Walking Food Tour of Istanbul

Istanbul is the perfect destination for food lovers. Every street corner catches your attention as interesting smells and sights promise something exciting. Food, in Turkey, is street performance, an art show, an attraction – not just for feeding your belly. You will see that people are eating all the time, everywhere. There are no set times of the day to enjoy a good meal, a Turkish coffee, honey laden sweets, or a little pizza.

With thousands of eateries featuring so many different kinds of dishes, it is easy to get lost in the bazaars. So I made a good decision of booking a Food Tour with  Turkish Flavours on my first day in Istanbul. I met Ms Taciser, a knowledgeable and charming Turkish lady, in front of the Spice Market (also known as the Egyptian Market) at 9:30am. She gave a briefing about what was to come – about 5 hours of walking through the Spice Market, a ferry to Kadıköy on the Asian side of Istanbul, tasting at the famous street Eminönü and historical Kadıköy market, followed by an Anatolian lunch. Little did I know, we are about to embark on a 35 COURSE journey, eating our way through some of the best eateries in Istanbul.

Here are some of the highlights of our culinary walking tour of Istanbul…

At the entrance to the Spice Market, are vendors selling all of your daily grocery needs, the first one being cheese. Turkish people eat many different kinds of cow and sheep’s milk cheese (known as peynir) for breakfast, as appetizers, and in cooking. Read introduction to Turkish cheese for more details.

sheep and goat cheese

In Turkey, table olives are consumed in large quantities, raw, cooked, preserved, olive oil, olive soap, etc. Turkey is noted for its wealth of varieties—over 50 in all. The most common Turkish olives are grown in the Marmara, Aegean, Mediterranean and Southeast Anatolia regions. The key varieties are the Memeli, Donat, Ismir Sofralik, Ayvalik, Ekiste, Elebi, Erkence, Gemlik, Memecik, Trilya, and Uslu.

spice market Istanbul

Stores filled with moulds of fresh spices are also abundant. You can find practically any spice on the planet here, but most Turkish households don’t use a lot for cooking. The commonly found Turkish spices include oregano, red pepper, paprika, dried mint, allspice, cinnamon, cumin, sumac, sesame seeds and black cumin (nigella) seeds.

Stop for dry fruits, coffee, Turkish sweets and apple tea, before making your way out of the spice bazaar.

food tour nuts

I tried for the first time – fried mussels with tarator (midye tava), a popular street food made with fresh mussels. This is one of the rare seafood dishes eaten in Istanbul, aside from the “fish-only” restaurants.

fried mussels

This stop for Turkish pizza (known as pide) is worth alone the entire tour! The flatbread stuffed with ground beef, lamb or cheese and spices is satisfying with a glass of tea at breakfast, and Ayran (yogurt drink) at lunch. Go to the stall around lunchtime and smell the fresh dough rising from the oven.

pizza Istanbul

The sweet shop, Gazianstep, located next to the pizza place, is hard to pass by without a stare. Honey soaked tulumba, fresh kadayif, and a dozen kinds of baklava, are just a few items the bakers prepare each morning. sweet shop Istanbul

Then we will take a ferry to Kadıköy on the Asian side of Istanbul from Eminönü, the famous shopping street in Istanbul. There were good opportunities for taking photos of vendors selling fresh fish, peddlers making coffee over charcoal, and dried spices hanging like beads. We made about 15 more stops as we strolled through the busy markets and historic sites. Finally, we stopped for lunch at the New York Times acclaimed Ciya restaurant in Kadıköy market. Here we met the owner/chef and tasted about 10 more dishes! (Click here to read more on that).

istanbul coffee

 

This walking food tour was unlike any other I have done before. It gave a very good overview of Turkish cuisine, exposing me to many different kinds of dishes. My culinary knowledge expanded so well this day, that I knew exactly what to order during the rest of my stay in Turkey. I was even able to help other travelers make choices at dinnertime!

The Taste Istanbul Food tours starts at 9:30 am and ends around 2:30 pm. Cost is $125 per person, which includes continuous tastings, English speaking guide, round trip ferry tickets, and a hearty lunch. Do not plan to eat before or after the tour!

~ This tour was sponsored by Turkish Flavours. 

Dinner with the Yavuz family in Konya

One of my favorite experiences when visiting new places is dining with the locals at their homes. Thanks to The Atlantic Institute and Hizmat or the Gulan movement, the Yavuz family invite me and my fellow travelers from Atlanta for a traditional Turkish dinner. They lived in a modern flat in a posh residential area of Konya. Located in the central Anatolia region of Turkey, Konya attracts visitors to Dervish school and tomb of the famous poet, Rumi.

