales this morning and even though I’ve been eating non-stop, I’ve lost weight. The Turkish diet promotes good health: grains, fruits and vegetables form the cornerstone, meat is used sparingly, fish is a staple, onions – believed to help the immune system – are used liberally, and we can thank the Turks for yogurt, a detoxifier.

Though I’ve been snacking, my snacks are nutritious: fresh and dried fruits – The figs! The apricots!– and nuts. Most importantly, even the “fast” food like pide and kebabs is prepared without preservatives: fresh, pure, using age-old practices.

If you go:

Tribe Travel Tours or North American representative Brenda Farrell at 604-913-0045 (email)

For more accommodation options, find unique Turkey hotels and interesting tours in Turkey.

Erin Phelan.


is a freelance writer who divides her time between Toronto and the Lake District, UK, traveling and writing extensively from both pit stops.

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