One of the excellent parts of being a travel writer is the ability to taste unique, natural, and, without a doubt, the most beneficial local products and having the opportunity to experience them along with the culture and traditions of each region while traveling around Anatolia.
The Anatolian cuisine is like a bottomless pit. It is literally an ocean we have inherited with all of its unique flavors and the effects like climate and soil that have been highlighting those flavors for centuries. But the Anatolian people are the most important because they are the ones to attach the significant value to the cuisine through what they have shared, told, and carried from one generation to another. No matter what we write for this ancient cuisine in here, it will not be enough, so I opened my kitchen cabinet’s door and once again I have traveled around the regions one by one for you. Join me and let’s go all together to taste those unique flavors.
ALMONDS OF DATÇA
In the unique climate of Datça, endemic almonds with diverse tastes and aromas are grown. There are also more than 35 types; (shining) almond, (white) almond, Kababağ, Dedebağ, horişti, sıra (row) almond, dişli (toothed) almonds… It is said that the most exceptional quality is the shining almond. The easiest to eat is the toothed almond that can be broken by teeth. The outer shell or unripe almond is green and fresh; they are sold on the streets in the months of May and June. The season is short for incredibly popular ice-almonds, which are made by letting unshelled fresh almonds rest on ice for an easy peel. Dry almonds, which are picked after their outer shells opened when they were still on the tree in July and August and sundried before being sold, equally deliver a distinct flavor.
Almond is not only a product that develops Datça, but it is also a culture, a culinary experience. Bitter almond cookie, honey almonds, figs almonds, marzipan, macaroons are worth trying. Don’t forget trying the dishes like almond chicken, almond fish or almond meatballs. Especially if you come across a wedding, do your best to taste the groom’s dessert presented to the bride’s house by the groom on the wedding night. In the baklava type of dessert, almonds are used instead of walnuts or peanuts. If you want to experience the most pleasant times of Datça, let the almond blossom festival held in winter secure its place on your agenda.
PURPLE BASIL TEA OF ARAPGİR
Purple basil that makes us happy with its fragrance and color as an herb is now equally appealing to our taste buds as an herbal tea in Arapgir, Malatya. İnonü University Dean of Engineering Faculty Prof. Dr. Ali Adnan Hayaloğlu, as a result of years of rigorous work, was able to produce tea from the purple basil that grows only in Arapgir with nearly 200 types of aromas. One of these aromas contains a fly repelling substance known as linalool, which is found around 40-60% in purple basil. An application had been filed with the Turkish Patent Institute for the protection of the Arapgir’s Purple Basil. The purple color of basil is also extremely important; when the Arapgir refinery was planted in Malatya, the purple color turned green. Therefore, to see the complete features of this basil, Arapgir soil and water is required. Purple basil tea is a very aromatic and beneficial drink made from dried basil leaves, which grows densely in the Kozluk Valley in the Arapgir district. It maintains natural antiseptic properties. Ibn-i Sina had also used basil tea for healing. Basil tea is very beneficial to drink for our health due to its essential oils and its strong antioxidant effect. Basil strengthens the immune system; it is excellent for colds, beneficial as a cough suppressant and plays a role as an intestinal regulatory in infants and adults. The leaves of the purple basil are collected and dried at the time of flowering and used for tea production.
WILD GARLIC OF TUNCELİ
An extraordinary garlic species… It consists of a single clove, and it can grow to be as large as an egg. It is an endemic species that can bloom and produce seeds. According to the scientists, it is the forefather of cultivated garlic. It has a different flavor from an ordinary garlic. Its smell is less strong, and its aroma is stronger. It is a rare species only found in the Munzur Valley National Park where numerous endemic species come together and especially in the Ovacık and Pülümür districts located in the skirts of Mount Munzur in the world. Wild Garlic of Tunceli (Tunceli Yaban Sarımsağı -Tunceli Allium ) is accepted as a species that must be under protection in the Red Book of Plants of Turkey (Türkiye Bitkileri Kırmızı Kitabı). Having a single clove and less number of outer shells than a cultivated garlic has, and its long storage life between 18-20 ºC are among the characteristics that also make it valuable in the market. This naturally grown garlic species which is picked by the locals from the 1500-2000 meter altitude of the mountains turns to green in May. Picked every year in increasing numbers, this garlic species is facing the danger of extinction as long as it is picked before it spreads its seeds. This is why early harvesting is illegal and there is a fine for it. It is accepted also as a natural antibiotic. Although it is naturally grown, it is known that the experimental cultivation of it presented somewhat success in the recent years.