We were greeted by Ahmet (father), Munire (mother), Seyma (daughter) and Neskihan (daughter). Ahmet has a grain business and spends most of his time overseeing his farms outside the city. His wife, Munire is a homemaker and an amazing cook (as we were to find out that evening), and his daughters are educated and ambitious young women.

Turkish host family in Konya

As we walked into the small but comfortable living room, neatly decorated with crystals and leather furniture, we couldn’t help but notice a grand setup prepared for us. On the floor of the living area was a round table with cushions spread around. Carefully set china and silverware were laid out, suggesting a multiple-course feast about to unfold.

Traditional Turkish dinner

We went around the room introducing ourselves to our host, Mr Ahmet, who was a little conscious about his English, but always smiled in agreement. It was nice to have a few bilingual diners with us, including his daughters who spoke English fluently. When he found out that I was a food critic, he alerted his wife and told her to “up her game.” Then he started addressing me as “Miss gourmand.”

It wasn’t long before we were served a variety of freshly baked breads, stuffed with meat and cheese, and topped with black cumin seeds. Munire had painstakingly prepared, Gozleme, a speciality layered flatbread of this region. This giant pizza shaped platter was devoured within a matter of seconds.

Turkish stuffed bread

Next came Ezogelin Çorbası (aka bride’s soup), the famous red lentil soup served at every Turkish dinner. Light and flavorful, the staple soup has a delicate lemon and mint flavors.

red lentil soup

The family outdid themselves when they brought out a whole roasted lamb in our honor. It was served with bulgar rice pilaf, stuffed bell peppers, green beans, fruits and more.

Turkish lamb & rice

When there was no more room in our bellies, we had to get a bite of the honey dipped shredded wheat called Kunefe (Künefe) along with Turkish tea. And as if the lavish dinner prepared for complete strangers was not enough, the family gifted each of us a goody bag to take home. I received a wall hanging with Rumi’s sayings and a box of sweets. We also gave them some tokens of appreciation we had brought from the US.

I was extremely moved by the generosity of our Turkish host family and the amount of effort they put to give us a dinner experience. They did it solely out of their good heart, to be good citizen diplomats, and keep on living the mission of Hizmat.

host family5Click here to read more about my travels to Turkey.

Whirling Dervishes of Konya

On my recent visit to Turkey with The Atlantic Institute, I had the opportunity to learn about America’s favorite poet, Rumi. I visited Rumi’s tomb and museum in Konya, heard his philosophies at the Mevlana University, chatted with a real life dervish, and attended a whirling dervishes performance at the cultural center in Konya.

Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī (1207-1273) was born to Persian parents in a village which is now located in modern day Afghanistan. Rumi’s poetry spread across Persian countries and influenced literature and lanugages such as Persian, Turkish, Urdu, Punjabi, Pashto and Sindhi.

Rumi’s father, Baha’ ud-Din, was a world renowned scholar who later became the head of a madrassa (religious school). After this death, 25 year old Rumi inherited his position as the Islamic molvi. Rumi practiced Sufism as a disciple of Burhan ud-Din, became an Islamic Jurist, issuing fatwas and giving sermons in the mosques of Konya. He also served as a Molvi (Islamic teacher) and taught his adherents in the madrassa.

Rumi was buried in Konya, Turkey, and his shrine became a place of pilgrimage. Following his death, his followers and his son Sultan Walad founded the Mevlevi Order, also known as the Order of the Whirling Dervishes, famous for its Sufi dance known as the Sama ceremony. Rumi believed passionately in the use of music, poetry and dance as a path for reaching God. For Rumi, music helped devotees to focus their whole being on the divine and to do this so intensely that the soul was both destroyed and resurrected. It was from these ideas that the practice of whirling Dervishes developed into a ritual form.

dervish1

The Mevlâna Museum in Konya, was once a dervish lodge where students and teachers lived and practiced the Mevlevi Order. New students had to sit in stillness for 3 days while they were tempted by the sounds and smells of the kitchen. Once they passed this test, there was another 1001 days of training, followed by 40 days of testing, before one qualified as a Dervish. At the museum, one can visit the Dervish quarters, see their costumes and other memorabilia, and get a sense of the life they led.

dervish training

The Dervishes wear a long white robe symbolizing shrouds of ego. At the beginning of the ceremony, the black cloak is discarded to signify their liberation from the attachments of this world. The tall camel’s hair conical felt hat (called sikke) literally translates to “tying down an animal” or controlling animal instincts and letting go of feelings. They whirl from right to left because, they believe God lives in the heart (which is on the left side) and one should never loose the connectivity. There are no strict regulations or techniques in whirling, although you would typically see the right arm up reaching out to the sky ready to receive blessing, and the left hand directed toward earth, keeping him grounded. Once the Dervishes start, they just allow their bodies to let go and take whatever form it likes.

whirling dervishes

Just outside the premises are what appear to be souvenir shops, but many are craftsmen working with felt, silk, pottery and more. I walked to the second floor of Kece Sanat Evi felt art house, owned by a real life Dervish. Jalaluddin started his practice at the age of 6, as everyone in his family did. He went on to study Whirling in Istanbul and Bulgaria, mostly for himself. Now, he practices on certain religious days, at home when he feels like, or even sitting down.

