A whirlwind foodie tour of Turkey
Nadia indulges her sweet-and-savoury tooth, feasting on baklava and slurping lamb soup for breakfast during a whirlwind tour of Turkey.
For a fabulous foodie adventure, it’s hard to beat Turkey, says Nadia. The country, which straddles two continents, offers fresh flavours, majestic scenery and a fascinating culture. Along with husband Carlos and her mother, sister and brother, Nadia travelled all the way from Istanbul to Gaziantep in southeastern Turkey, close to the Syrian border, with Intrepid Travel. On her journey she met local growers and food artisans, stopping often to taste their wares, sample juicy Turkish figs and sip freshly juiced pomegranates; she even got the chance to prepare vine-wrapped delicacies in a traditional Turkish kitchen.
It was little culinary moments like these that made the trip so memorable, says Nadia. Brunch in a small farming community gave an insight into rural life, while trying the many varieties of tea and baklava were not only delicious treats but an inescapable part of Turkish life. “You haven’t tried real baklava until you’ve tried it from Gaziantep,” says Nadia. “It’s made with young pistachios that are still bright green, and the thinnest, flakiest filo pastry you’ve ever had (40 layers in total); it’s then baked and drowned in sweet sugar syrup.
This would have to be the most decadent sweet treat I’ve ever eaten. It even inspired me to put my own spin on it back home.”
The fresh food markets in Bursa (in the northwest) were a highlight, too. The region is famous for its delicious stone fruit, figs and grapes – “pretty much anything that needs lots of sun” she says. “I never knew what the big deal with fresh figs was, until I tried figs in Turkey. They’re so sweet it’s like eating jam! At just three Turkish lira (around $1) per kilo, I was eating about 10 a day.”
Other must-try dishes Nadia recommends are cig kofte (raw mincemeat kneaded with spices and served with lettuce), Turkish scrambled eggs, manti (filled dumplings with yoghurt sauce) and borek (baked filled pastries).
Sampling new flavours is one of Nadia’s favourite aspects of travelling. She tries to immerse herself in the local cuisine when away from home. Her tour guide tried to talk her out of eating beyran, a hearty lamb breakfast soup which many tourists find too intense, especially for the time of day. Nadia took no notice. “Having slow-cooked lamb soup for breakfast might sound strange, but it was amazing – the best thing I had for breakfast in Turkey. Shredded lamb that has been slow-cooked on the bone overnight is served in a spicy broth with garlic, red pepper paste, chilli and rice. It’s guaranteed to warm you from the inside and get you off to a roaring start to the day.”
In between meals Nadia and her family explored. They visited Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, one of the world’s oldest covered markets, and admired the beautiful Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia (a former cathedral and mosque-turned-museum).
Near the end of the trip, the group visited Cappadocia, a region famous for its pointed, chimney-like rock formations riddled with caves. “A lot of locals still live in the caves, which is incredible,” says Nadia. Gazing over the rocky landscape from a hot air balloon at sunrise was expensive but worth it, she says – you’re only there once, after all.
Another favourite experience was watching the Sufi dervishes of the Mevlevi order (known as whirling dervishes) perform their mesmerising spinning meditation. “You’ve never seen anything like it; it’s as if they’re in a trance,” Nadia says. “Your eyes are captivated and you almost go into a trance yourself while watching.”
The remarkable ancient ruins of Ephesus are also worth visiting, she says. You can still get an idea of the former Greek city’s splendour as you wander its remains. And after a day exploring, experiencing a traditional Turkish bath or hamam is an essential treat, if a little awkward to share with a tour group.
It was Nadia’s first visit to Turkey, and she loved everything about the country, particularly its colour and chaos. “It was so different to anywhere else I’d been. There is so much colour: turquoise is everywhere (my favourite colour) and the interior decor and tile work is amazing,” she says. But she struggles to define what exactly makes the country so special. “It’s a combination of the culture, the colour and the people.”
- Since Nadia’s visit, travel warnings have been issued for parts of Turkey. Please check safetravel.govt.nz/turkey before planning a trip.