Well world, ready or not, here we come. After exploring Turkey’s culture and flavors on or own, it is time to share these wonders with others. Epicurean Travel launched our first tour on the night of April 21st! After my first trip to Turkey, I could not have been more excited for the day to come. I was eager for the opportunity to return to and see again the wonderful places that I had visited and good friends that I had made. And I now also have the privilege of exploring new areas of Turkey and creating new memories with fellow Epicurean Travelers. Such an event could not be initiated with anything less than a mind-blowing dinner.
Once the group assembled that night in Istanbul, everyone became acquainted over an incredible dinner at a Greek-style seafood restaurant (although it would not be referred to as a “Greek” restaurant in Turkey). It is common on the west coast of Turkey, and in Istanbul in particular, for good restaurants to serve meze (Turkish appetizers) and fish. Most of these types of restaurants were initially managed by Greek owners or chefs, but are now for the most part known as Turkish seafood restaurants.
To help give our guests’ palates a full orientation to what to expect, we sampled all of the restaurant’s meze options. These dishes may be small in portion, but they certainly are BIG in flavor. We happily enjoyed a wide variety of meze ranging from various eggplant dishes to smoked and cured fishes. Each one was delicious, but the real stars of the meal were the tender calamari rings with a tartar sauce that was a revelation, made with walnuts, garlic and breadcrumbs rather than the less appealing mayonnaise and relish concoction back home; and the best octopus that any of us had ever eaten. The octopus was grilled with a subtle charcoal flavor and it was meaty, yet tender, and perfectly flavored.
To continue our guests’ gastronomic introduction, we each ordered from the selection of freshly caught fish of the day. We then proceeded to a sweet finish. We nibbled on halva, delicious sweet finger casserole and warm sesame pudding. While halva is rather common, the sesame pudding and finger casserole (especially) are real treats and truly distinguish this seafood restaurant from many others. It just goes to show that not all seafood establishments are created equal. We had the extra privilege of sampling some cake made for a generous patron celebrating a birthday, which really suited the restaurant’s warm atmosphere.
The cherry on the top (which I mean literally and figuratively) came with a complementary beverage offering. While most fish restaurants would serve you a standard mint liquor, this restaurant served a homemade cherry liquor from cherries harvested from their own garden. If that is not top class, I am not sure what is.
It was a fantastic way to start such a significant adventure. Despite leaving the restaurant completely full, it left us hungry for what was next!
3 Responses to “A ‘Little’ Taste Of Things To Come: Welcome to Turkey”
Recently I was one of the lucky ones to participate on an Epicurean Travel tour. After our trek from Tampa to Istanbul (there are no direct flights from Tampa) we checked into a plush hotel in the Old City, then headed off for a mini stroll down the cobblestone roads. All of our senses were immediately revived by all the fascinating sights & sounds. Store fronts housed exquisite Turkish carpets, pottery, tiles, garments & bags mingled with the delicious smells of spices & teas & flowers. Soon I was standing in the Hippodrome where chariots once raced & now is home to towering obelisks over 2,000 years old. A few steps later I was humbled while standing between two magnificent shrines, the Blue Mosque & the Hagia Sophia Mosque; in fact I was in awe in front of these domed structural masterpieces which are separated by beautiful lawns. We continued down another quaint cobblestone road to an artist’s studio. A painter invited us to watch while he dropped paint into a bath of water & oil and using only sticks created a flower in the liquid. Next he dipped a sheet of paper into the bath and created a beautiful flowered painting with a marbled back round. I regret not purchasing one of his works -– maybe I did this on purpose as one of the many reasons to return to Istanbul one day.
After we arrived back at the hotel we met the other intrepid travelers in our group and walked to a restaurant that looked like a charming old house. My oh my, what a feast! First a warm & incredibly tender & delicious calamari sprinkled with crushed nuts was served. Multiple scrumptious bowls appeared next filled with every color vegetable from sauteed dandelion greens to bright red grilled peppers, cheeses, dips, cheeses, & fish served with baskets of a tasty flat breads– everything looked & tasted wonderful. The next course came, grilled octopus & calamari. Each moist & succulent bite made me wonder why I never tried octopus before –- yum! I thought it was time for dessert but then came the main course, a perfectly grilled & flaky sea bass. It was too good to waste, so I ate that too. A lip-smacking sweet pudding & homemade cherry liqueur ended this unbelievable meal. Now this is my idea of Turkish delight and this was only the first day!
One of the unusual things we had at that amazing fish restaurant was described by our server and host as “the original tartar sauce”. Not at all what we are used to (mayo, pickles) but crunchy with nuts. As it turns out, the excellent Turquoise cookbook has the recipe, or a similar recipe at least. Now all I have to do before I make it is to make red pepper paste, which is called for as an ingredient, and which I neglected to buy in Turkey. Recipes for that say to make the paste, spread it in a pan and leave it in the sun all day to dry. Or perhaps a low oven for 6 hours. What fun!
The main courses were absolutely wonderful … and superfluous, almost, at the same time. Just look at the starters!