By Kate Robertson, Epicure & Culture Contributor
There are many great reasons to visit Turkey: unique landscapes, stunning seascapes, evidence of thousands of years’ old history and friendly people.
Weeks could be spent here touring the various regions and visiting some of the world’s most important historical sites.
Another thing to prioritize on your visit? Turkish food. It’s flavorful, delicious and possibly even some of the best food you will ever taste.
Be sure to add these six culinary stops to your Turkey itinerary.
To get your tastebuds flowing, start with the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul. The last stop for camel caravan traders on the Silk Road in Ottoman times, stalls here sell colorful spices, dried herbs, teas, nuts and dried fruit.
Fill your spice rack with run of the mill spices like oh-so-fresh oregano or thyme, but also get some traditional spices so you can experiment with Turkish recipes.
I purchased sumac, a burgundy-colored spice with a unique citrusy flavor (sprinkle on anything you would use lemon zest on), and zatar, a blend of spices, herbs and sesame seeds commonly used in Middle Eastern cooking.
Buy some Turkish Delight as well, the sweet gel treat that we’re familiar with in the West and a popular food in Turkey.
Even if you’ve tried it before, you’ll find it to be much better in Turkey, where it’s made fresh.
History has it that Turkish Delight was made in Turkey as early as the late 1700’s, notes The Telegraph. It’s common to be served a small cube of Turkish delight alongside your coffee.
Be prepared to barter here with the friendly shopkeepers who love to chat.
2. Dine Like Royalty At A Palace
For dinner go to Tugra in the Ciragan Palace Kempinski Istanbul Hotel, located on the European side of Istanbul on the shores of the Bosphorus.
Here you can eat Ottoman and Turkish dishes served on absolutely stunning china. Their executive chef, Sezai Erdogan, took the inspiration for his menu from recipes recorded in historical archives. For example, the Chicken Topkapi is a stuffed chicken recipe that dates back to 1582 when it was served at Sultan Murat III’s private events.
The baklava is a must-try. Tugra has its own special baklava chefs from the “City of Baklava”, Gaziantep. The kitchen has a dedicated baklava room where every day the chefs produce around 5,000 pieces.
Also, try some raki with your meal. It’s the potent anise-flavored Turkish national alcohol, traditionally mixed with water.
An hour flight from Istanbul to the center of the country takes you to Cappadocia, a flat, desert farming region in the Anatolian Steppes. Mixed in the middle of this farming landscape are magical rock formations and “fairy chimneys” resulting from erosion of soft lava over the centuries.
There is evidence of 36 underground cities sculpted into this lava. Visit Kaymakli, one such troglodyte city that dates as far back as 8-7 century BC.
The Ozturk family will ensure you don’t leave hungry as they bring you plate after plate of meze including olives, breads, mixed pickles, yogurt, dolmas (stuffed grape leaves, peppers and zucchini blossoms), koftas (meatballs) and finely chopped Turkish salad.
After spending the afternoon exploring the surreal Cappadocian landscape go for dinner at Babayan Evi Restaurant in the village of Ibrahimpasa. This place — which you’ll want to book in advance — is so off the beaten path that even locals don’t know it’s there. It’s also the only restaurant in the region where you can order lamb ribs.
Owner/chef Ayse and her mother-in-law make most of the ingredients. Meals are served outside on the rustic, charming patio with an unrivaled view of the valley.
Although they have a large kitchen downstairs, they still use the outdoor clay tandoori oven — like a giant slow cooker — and you can watch Ayse hand-rolling the lavash (flat bread), and cooking them on the saj, a convex metal griddle.
Hotel Argos in Cappadocia is built around the ruins and cobble-stoned streets of an ancient underground city connected by tunnels built 2,000 years ago in Uchisar.
At Seki Restaurant within the hotel, they serve delicious traditional Turkish dishes with a modern twist, using ingredients coming from their extensive gardens.
Some of the caves have been converted into a wine cellar — the largest in Turkey — and private dining rooms. You’ll definitely want to ask for a tour.
The crispy duck leg served with dried fig, pumpkin seeds and sour cherry sauce was some of the best food in Turkey I tasted.
This is the perfect base to visit Cappadocia attractions like Goreme National Park or go for a hot air balloon ride over the surreal landscape.
Make your way over to Alacati, a quaint fishing village on the Aegean coast. With a settlement tracing back to 3,000 BC, it maintains its traditions as a wine, olive and fig growing region.
Explore the narrow cobble-stoned walking streets to visit the shops, art galleries, mansion hotels (like this one) and cute bistros renovated from the original white-washed houses with brightly painted shutters and doors.
Dine at Asma Yapragi, touted as the first restaurant in Alacati to stick with local, organic ingredients. Another family-run business, Chef Ayse takes traditional recipes which have been passed down for generations and presents them beautifully.
A specialty of the region is the multitude of herbs and greens. Ayse often forages her own, like the purslane in the beet dish above.
The meze of the day are displayed on a huge table for patrons to view and choose what they’d like to order.
The ambiance here is off the charts — located in a stone courtyard furnished with white tables and blue chairs and accessories that pop against the whitewashed walls.
When You Go:
Turkish Airlines offers direct flights to Istanbul from New York City and also has very affordable flights within Turkey. A visa is required and you can get that online before you go.
Hiring a tour guide is a great way to learn a lot about the country, and food, in a short time. Some recommended tour guides:
- Viator (Tours all over Turkey)
- BonAppetour (Search your destination city and dine in local homes)
- Icon & Styles (Istanbul)
- Travel Atelier (Cappadocia)
- Cittur (Izmir)
In terms of food in Turkey, what are your favorite experiences? Please share in the comments below!
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