Sunday, 1 November 2015

Turkey – A menu of Turkish delights

October 24-31

Hello everyone!

Rather than creating food envy within your soul by explaining how wonderful Turkish cuisine is, I thought I’d present the country’s food and drink in a different style. Below is a menu of Turkish delights (Turkish delight included) which we sampled and savoured during our week in Turkey. Needless to say, we rarely went hungry.

Quick credit to the master chefs, of which Turkey seems to have many. Food is often served quickly after ordering and is obviously created with care. Look at the sweets in particular if you disagree.

A lady making flatbread for doner kebabs

An old man cooking fish for balik ekmek

Meat dishes

The stereotypical kebab, coming in beef or chicken. Normally devoured by British citizens at 3am. Here it is a staple food. Easy to see why: simple to prepare and very cheap, yet full of flavour and reasonably healthy. Don’t agree with their idea of sticking chips in the döner, though…

The first doner of many

This is the largest doner trunk I have ever seen. Compare it to the slicer!

Different from a döner as this meat is cooked on a skewer, as opposed to being sliced off what resembles a tree trunk. They often come in two varieties, of which we would always have ‘adana’: with spice.

A lovely adana kebab - we ate at this place, on the edge of the Grand Bazaar, twice during the week

Lamb shish
A treat on Republic Day in Kaş. Slow-cooked – well, as slow as possible when mass producing for hundreds of hungry people – and served with rice, rather than in bread like the standard kebab.

Lamb shish kebab

The pictures bear a close resemblance to Khachapuri, the Georgian dish which will shave months off your life expectancy. In reality, this is a Turkish pizza. Dough shaped like a canoe is covered with cheese and toppings of your choice, with spicy sausage being our favourite.

A pide 'mix' involving meat and vegetables


Balik ekmek
If I said this is a fish sandwich, it wouldn’t sound nearly as exotic. Don’t think of what you would get in McDonald’s or your local supermarket, though: this is literally a fish, sometimes deboned, in bread. It is the cheapest way of trying Istanbul’s vast array of fish which are plucked from the Bosphorus and beyond on a daily basis. Sardine was my favourite filling.

Balik ekmek

Fried calamari
If you are driving back from the beach, having happened to skip lunch, and see a hand-painted sign screaming ‘FRIED CALAMARI’ from a restaurant perched on the edge of a cliff above the tranquil turquoise sea of the Mediterranean, you’re going to stop, aren’t you? A frivolous purchase but certainly a worthwhile one.

Calamari from the Mediterranean Sea

Grilled fish
A treat on Republic Day in Kaş. Yes, I know the lamb shish was as well; it was a special day, OK? We didn’t have much lunch so had plenty of room to fit…just look at the picture below and judge for yourselves whether you would have turned down grilled fish. I doubt you would. Unless you’re the type who preaches ‘FISH ARE FRIENDS, NOT FOOD’ to your mates (from Finding Nemo, if you’re wondering).

A light and lovely grilled fish in Kas


A personal favourite of mine, which makes it slightly surprising that we only had the chickpea-based dip twice during our time in Turkey. Personally, I don't generally associate hummus as emanating from Turkey. Not sure why. Still, never one to turn down hummus if it’s available…

Hummus was often blended with olive oil and spices in Turkey

In spite of loving hummus and appreciating many other dishes which use chickpeas, I’ve never boarded the falafel bandwagon. I feel it’s aspiring to be something which it can never truly be: a burger. It’s like a veggie burger. Which, as we all know, isn’t a real burger. Still, in smaller ball-based form it’s quite nice, if a little dry. Remembering this blog is supposed to take the form of a menu, I don’t feel I’ve sold falafel very well…

Fried falafel balls

Turkish salad and dips
A treat on Republic Day in Kaş. Well, not really: it was actually the self-service part of our Republic Day meal before we realised that amazing items such as lamb shish (see menu: lamb shish) and grilled fish (see menu: grilled fish) would be brought later. The eyes-bigger-than-stomach syndrome, from which I’ve suffered all my life, led to a mile-high plate of tzatziki, hummus, spiced tomato dips, beetroot salad, carrot salad, Turkish yoghurt…I can’t remember all of it. See what else you can spot below. Turkish food is fairly healthy, with salad items being included in almost all dishes. The chips nullify that effect somewhat, however…

As starter plates go, this is XXL

The king of the Eastern sweet shop. Being honest, it would probably be the king of most sweet shops. This pastry, pistachio and sweetmeat dessert is simply phenomenal. It probably has something to do with being drowned in honey.

