Two Local Dishes in Antalya, Turkey

In order to attend the Dubai Expo 2020 right before it ended on March 31st, I was looking at creative routings from Amsterdam. Flying direct was expensive, so perhaps there was an intermediate point that would be both a new place to a visit, and a way to lessen the cost of the trip.

SunExpress, the joint Turkish-German airline transporting frozen Europeans to warmer resorts in Turkey, came through; they not only flew from Amsterdam to Antalya, one of the most popular tourist cities on the Mediterranean, but also had a convenient (albeit seasonal) flight to Dubai. Done deal!

Now that a short weekend stay was arranged, it was time to start searching for Antalya famous foods. I asked the flight attendants about what to eat, and they all mentioned two particular dishes, piyaz and kabak tatlısı. Antalya hotel staff concurred.

I’m a bit familiar by now with Turkish food, but I had no idea what either of those things were. Even better!

Let’s start with piyaz.

piyaz turkish meal antalya

Piyaz refers to a (white) beans salad, although it stems from a Persian word meaning onion. In Antalya, piyaz receives the red-carpet treatment, getting served with tahin (tahini/sesame paste), tomatoes, onions, garlic, parsley, hard-boiled eggs, vinegar, and olive oil. The tahini makes it very rich, and the vinegar adds an unusual flavor profile not commonly seen in Turkey, save for some pickle recipes.

Oddly, as much as I repeatedly praise Turkish cuisine, the vinegar threw me off. That said, it’s an excellent dish to scoop up with local bread, then topping it with köfte (minced meatballs/skewers).

On the other hand, there was the dessert.

pumpkin dessert antalya turkey
Kabak Tatlısı (Pumpkin Dessert) in Antalya, Turkey

Kabak tatlısı translates as pumpkin dessert, and wow did that hit the spot. Pieces of pumpkin are candied in sugar syrup, then are topped with tahini and crushed walnuts. Some recipes use kaymak, or water buffalo clotted cream. Given that pumpkin is the star, it’s a colder weather dessert; indeed, when you’re eating out in Turkey, you might want to ask the waitstaff about what’s in season.


Have you been to Antalya?

Exploring Turkish Antakyan (Antioch) Cuisine at Hatay Sultan Sofrası

In one of my favorite countries for eating, is Antakya the BEST region to eat?

In the southern tip of Turkey that juts into Syria lies Hatay province, well-known for its ancient Roman mosaics, playing host to the sole remaining Armenian village in the country, and the city of Antakya, formerly known as Antioch. For a bit of history, Antioch was founded in ~300 B.C. by Seleucus I Nicator, a comrade of Alexander the Great. Due to its geographic position by the Mediterranean, it was a major center of trade, at one point even rivaling Constantinople and Rome for its wealth and architectural  grandeur.

Consequently, merchants from all over the Middle East, Asia Minor, and the Mediterranean would trade in Antioch, often bringing ingredients from their homelands with them. Thus, dishes that you would see in today’s Antakya stand out amongst other regional Turkish foods, not simply because of its geography, but also due to its erstwhile bustling centers of commerce.

hatay sultan sofrasi restaurant antakya turkey
Enjoying a Variety of Antakyan (Antioch) Dishes at Hatay Sultan Sofrası, Antakya, Turkey

For example, you might notice more cumin, walnuts, and chickpeas on the menu in Antakya than elsewhere in the country. In fact, one of the principle dishes in that area is called aşur, a surprisingly chewy yet undeniably decadent mix of chickpeas, walnuts, cumin, onions, peppers, and bulgur wheat (used in tabbouleh and its Turkish cousin kısır). Indeed, considering its location in the Levant (comprising Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, as well as Hatay province), many dishes are more emblematic of that part of the world than of Turkey.

Henüz aç mı? (Hungry yet?) Check out my video below from the restaurant Hatay Sultan Sofrası, located in downtown Antakya.

