Few weeks back, I was invited on a gastronomy tour in the Central Anatolian provinces of Nevsehir and Kirsehir with food writer Barbara Massaad, food passionate and winemaker Maher Harb, and journalist, writer, and editor, Paul Osterlund, led by our amazing Turkish guide Kubra.
The purpose of our trip was to explore and promote the food traditions of the lesser-known parts of Turkey, which preserve wholeheartedly to date the traditional recipes of their ancestors.
The technical term for that would actually be “slow food”, as opposed to fast food, referring to the local food cultures and traditions. Slow food practices are endorsed worldwide by Slow Food International, an organization born in Italy in 1986 and spread globally with a mission to prevent the disappearance of such traditions. In Lebanon, my friend Barbara Massaad being the President of the Beirut chapter, I was lucky she endorsed me to embark with her on this beautiful culinary adventure.
After a well-spent 24 hours in the Goreme town of Cappadocia, our next adventure drove us to Kirsehir, an hour and a half by car from our hotel.
Welcome to Kirsehir
Upon our arrival, we were greeted by Eyüp Temur, the Kırşehir city deputy manager of culture and tourism, at Agalar Konagi (Agalar Cultural House), a restaurant run by the city and offering the most exquisite sampling of Kirsehir’s food traditions.
With the presence of local press and the two talented women who passionately prepared our meals, we were escorted on a journey of local flavors served in small plates that kept coming.
The Food Eperience
What particularly delighted my buds was the locally-produced grape molasses, which constitute an essential component in Turkish cuisine. This ingredient is so important that it’s served as a dish by itself on the table, while also being cooked in meals. Our grape-molasses dish was the Çirleme, a delicious stew cooked with shredded beef, dried apricots, and chickpeas. Sweet and sour, exactly like I love it!
As a fruit species indigenous to Turkey, the Kirsehir Kaman walnuts also made it to the table in their own plate. They are apparently a famous condiment that accompanies any meal here. One of the best walnuts I’ve ever tasted!
Another dish that stood out for me was the Cemele Pepper Dolma. This dish is made of local peppers filled with bourghul (as an alternative to rice in Lebanon), which made all the difference for me! The filling included onions, bourghul, tomato, red pepper paste, and a touch of molasses. Simple heavenly and probably my sweetest discovery in Turkey! I would definitely fill dolma with bourghul instead of rice from now on, and add some molasses to it!
Speaking of bourghul, another main meal we tasted was lamb leg on a bed of bourghul. Everything was perfect about this lamb meat. How can it not be when it’s Turkish and traditionally cooked?
Others dished we tasted were the okra soup (first time for me as we usually eat it as a dish with side rice in Lebanon), the Turkish manti – of course – where the dumplings were boiled instead of baked (I liked it very much), local yogurt (a must on every Turkish table), and the Yufka bread (not my favorite).
For dessert, and as Barbara Massaad clearly describes in her own article about this trip, we tasted:
Baklava – a Turkish variation, not flavored with any rose or orange blossom water. It was a bit heavy.
Ahi halva – balls made of a mixture of cooked butter, grape molasses, flour rolled in sesame seeds. It was really good! (This one was my favorite!!)
Hosmerim – balls made with a mixture of sugar, butter, oil, and flour, garnished with walnuts.
What a feast!
Our tasting ended on a high note with Turkish coffee in the sun!
Food Traditions & more…
Happily stuffed, we went off to enjoy the rest of our day with other cultural stops around Kirsehir. To know more about the city of the Ahi brotherhood, Turkish music heritage and food traditions, check my article here!
While I write these words, I reminisce on a happy experience that I feel grateful to have lived. I’ve always believed that food cultures constitute an intrinsic part to any travel experience that looks to be immersed in local cultures and traditions. Although food tourism might not take off in the near future in Kirsehir due to the Covid19 pandemic, I really hope this part of Turkey gets the attention and tourism it deserves one day. I hope my articles gave you a taste of the diversity and richness of these traditions in the meantime. Happy to read your comments and questions!
Meanwhile, stay home and stay safe.