It’s impossible to recount time in Turkey without mentioning the food. I’ll jump straight to the sweets. Baklava and Turkish Delight are not favourites of everyone’s but they are of mine. I still remember, when I was 14, eating almost a whole box of Turkish Delight at my friend Yolanda’s house when we were meant to be studying Maths. Her mother who hadn’t met me yet, later asked Yo “Is Nea a large girl?”
I tried to be reasonably restrained for most of the trip, but in the last week in Istanbul I felt it was almost mandatory to have a piece of baklava a day, settling on pistachio and walnut as my favourites. On our final afternoon we visited a famous shop in Karakoy with the largest and most impressive selection I have ever seen. I was deliriously excited choosing an assortment to share for our last dinner with our hosts. At the same time, knowing that I wouldn’t get to try them all caused me some distress. It almost seemed reason enough to stay longer in Istanbul. I consoled myself that it was an excellent reason to visit again.
For Roberto, the sweet of choice was sutlac, or rice pudding with a caramelised top. These seemed to vary quite a bit when it came to tastiness and I always waited on baited breath for his reaction after swallowing the first spoonful. Pretending it wasn’t that great was normally the sure sign that it was.
For other Turkish foods, at first it seemed we needed to work a little harder to find meals that we really enjoyed. Sometimes it felt like it all that was on offer (for our price range) were kebabs, kebabs and kebabs. Fortunately we discovered some great “lokantasis” (low price restaurants) that offered lentil soups, salads, chickpeas, pilav (rice) and dolmades.
Like most places in the world, the best food was home cooked. Our host in Istanbul Canan, of Yoga Rooms and her daughter Fulya looked after us very well and our farewell dinner was unbelievably delicious. And we will never forget our Mama and Papa in Cirali.
Cirali was the beach in the Mediterranean that held us captive with its beauty for two weeks – far longer than we expected. It was a sleepy little town with only a handful of restaurants to choose from. For the first few days we gravitated towards the ones that had more customers. Every night we would walk past a place on the corner that was empty, except for an elderly couple, the proprietors watching television in the back. The place looked nice enough, but why was no one there? Was the food bad, or was that no one wanted to break from the crowd and give it ago. We realised we were falling into the same “sheep” mentality as the rest of the tourists decided to “share the love” and consciously go to restaurants that were empty – particularly this one that we nicknamed “Mama & Papas”.
(Mama making gozleme – turkish pancake – the one with tahini…so good!)
Our strategy paid off. The food was amazing and Mama and Papa took very good care of us despite not speaking a word of English. Not only was the food cheaper than other places, the servings were bigger and it was straight from Mama’s kitchen. For the next 10 days it became our regular spot and by the time we left, after days of amusing and animated interchanges, we had a truly heartfelt goodbye. Mama and Papa were an important part in making our time in Cirali so special.
For me the experience was almost symbolic of the entire trip. It’s easy to play it safe, follow the crowd and go with what you know. But sometimes it is worth taking the risk, plunging into the unknown – you never know what treasures are in store!