Gaziantep, Turkey: City of Baklava and Pistachios

It’s not so easy to determine which place can call itself the true inventor of baklava, since it’s existence isn’t well-documented prior to the 19th century. It may come from present-day Iran, Turkey, Syria, Greece, or Armenia, although its popularity certainly spread throughout the Balkans and beyond because of the Ottoman Empire.

Years ago, the European Union (EU) did Turkish cuisine a solid by considering Turkey to be the creator of baklava, placing it on its list of items protected designation of origin, as well as protected geographical indication. However, one joy of eating is to appreciate food without getting caught up in a geopolitical kerfuffle.

Koçak Baklava Gaziantep Turkey
Sampler Platter of Baklava and a Turkish Coffee at Koçak Baklava, Gaziantep, Turkey

Forming part of a hub of Turkish food in southern central Anatolia, if you want to eat like a local, the city of Gaziantep is known for two things– baklava, and pistachios. There’s also baklava’s cousin, katmer, but it’s not nearly as well-known overseas.

Unfortunately, I accidentally deleted my video of Karagöz Caddesi, or what I consider to be Gaziantep’s “baklava street,” but there are plenty of other sweets shops around to reel you in. However, I did prepare a brief baklava tour of the city; given the deliciousness of the country, more videos of Turkish gastronomy will undoubtedly follow!

Istanbul’s Van Kahvaltı Evi, for Your All Day Turkish Breakfast Needs

You might know Turkey best for its döner kebabs, baklava, and dried fruit. But did you know that breakfast, called kahvaltı (kah-val-TUH) is the most important meal in Turkey?

In my experience, most Turkish hotels will offer some combination of raw vegetables, breads, cheeses, cold cuts, and sweet spreads like honey and jam. Everything tastes fresh, there’s variety, even at the most humble of lodgings, and you can be sure that tea comes a flowin’.

turkish breakfast Van Kahvalti Evi
Delicious Eastern Anatolian Sampler Platter at Van Kahvalti Evi, Istanbul, Turkey

However, if you’ve just got a short stay in Istanbul — even a long layover — why not check out Van Kahvaltı Evi for a primer on Turkish breakfast and hospitality? They’ve got two branches, the main one in Cihangir, near Taksim, and another in Nişantaşı, both on the European side of Istanbul.

Semolina Halva/İrmik Helvası (Turkey)

My first trip to Turkey was in 2006; I went with my family to Istanbul, Kayseri, and Göreme, the epicenter of Cappadocia and its unusual fairy chimneys:

Cappadocia fairy chimneys
Göreme, Turkey, Home of Cappadocia’s Fairy Chimneys

Now, even 16 years ago, I realized that Turkish food was excellent; the kebabs, baklava, dried fruit … just about everything was delicious. But those were already well-known foods before visiting Turkey. How about something new?

While on a tour of Cappadocia, we were invited to eat with a local Turkish family. Although I recall the entire meal being good, only the dessert is still memorable to this day. Why? Perhaps because it was the only dish that I was trying for the first time– the main ingredients were some sort of grain, mixed with copious amounts of butter, sugar, and pine nuts.

I didn’t know the name of the meal until a chance encounter last year in Skopje, North Macedonia:

pistachio halva with peanuts
Helvacı Ali, Skopje, North Macedonia- Semolina Halva (İrmik Helvası)

I couldn’t believe it. After 16 years, I had finally rediscovered the very same dessert, and perhaps more importantly, found out its name– irmik helvası, in English, semolina halva.

Of course! Semolina, the milled wheat product also commonly used in pasta and couscous, was the grain. More embarrassingly, I’ve had nearly identical semolina-based desserts — similarly called halwah — in India.

But this version, found at a Turkish dessert chain called Helvacı Ali, was a dolled-up one, flavored with pistachios and topped with peanuts.

Last month, I popped by the same chain in Istanbul, for an even more ridiculous exemplar– pistachio and chocolate halva topped with tahini and crushed pistachios:

pistachio chocolate semolina halva
Helvacı Ali, Istanbul, Turkey – Semolina Halva (İrmik Helvası)

It’s customary to have semolina halva with black tea during the winter, and Turkish ice cream, called dondurma, during the summer.

Recipe!

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