Baklava comes in many different forms, yet we thought the simplest version was the tastiest. It’s popularity and deliciousness is reflected in its price: one piece of regular baklava usually equates to 4TL (over €1, just under £1). It’s priced per kilo, with the more pistachio-heavy forms being dearer.

Don’t let the price put you off, though. This stuff is fantastic. I’d happily skip the main course and eat a box of baklava instead.

Regular baklava in a 'pasta' (cake) shop

A piece of baklava with extra pistachio
You may be more familiar with this if I call it ‘Turkish delight’. Its proper name is lokum. It can be created with one simple flavour (such as rose or pomegranate) coated with sugar or be made more complex with the addition of extras such as nuts. These are the more expensive varieties of lokum. The former are ready-cut into cubes, whereas the latter are originally in long cylinders. The cylinders are then cut into bite-size pieces using…a cleaver.

It’s not to everybody’s taste. In my opinion, the sub-standard versions of the sweet are a bit too chewy and leave bits stuck in one’s teeth. Though my teeth are terrible so this may just be a personal problem. I like lokum: prefer baklava.

Rose-flavoured lokum

Cylinders of the more exotic varieties are clearly visible in all bazaars
Lots of it comes from the local surroundings so fruit is always a healthy, cheap option. Not always room for it if you fill up on baklava though…

A fruit market in Kas

A fruit plate, probably picked shortly before from a nearby tree

Hot drinks

Apple tea
Turkish tea is normally taken sans milk, which can be a problem at times for many a Brit abroad. What the country possesses which others lack is a wide variety of warm, fruity teas which actually taste acceptable when compared to the rubbish available in British supermarkets. Pick of the bunch – as in, it’s actually lovely to drink – is apple tea. It also comes in this delightful little glass. Lovely.

A lovely reward after pounding Istanbul's chilly streets
Rose tea
Walking through the bazaars of Istanbul, you’ll find this wide variety of strange teas. Whilst pretending to be interested in buying a pair of socks, we were offered rose tea. The bazaar form of this is unstrained, so the ‘rose petals’ (I’ve never seen any so small) were still in the plastic cup. Refreshing, though I couldn’t drink a whole mug. That’s probably the same with all of them, save for apple tea.

Alas, we never got to try 'love tea'...

Rose tea: if you look carefully, you can see the roses themselves still in the cup

Turkish coffee
Coffee is also partaken differently in Turkey. It’s an acquired taste, luckily one that I quite like. Turkish coffee is usually served in an espresso-sized amount into a porcelain (lavish) or metal (less lavish) cup. You will never see the bottom of this cup. If you do, it hasn’t been made properly. The coffee granules never completely dissolve into the liquid; the result is a dark, silty sludge at the bottom of your cup. Drinking this is…well, not advised. I’m speaking from experience, here. What I will say is that the liquid above the sludge is strong, aromatic and a perky pick-me-up in the morning.

Often the smell would be sufficient to perk me up in the morning: strong stuff.

Cold drinks

Fresh pomegranate juice
Now this was something of a revelation. For Hannah, at least. I struggled with its acrid taste so resorted to having sips of hers. However, the energy and positivity I felt from one sip was stunning. Watching this be made is also fascinating; it takes about four pomegranates being crushed in a device which seemed more at home in a factory than on an Istanbul side street to make a small cup. Yet it often cost 2TL: less than 50p! Amazing stuff.

A plethora of pomegranates
Those of you who don’t know of or like custard will find this hard to appreciate. This is essentially a thick liquid which looks like custard, flows like custard and…no, it doesn’t taste like custard. It’s a fermented grain drink. But it’s surprisingly nice. The chickpeas floating atop the custard imitator are a strange and unnecessary addition.
NB custard is amazing. If you’ve never had it before, ignore everything that is on this menu and get yourself a bathtub’s worth of custard. Mmmm…

Boza: a mini-meal in istelf

Turkey is a secular state. Many of its citizens, however, are not. Consequently, alcohol isn’t readily available as in many other countries (certainly not the Czech Republic). It makes it more rewarding when you find a non-tourist spot which sells the amber nectar. That’s certainly worth appreciating more than the taste of Efes, Turkey’s national beer. We used to drink this in Kazakhstan because it was better than their local beer. This simply reminded me of how awful Kazakh beer truly was.

Czech beer > Efes > sewer water

A lovely setting helps to offset any bland taste

Like beer, Turkey also make wine. Like beer, Turkish wine is incomparable to its western European counterparts in terms of quality. On Republic Day, Turkey’s national day, we were served wine from South America rather than southern Turkey. I’m no aficionado, however, so was happy to the local red when the occasion came about.

