Posted by inka on Jan 4, 2013 in food
, Turkish food
I have to admit that I am a lousy cook. I can boil pasta – al dente, no less and rustle up an omelet, but that’s just about the extend of my skill in the kitchen. I can’t make a sauce to go with the pasta either, but there is always a charitable soul who can.
But, from time to time, I can’t resist to make a fool of myself and try my hand. As was the case on my recent visit to a pre-Christmas bazaar in Didim/Turkey where I live. Many hand made things were on offer and, as food is very important in Turkey, a few ladies sat in a corner and prepared gözleme. This is a delicious snack, a very thin pancake filled with cheese, minced meat, potatoes or honey and nuts. I was fascinated by the spped and skill with which the ladies rolled out the paper thin dough and asked, if I could try.
With a lot of giggling, they gave me a lump of dough, a rolling pin and well meaning instructions. The pictures say more than 1000 words and I will not tell what the final result looked like.
That’s what gözleme should look like
The busy ladies
Trying my best
The thing just won’t take shape!
But, a lot of fun was had and my opinion confirmed that I better stick to what I know and leave the cooking well alone.
After our pleasant boat trip on the Bosporus, my girlfriends from Beirut and I were hungry. Water travel, however brief, will do that to you every time.
Us on the boat
We came off the boat in Eminönü and were faced with the question where to fill our stomach, in style and with great food. By chance we bumped into some other sightseers from Beirut, like us in Istanbul for the Madonna concert. They warmly recommended Hamdi Restaurant, located right next to the impressive New Mosque, Spice Market in the back, glorious views of the Bosporus in front.
New Mosque right next to Hamdi restaurant
And what a great recommendation it turned out to be. In the late 1960, chef Hamdi Arpaci came from his native Urfa in Turkey’s southeast to Istanbul. I have fond memories of Urfa, one of my absolute favorite destinations in Turkey, because of the fabulous sites, mesmerizing views of the plane of Mesopotamia, silver filigree and cuisine. Influenced by nearby Syria and other Middle Eastern countries, Urfa cuisine’s food emphasis lies on kebabs and köftes with special spices and rich combinations of ingredients such a crushed walnuts or pistachios mixed into the meat. The fillings of böreks (pastries) are juicier than anywhere else and melt in your mouth as your teeth crack the paper thin pastry.
One of Hamdi's specilalities
All these delicacies chef Hamdi brought to Istanbul where he started out with a humble food stall at the edge of the parking lot in Eminönü where many of the Bosporus ferries dock. From there , fame spread and finally resulted in the 5 story building which houses the restaurant today, the quality of his southeast Turkey food undiminished. Not surprisingly, the restaurant is much in demand and you have to wait to be seated in the downstairs lobby. Who cares? Between us we sampled the menu up and down and even ordered seconds of the Urfa kebab.
Prices are neither cheap nor outrageously expensive, just average for Istanbul.
Disclaimer: this post has in no way been sponsored by Hamdi Restaurant. We paid full price.
The sun is still shining and the sky is blue on Turkey’s Aegean coast. Mind you, a strong, cold wind is blowing which drops temperatures considerably, but quite a few die-hard sun worshippers find a niche and top up their summer tan in trunks and bikini. Everyone to their own, I guess.
Many visitor to Turkey may consider the country a summer destination, whether they plan to explore Istanbul or enjoy the Black Sea, the Aegena Sea or the Mediterranean. But, winter in Turkey is special and here are few tips where to go and enjoy a ‘different’ Turkey.
Bursa and Mount Uludag
A winter visit to Bursa is a rare chance to admire a city full of charm and history with a skiing adventure on the slope of Mount Uludag which rises to a height of 8343 feet right behind the city. A cable car runs up the mountain side, but in bad weather it doesn’t operate. No problem, a good road gives access to Sarialan and, about 4 miles further up, to the Hotel Zone where skiers congregate in winter and enjoy the slopes and the pristine snow. From December to April chains are required to negotiate the road.
Carpetmender in Bursa
Green tomb and mosque
Just the lower regions of Mount Uludag
Famous as a summer resort with huge hotels on several beautiful beaches, Antalya itself is very attractive in the winter. Few tourists are around, so you can visit the outstanding archaeology museum in peace. Moreover, the streets along the port are lined with inviting restaurants and café with wood burning stoves outside and blankets thrown over chairs, so you can enjoy al fresco life style without freezing to death. Locals and residents make these cafes their home from home during the winter and you have a unique chance to hear all about life in the famous resort from real insiders.
Antalya's archaeology museum
Cafe in winter
Cappadocia in the snow
Who hasn’t seen pictures of the fairy chimneys and bizarre rock formations which make Cappadocia so special and such a great tourist attraction during the summer. Add on balloon rides, hiking trips and cave visits and you get the essence of Cappadocia. But, the real wonders of the ‘land of the beautiful horses’ which Cappadocia means when the Persians first named the area, real themselves when they are covered in snow. With a bit of luck you can watch wild horses running along in the snow. It’s bitter cold in winter, but there is nothing more romantic than staying in one of the many (well heated) cave hotels, sit in front of a log fire and watch the snow fall.
Delicious Turkish winter food
So, if you want to avoid the crowds and high prices, consider visiting Turkey in the winter.
