Being at the crossroads between East and West, Turkey has always been on the route of civilizations, becoming the stopping-place of countless cultures. There’s no doubt that it is this past that paved the way for Turkey to become one of the richest countries in diversity of flavors and cuisines.
While Istanbul seems the obvious capital of culture and food in Turkey, especially when it comes to street food, Anatolia is where you should look if what you want is hidden treasures of ancient civilizations, from artefacts to temples, to natural wonders, and well-preserved Turkish food traditions.
As a travel blogger, I had the chance to be the guest of a gastronomy tour organized by Anatoliacadsa association, along with Lebanese cookbook author Barbara Massaad and winemaker Maher Harb, inviting us to explore and unlock the rich flavors of Anatolia. Why don’t we take a trip together into the history, culture, and food traditions of Central Turkey?
Goreme: Home of fairy chimneys – and much more.
We started our tour in Goreme, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Cappadocia, one hour away from Istanbul by plane. Here, we stayed two nights at Elegance Cave Suites Hotel, which, like most of Cappadocia hotels, welcome tourists in charming cave-like rooms. Our short stay at Goreme was packed with tummy-filling and soul-enriching experiences that gave us the best taste of Cappadocia’s culture and heritage.
In a nutshell, here is your best itinerary for this Turkish destination:
Enjoy Craft Traditions at Guray Muze
The beautiful Guray Muze underground cave museum, made of sand stone like the rest of Cappadocia’s landscape, is home to an impressive collection of antique & modern Turkish artifacts, ceramics, and pottery. Not only did we have the chance to check this collection, but we were also introduced to the workshop area where we watched artisans engage in beautiful traditional crafts such as ceramic painting and pottery making. My favorite part was taking my own turn in trying pottery making; a complete revelation for me! I admit I have never experienced such a soothing experience and definitely intend to explore it more!
Ask for a Panoramic Viewpoint
Cappadocia has definitely more than one stunning viewpoint overlooking its disgustingly unique rock formations. Our tour included a tea and Gozleme break with a breathtaking view, I’m sure you can find one that could leave you as breathless! Going back to Gozleme, it resembled a Turkish version of the Lebanese “man’ousheh” or “ftireh” (pie) for me: a flatbread made of unleavened dough and filled with cheese or plants.
Marvel at Fairy Chimneys and Fairy-Tale Sunrises
The magic moment you should chase during your time in Goreme, Cappadocia is watching the sunrise at the Lovers’ Hill. The hot-air-balloon-filled sky will make your 6am wake-up call the best decision of your trip. We spent an hour gazing in awe at the countless balloons going up in batches, trying our best to capture the magic we were seeing with our eyes. This sight was on my bucket list for a while and I’m grateful this unplanned trip made my wish come true!
Witness the Earliest Days of Christianity at the Open-Air Museum
The second cultural-historical stop you should not miss in Goreme is the Open-Air Museum. The museum, considered a national park, is one of the most popular attractions in Goreme-Cappadocia, and one of the first two UNESCO World Heritage sites in Turkey! Visiting the open-air museum was like a fascinating voyage into the history of Christianity in the region through caves and rock formations that are out of this world. The museum is home to 10th and 12th century churches that were originally carved out of existing rock and display beautiful frescos (wall painting)! I would recommend allocating 2 hours for this experience and being there at 9am before the place gets flooded with tourists!
Testi Kebab: The Traditional Taste of Anatolia in Cappadocia
Let’s get to my favorite part: food! If you’re looking for a specialty traditional dish in Cappadocia, Pottery kebab or Testi Kebab is your go-to dish. Specific to the region of pottery in Anatolia, the dish is made in clay pot or jug, consisting of lamb meat and vegetables cooked slowly for hours in a clay oven, and sealed with bread dough. The food tradition is not only enjoyed through its well-steamed and infused flavors but also in the way it is presented and served to you. The typical floor-sitting mood of the right restaurant is the little detail that would complete the whole experience. If you want to know more about Testi Kebab and the best place to enjoy it in Gureme, click here.
Cappadocia: A Wine Country
Cappadocia also offers something for wine lovers. As one of the first wine-producing areas in Turkey, Cappadocia offers different grape varietals, most renowned of which are the Emir and Narince. Our wine tasting session was scheduled at the Kocabağ Wines, a family-owned wine producing company that has managed to become one of the top five wineries in Turkey! I personally loved the wines, especially the red ones.