Examples of Turkish wine we didn't try

Yes, we managed to have all of this (and in the case of kebabs, many more than one) during our week away. To paraphrase that common maxim: a döner a day keeps the doctor away!

Love you all


Friday, 30 October 2015

Turkey – the carnival atmosphere of Republic Day

29 October

Hello everyone!

Turkey is a relatively young nation. Its land formed the backbone of the Ottoman Empire, which crumbled in the aftermath of its defeat in the First World War. Though not strictly colonised by another nation, it took a few years for the place which we now see as Turkey to officially declare itself a nation, free from any Allied occupation. This announcement was made on October 29th, 1923: Republic Day. 


This is one of the most notable days in the Turkish calendar. It remembers the birth of the nation and reemphasises the importance of their favourite son, Mustapha Kemal Ataturk (the airport in Istanbul is named after him). It was Ataturk who expelled the Allied forces in 1922 and his parliament which formally disbanded the Sultanate, which had ruled for centuries before. When the Republic was officially announced on 29th October in the following year, Ataturk became modern Turkey’s first President.

Ataturk - hero of a nation

A billboard (possibly) reminding people of the date of Republic Day
Festivities take place across the country. One of the recommended places to enjoy Republic Day is a small town on the south coast called Kaş. By remarkable coincidence – it genuinely was as we decided to go before discovering the date of Republic Day – we happened to be staying in Kaş at this particular time.
Location of Kas on a map of Turkey
A photo from an old celebration of Republic Day in Kas' main square
A local drummer in Kas' main square
Turkey, however, has been experiencing a turbulent period in its history. Rocked by bombings in its capital, Ankara, earlier in the month, we were told upon our arrival in the south that a big party wasn’t likely to occur in Kaş for Republic Day. Perfectly understandable.

The aftermath of the Ankara bombings (picture from BBC)

Ever the optimists, we spent the morning of October 29th strolling around the alleys of the town, looking for signs of celebration. What we saw were masses of Turkish flags adorning almost every building. Pride for the nation was clearly unshaken by the earlier atrocities.

An old amphitheatre in Kas
Kaş’s main plaza is situated next to one of its many small harbours. As we ambled towards it in the afternoon sun, the volume seemed to increase. When we caught sight of the square, we saw a small group of men positioning tables from their restaurants…into the square. A canopy of flags hung over the entire square, gently flapping in the light wind. Clearly something was going on.

The main square in Kas, filled with tables in preparation for the evening's events

The main square in Kas
Turns out the big party was on after all! We excitedly made our reservation and were told to be in the square soon after sunset, at around 6:30pm.

Sunset - complete with Turkish flag - from our apartment in Kas

The next few hours were brilliant. It may not have been a truly authentic experience – we were by far not the only foreigners sat at tables in the square – but it was an explosion of Turkish pride.

Two locals capturing their Republic Day
 Red flags were waving frantically as songs capable of perforating eardrums boomed from speakers and the lungs of hundreds of Turks. Possibly thousands. The square was packed, with every table (apart from the table for 29 near us, which arrived so late I wouldn't call it fashionable) enjoying the food being prepared by the plethora of restaurants situated on the three land-facing edges of the square. The other side, where land meets sea, was dominated by a stage flashing its pyrotechnics and hosting a band.

Near the stage, a team of people holding flaming torches paraded through the square

Whilst devouring the salad buffet (my plate mainly consisted of hummus), it was announced that the national anthem would play. Everyone rose. Spines tingled. It was amazing to witness the fervour the locals have for their country. I know this is true in most countries; it still doesn’t make it any less awe-inspiring.

Flag-waving and cheering shortly after the anthem had finished
The band played throughout the evening aside from taking cigarette and drink breaks. Lots of people were drinking, particularly their local liqueur of Raki, which surprised me somewhat. I was told that this is one of the few days in the year where ‘everyone drinks’.

People toasting the Turkish nation

A local man singing his heart out
Any area of the square which wasn’t heaving with tables filled with fish, kebabs and alcohol was space in which to dance. Dance we all did. Even if the band only had a few songs, which they mingled with apparently putting on a CD of more popular hits.

The band

Later on, the night sky looking out towards the Mediterranean was illuminated by a series of fireworks. As you’ll see on the video below, the noise from the square almost drowned out the bang from the fireworks.

Fireworks celebrating Republic Day in Kas' main square

Flag-waving and cheering as the fireworks exploded

With what happened in Ankara earlier in October, I would have completely understood if no large celebration had occurred for Republic Day in Kaş. The Turkish population, rather than mourning death, opted to celebrate life. And how. It was a privilege to be a part of. Happy birthday, Turkey!

Love you all