I have to thank my lovely driver Yussuf for a lot. Not only did he phone a friend and arrange a perfect breakfast in his house because I had mentioned that the breakfast I had in my hotel was very poor and had left me starving, he also took me to Dara, a place I would otherwise have missed.
My breakfast treat
Located at a distance of approx. 18.5 miles southeast of Mardin, Dara ‘s name is associated with the battle of Dara in 530 when the Romans and the Persians had, yet another, go at each other. They did this often and consequently Dara has a colorful history because it alternated between being Roman and Persian until it finally fell into the hands of the Arabs.
Originally an East Roman settlement Dara was a strategically important outpost of the Roman Empire and hence fortified by the emperor Justinian. What makes it an interesting point to visit today is the vast necropolis, housing tombs of kings and families. Only a part rises above ground the rest still awaits excavation.
The necropolis of Dara
Tombs of the kings
Justinian’s engineers also accomplished a great feat: they diverted the river Cordes so it flew through the city and constructed an underground cistern which takes your breath away because it’s so unexpected. And so huge.
The massive cistern
Just a glimpse of daylight
We descended stone steps, down, down and further down and then looked up at the massive structure which secured the water supply for the city. Again, this is a southeast Turkey site devoid of tour buses and mass tourism, so there is just one little café where you can sit and, if you wish, buy a few souvenirs. They do have a great selection of history books though and I bought a few.
It’s very hot in July on the Turkish coast of the Aegean sea, so when my friend suggested a trip to Sinince, a ‘lovely mountain village’ as he put it, I was all for it, if only to get a bit of the cooler mountain air. He wouldn’t say what else there was to see and do in Sirince; only that I should wear good walking shoes. I was quite happy to just go along and let myself be surprised.
We drove to the town of Selcuk, parked the car, headed for the central bus station, and hopped on the dolmus (public minibus) to Sirince. As soon as the minibus reached the outskirts of Selcuk, it took a right run and started a dizzying ascent on a twisting road further and further up the mountains. Deep valleys and ravines on our right, sheer cliffs on our left, we were definitely headed for cooler regions. Everything was very green and arriving in Sirince, myfriend pointed out to me that what grew on terraced mountain sides and in the sheltered valley were grape vines. The plants were low to the ground so I didn’t, at first, recognize them for what they were.
One of the narrow, steep streets in Sirince
“Surprise number one,” he grinned, “we are headed for a famous Turkish wine making place for wine tastings.” Given that I don’t drink alcohol, I wouldn’t have come if this were the only reason to visit Sirince, although I appreciate that there are many, may people who would love the experience. Because, you see, Sirince’s speciality is not just any wine, but fruit wine.
Sirince’s fruit wine
These leather made bottle covers are very pretty
The dolmus bus deposited us in Sirince’s tiny village square and I knew at once that taking hiking shoes was sound advice. Narrow cobbled alleys wound around and between ancient stone houses, some of them converted into very romantic looking inns. And of course it was uphill and quite uneven under foot, so this is certainly no place to visit in sandals.
View of Sirince
An orthodox church
A typical house
Trees, vines and oleander in full bloom were everywhere and provided shade whilst we meandered upwards, stopping frequently to visit the many small shops selling their wines (and, of course, offering tastings.)
Sirince is indeed a wine making center with a long Greek and Turkish Ottoman tradition. The wineries are small and there are dozens, all turned out beautifully with their individual displays. As I said, the specialty is fruit wine and you will find such exotic concoctions as banana and pomegranate.Whether you like it is of course a question of personal taste, but it’s no doubt an interesting experience. I can’t say from my own experience what it tastes like, but I can tell you, that I saw many happy – and quite tipsy – faces all around.
Sirince is not only about wine. The buildings and surrounding countryside are a pleasant surprise because they are just so pretty and are not expected to be found hidden away among steep mountains. Like every Turkish town worth its salt, Sirince, too, has a bazaar, but in keeping with the place, it’s small, sedate and very charming. The vendors don’t hassle you, they just smile and politely invite you to visit their shops to look at their wares. And some very nice things are to be had, like handmade soaps and fabulous face creams made from olive oil, hand carved wooden objects, extraordinary wine bottle covers made from leather, and embroidered linen, towels and table cloths. If you want a tasteful and at the same time useful Turkish souvenir or gift, Sirince is the place to buy it.
Sirince’s very sedate bazaar
Sirince is also famous for wood carvings
Nobody is in hurry, nobody shouts and the wine tastings which lead to the occasional consumption of a full glass, contribute to a totally relaxing and enjoyable atmosphere which you don’t find often anywhere else in Turkey.
Tourists can certainly be found in this small town, but even at the height of summer there weren’t that many because Sirince is still very much an insiders destination and the organized tours to Ephesus and elsewhere bypass it.
To round off a wonderful day trip, I discovered that many of the restaurants which all feature vine covered court yards offer a great variety of my favourite dish: gözleme, which are crisp, thin pancakes filled with either sweet or savory ingredients such as spinach, minced meat, or honey and ground nuts.
The return dolmus to Selcuk runs, during the summer season, every hour on the hour and, loaded with a bottle of strawberry champagne, a bottle cover and a carved wooden box for my friend and a face cream for me, we were on our way back to Selcuk. It was a relaxing, but memorable day.
Tags: daytrip in turkey, sirince wood carvings, turkish wine, turlish mountian village, wine tastings sirince