The Ancient Art of Tapestry Weaving
If you still have time and love exploring traditional crafts, why not immerse yourself in the long-standing tradition of tapestry weaving? Did you know that the Turks were the earliest carpet weavers? It is believed the craft was introduced to Anatolia back in the 12th century, becoming a deeply-anchored tradition, especially in the lives of women. During our trip, we visited a carpet factory called Metis Carpet where we had the chance to see how this traditional craft is still handmade by local women using ancient techniques of natural coloring and weaving. I never knew that the process of silk-making and weaving could take years to finish; it made sense when we saw the women intricately working on their looms and the time it takes them to finish one single row of weaving!
Kirsehir: Home of Music, Poetry, and the Ahi brotherhood.
The second part of our trip was dedicated to Kirsehir, a city that is one hour and a half away drive from Cappadocia. If Cappadocia felt like the dreamy heart of Anatolia, Kirsehir was definitely the roots of it, deeply anchored in heritage and traditions.
Why is Kirsehir the perfect day trip plan from Cappadocia to immerse yourself deeper into the Anatolian culture? Because, in addition to being selected as a UNESCO Creative City for its music heritage in 2019, Kirsehir is one of the rare cities that holds strongly to championing traditions and heritage preservation.
Here are five main highlights you should not miss about this city:
Safeguarding the Ahi Spirit
At the core of Kirsehir’s values lies the Ahi Brotherhood. Although this “movement” was founded in the 1200s and disappeared towards the end of the Ottoman rule, its traces are still rooted in the living of the city. Founded on the principles of honesty, fraternity, bravery, and morals, the brotherhood intended to provide a common shelter for tradesmen and craftsmen under which they can live and work according to religious and social values. The first stop of our tour was to the previous “centre” – now a mosque – where these craftsmen and tradesmen used to be trained. What’s more meaningful than the visit itself to the Ahi Evran Shrine and Mosque, where lies the bodies of Ahi Evran, founder of the Brotherhood, and his wife’s, is the story behind it and its social impact.
Home to the First Astrology School in the World
I was impressed to know that Kirsehir is home to the first astrology school in the world! Apparently, the city was a great center for science and arts. The Cacabey Astrological Observatory Madrasah is at walking distance from the Ahi Evran Shrine and Mosque, located near a big plaza (it’s worth mentioning that Kirsehir has many nice public plazas or squares where people meet and enjoy a cup of coffee when the sun is out!). The “madrasah” was converted into a mosque in the 20th century. The building is beautiful to see with its Anatolian typical architecture distinguished by columns and many mathematical engravings.
The Hub of Anatolian Music
Anatolian music is a very important part of Kirsehir’s heritage. A little melancholic, nostalgic, and very poetic (reminds me of Fado), the music passes from generation to another, singing famous Turkish poets and shaping the lives of communities here. This authentic local music, called Bozlak, is mainly associated to Turkish folk composer and singer Neset Ertas who was designated as a Living Human Treasure by UNESCO in 2008. A museum in his name, the Neset Ertas Museum, was open in the city of Kirsehir with the aim of exhibiting the heritage of Turkish folk music. The museum was a happy highlight in our tour in Kirsehir, giving us a glimpse of the rich poetry, literature, and music heritage of the city, which was home to many famous poets.
Where Thermal Springs Heal
It’s worth mentioning that Kirsehir is a hot destination for hot springs. The city’s healing thermal springs, rich in sulphur and health benefits, have definitely attracted five-star resorts and hotels, and with them, tourists who love well-being retreats.
Where Food is an Ambassador of Traditions
Although we started our day at Kirsehir with an exquisite food tasting experience, I wanted to leave the best for last. Our experience of the local food ingredients and traditions took place at the Agalar Cultural House, also called Agalar Konagi. Here, we were welcomed by Eyüp Temur, the Kırşehir city deputy manager of culture and tourism who accompanied us in this experience, taking us through the local meals we deliciously savoured.
Since I am dedicating a separate article for the Anatolian food traditions in Kirsehir, I will give you a quick glimpse of what we tasted at the restaurant:
- Pepper Dolma filled with bulgur
- Çirleme (Lamb meat cooked with apricot and grape molasse)
- Kirsehir Kaman Walnuts
- Grape Molasse
- Okra soup
- Leg of lamb with bulgur
- Local yogurt
- Local dessert
These meals are the gateway to Kirsehir’s food cultures and traditions. Using endemic ingredients, they reflect the unique flavors of such terroir and all the farming and sourcing traditions behind them that still live on. If you want to go on a pure Anatolian culinary voyage, click here for a mouth-watering treat!