BARDACIK OF İZMİR
People of the Aegean cannot wait for it because it is the apple of the eye for them among all fig species. Especially, the people of İzmir treasures them. The slight splitting on the yellowish-green skin is normal for a ripe fruit. Unfortunately, they are enjoyable for a short time; the season lasts only for two-three weeks. They reveal their facec in the second half of August every year and become an indispensable of breakfasts. When bardacık is brought to the table, this means there can be no room for another fruit on the table. The people of İzmir love to have it for breakfast and glower at those who call it a fig. It is a precious fruit; it is hard to harvest; it is crushed easily because of its thin skin surface. That is why the farmers climb on trees with socks on early in the morning to handpick them one by one. They make pillows out of fig leaves to lay at the bottoms of the baskets. Instead of eating bardacık with its skin and before being called a vulgar for it, watch someone from İzmir while eating one. It is like a ritual. Its pollination is also unusual. It can only be done through a 1.5 mm fly called fig wasp. Fig wasps become a transporter of the pollen from the flowers of the wild fig trees. Fig jam is made only from the fruits of wild fig trees. Bardacık, which is sold double or triple the price of regular figs, is only one of the hundreds of fig species in İzmir. It has been told its sap heals some skin diseases like warts.
POMEGRANATE SYRUP OF ANTAKYA
Antakya’s kitchen is a synthesized one. Turkish, Arabic, and French influences reveal themselves in each meal. There are indispensables of an Antakya kitchen; natural olive oil, ricotta cheese, salted yogurt, zahter spice mix, red pepper paste, tomato paste, green olives, spicy red pepper flakes, and pomegranate syrup. Pomegranate syrup, produced particularly in the Aegean and Mediterranean regions, adds a unique flavor to salads, cold dishes, and main dishes of the Anatolian cuisine. Pomegranate syrup must not contain any preservatives in order to acquire a natural and delicious flavor. “Pomegranate syrup sauces” sold in markets typically contain preservatives and chemicals, and glucose syrup as well. Real pomegranate syrup is a very thick syrup. A palatable pomegranate syrup is traditionally made at home. It is derived through the caramelization of the sugar that pomegranate juice contains. The secret to its density is the wood fire and the scorching sun of Hatay. Producers usually collect the pomegranates from their own orchards; cut them in halves, turn them over and keep hitting the backs with a wooden spoon until all the seeds fall out. The seeds are boiled down to a syrup on a low heat wood fire stirred constantly. After being rested in the sun for days, finally the juice thickens. It is 100% home and handmade. Even someone with not experience at all can tell that. When we consider that about 10 kg of pomegranate yields to 1-1.5 kg pure pomegranate syrup, we recognize the enormity of the effort spent. Diabetics can consume pomegranate syrup. It is also appetizing.
TEA OF RİZE
Tea is the essential hot beverage of friendly chats not only in our culture but also in many other cultures around the world. Its past goes back to thousands of years, and its drinking rituals are numerous. Our country is also passionate about its tea and has unique drinking traditions for it. The rim of the wasp-waisted tea glass must be thick and wide. This maintains the warmth of the tea on one hand while making it easier to drink by decreasing the heat of the tea sipped on the other. Tea is among the organic agricultural products of our country. This has been possible because the plant is extremely durable and it doesn’t require much fertilization and attention. Thanks to its climate, Rize is where tea is grown easily. The tea leaves are traditionally collected by the strong women of the Black Sea Region in Rize. It is harvested three times a year. Leaves are used to be collected by hand, but today it is collected by using a unique pair of scissors that collects the leaves into their attached bags. Harvested leaves are transported to central areas via mini-cable-cars. Tea grows also in other parts of the Black Sea Region; however, it seems as if it enjoys the climate in Rize the most. Tea of Rize is organically grown without the use of preservatives. It has only Rize’s air and water in it. A genuine cup of hot tea helps with the elimination of the toxins from the body, while it also soothes and increases the ability to focus. It has a balancing effect on the stomach and digestive system problems and maintains the mineral balance of the metabolism.