Eating Turkish

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Turkish tiles outside our hotel room

Hello, friends. I’ve been away a while, I know. An utterly beautiful, lazy, hedonistic break to Turkey. 3 nights in bustling-by-night Alacati, a town of cobbled streets, largely unknown to tourists of nationalities other than Turkish or Iranian. Followed by 6 tranquil nights on a pedestrianised, teeny tiny island called Sovalye which is near Fethiye.

 

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Exploring Alacati by bike

Our intentions were to completely unwind, relax, forget about the stresses of London living and crazy jobs. We were going to celebrate our tenth anniversary together, properly. I aimed to spend my days reading, sunning myself and encouraging the freckles to come out. We also intended to go and eat AS MUCH of the Turkish food we already know and love, and to find out more about what Turks really eat. And to gorge ourselves silly on the findings. Screw diet and exercise. This was a holiday of feasting and lazing. I’m quite sure we achieved it.

 

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A collection of charming old village houses made up the hotel accomodation

In our first location, we stayed in the most jaw-droppingly beautiful hotel I’ve ever seen.

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It was expensive, sure. We could afford only a short stay but I’m glad we chose to. Every detail was considered. The largest, most comfortable bed. Free flip flops, towels, robes, luxury toiletries, huge bowls of salted almonds with every super chilled, tall-stemmed glass of wine, gifts like dried fruit or kaleidoscopes welcomed us on the pillow each night, sunbed service so you don’t need to move – drinks, meals, more almonds, public toilets cleaner and more plush than I’ve ever seen.. The list goes on. The hotel itself is formed Of a collection of around 6-8 rustic buildings, each of the 25 rooms created from these scrubbed up in an individual way by an interior designer who knows a thing or two about how to create a sense of richness through materials, textures, layering. I’m not used to this sort of luxury! It was incredible. But truth be told, I probably felt more at home, more like I fitted in, at our cosy, cute second hotel on the island.

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Fruit bowl on our window ledge in Alacati

This one had only 12 rooms, so was intimate but not in an in-your-face way. The rooms, terraces, garden, pool and sunbathing platforms each sort of stacked up on the side of a steep rocky hill. The island itself was teeny tiny. Only took us around 50 minutes to circumnavigate in slightly crusty old kayaks. The best thing about this place was the sheer tranquility. There were no roads, no shops on the island. Just a handful of properties, and a beach club that also doubled as a restaurant by night.

 

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Crossing the waters

So I’m guessing what you really want to know is what we ate! On our first night, we arrived at midnight and sat down in the beautiful outdoor hotel restaurant for a G&T. We were too late for dinner but were handed two large wooden bowls – one filled with whole nuts in their casings, the other empty – and a nutcracker. Back in the room, still a little hungry we gushed over our surroundings and found a little glass jar fill with a variety of homemade savoury pastries and biscuits. Just the thing! So buttery – those Turks sure know a thing about pastry. These were replenished daily so we made the most of them! Breakfasts were buffet style and beautiful. The feta and sheeps cheese on offer were among the best I’ve ever tasted. Paired with a light herby salad full of dill and parsley, homemade sesame bread rolls, olive oil, dried thyme and chilli flakes, this made for a luxurious start to the day. You could also order eggs – I ordered menemen, a spicy tomatoey scrambled eggs dish that was light and lovely.

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Beautiful breakfast spreads at our first hotel in Alacati

When you step out of the hotel, you are right in the centre of the busy busy town. Restaurants, bars and shops surrounded us, making it difficult to chose! We ended up at a quiet little restaurant that sold fish and meze, and feasted on rice-stuffed courgette flowers, hummus with pastirma and calamari.

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Restaurants line the narrow streets

The next, and last night, in Alacati we opted for a local cop sis place. They spoke no English so we just sort of pointed and guessed and ended up with some delicious Adana kebabs, sumac onions and bright red tomatoes.

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Menemen

We chose to stop at the incredible ancient Roman city of Ephesus on our drive between the first and second of our holiday destinations. Our guide, Nevruz, knew everything there was to know and truly recreated the scenery in our minds. Tales of fountains whose gates would open to cool the hot streets, pointing out markings used to secure nighttime street torches to the ground, visiting amphitheatres, discovering how these clever folk built a city with flowing, fresh water and central heating systems over 3000 (!!) years ago… Was really humbling, eye-opening and just incredible.

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Marble fragments at Ephesus

We continued our journey down towards the south coast, but not before stopping for some lunch, roadside. With our Turkish guide and driver we knew this place would be good – despite appearances. We didn’t really know what was coming but were pleasantly surprised to be handed a shepherds salad with pomegranate dressing, the most tender lamb kofte, pillowy sesame pide bread and the always delicious smokey tomatoes, peppers and onions fresh from the grill. Yum!

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Driving to the South

After a little more driving, we climbed aboard a little boat and crossed the water to our second hotel, on the island of Sovalye. We found ourselves in the most charming setting. After lounging in the late afternoon sun and taking hundreds of photos of the most incredible view, we tucked into a beautiful dinner of meze, Turkish wine, (more!) lamb with aubergine, stuffed squid and baklava at the small, personal restaurant located at the hotel.

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Place your orders for dinner

The restaurant operated a sensible system whereby they list out the set menu ‘special’ to be served that evening at breakfast. If you fancy it, you write your names down. Then the staff pop over to the mainland to buy the exact number of fish, or whatever, needed. We enjoyed whole cooked seabream on the BBQ one night, a popular choice in this region. We ate Seabass again, with carrot and yoghurt salads, roasted vegetables, fresh bread and a shredded salad on a yacht ‘gulet’ cruise we went on one day – after we’d dragged ourselves out of the sea!

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I’m now dreaming about this gozleme – such a great snack

We took a trip into the nearest local town called Fethiye in order to find gozleme for lunch one day. The town didn’t really have a whole lot to offer us. Sure there was a beautiful fish market, surrounded by spice and vegetable stalls, but as a hotel guest (without a kitchen) we were more on the hunt for street food. We eventually found a single harbour-side cafe full of elderly Turkish men drinking tea and playing backgammon under the shade of some trees. Tucked in the centre, a shack selling gozleme. We ordered the variety stuffed with cheese and herbs. Each portion cost about £1.50 and was completely delicious. Despite the generous portion sizes, we could have eaten plates and plates, so tasty it was.

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Our little jetty

One of the most stand-out meals we ate was our last. We’d devoured so much lamb sis and kofte already but were completely tempted by two slow-cooked lamb dishes. One with a crispy, crackling-like top served in a metal dish surrounded by a buttery mix of onions, tiny potatoes, melting garlic and tomatoes. The second was called Lamb Elbasan and was cooked in a ridiculously rich cheesy bechamel. Both were completely amazing. The lamb so, so tender and deeply flavoured. I’ve never had such meltingly textured meat. If you’re looking to put on half a stone in a single sitting, these are the dishes to eat. Wow.

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Mezelicious. The aubergine ones stood out. And that bread!

One of the most simple but delicious things we ate were actually the tomatoes. So juicy and red! So sweet! Once again, the rest of Europe showing off how much their tomatoes completely but the UK ones to shame. I don’t think I’ll ever eat another British tomato (well, you can find a few decent ones in late summer but they’re fairly hard to find in London). We ate them on toast with herbs and cheese for breakfast. One of the other great surprises was the dishes of vegetables slow cooked in olive oil – I think I’ll be posting more on this later!

IMG_4903Super garlicky, buttery octopus alongside aubergine meze

Well I’m sure you can form your own conclusion from the above – some serious salad eating is in order from here on!

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