Jalaluddin real life dervish

“The electrons, moon, galaxy, entire universe is whirling, and when we whirl, we become attuned to our surroundings”, says Jalaluddin. He described the experience mediation-like, where he looses track of time or control over his body. It is an expression of feeling thankfulness for everything around you and to God. The main belief of the Order is to not question creativity and your reason for existence, but appreciate what’s around you. This is sought Through abandoning one’s ego or personal desires, by listening to the music, focusing on God, and spinning one’s body in repetitive circles, the Dervish aims to reach the source of all perfection, or kemal.

With the foundation of the modern, secular Republic of TurkeyMustafa Kemal Atatürk removed religion from the sphere of public policy and restricted it exclusively to that of personal morals, behavior and faith. On 13 December 1925, a law was passed closing all the tekkes (or tekeyh) (dervish lodges) and zāwiyas (chief dervish lodges), but now Whirling Dervishes are seen as a cultural tradition and allowed to practice only for the sake of music and dance.

In Konya, there is a free performance every Saturday evening at the Konya Cultural Center, which is worth attending. Watch the video below…

20 Homemade Tea Recipes

Tea production, tea brewing, tea ceremonies and tea drinking, are an integral part of many different cultures. Every region favors its own variety of tea leaves, depending on what is locally grown and available, as well as regional flavors. Here is a mind boggling glossary for tea lovers and wannabe’s from around the world. What better place to experience it than in the Spice Bazaar of Istanbul?

Tea_and_spices Istanbul_spice_market

 

1. ISTANBUL TEA

Istanbul Tea includes herbs (golden flower, roses, hibiscus) and fruits (orange, apple, strawberry) that gives sweet and sour taste. Istanbul tea can help you get the daily vitamins that your body needs by drinking a cup every day.

How to make the tea : For one glass of hot water, put 1 teaspoon of the tea, wait for 3-5 minutes, strain it and drink. You can also cool it down and add ice to make ice tea.

2. ANTI-STRESS TEA
Anti-stress Tea includes herbs (melisa, chamomile, amaranth, rose, hibiscus) and fruits (orange, rosehip) that calms and relaxes. Anti -stress tea can help you to get a better quality time of sleep.

How to make the tea : For one glass of hot water, put 1 teaspoon of the tea, wait for 3-5 minutes, strain it and drink. You can also cool it down and add ice to make ice tea.

3. OTTOMAN TEA
Ottoman Tea includes herbs (green tea, amaranth, cardamom, rose) and fruits (apple). Ottoman tea is good for digestion. You can drink it after a heavy meal to feel comfortable. It also helps your metabolism to be stronger.

How to make the tea : For one glass of hot water, put 1 teaspoon of the tea, wait for 3-5 minutes, strain it and drink. You can also cool it down and add ice to make ice tea.

4. APPLE TEA
Apple Tea includes natural apples. You can drink it by itself or you can add it into other teas such as black tea, green tea. You can also boil it to use it for different purposes as fruit salads, deserts and alcoholic or non- alcoholic beverages.

How to make the tea : For one glass of hot water, put 1 teaspoon of the tea, wait for 3-5 minutes, strain it and drink. You can also give it a boil to make it stronger and faster. After straining it, you can drink the tea and with the left overs you can make apple pie as mixing the leftovers with powdered sugar and laying on the pie-dough.

Cup-of-tea-circle

5. ORANGE TEA
Orange Tea includes natural orange peels. You can drink it by itself or you can add it into other teas such as black tea, green tea. You can also boil it to use it for different purposes as fruit salads, deserts and alcoholic or non- alcoholic beverages.

How to make the tea : For one glass of hot water, put 1 teaspoon of the tea, wait for 3-5 minutes, strain it and drink. You can also give it a boil to make it stronger and faster. You can also cool it down and add ice to make ice tea.

6. LEMON TEA
Lemon Tea includes natural lemon peels. You can drink it by itself or you can add it into other teas such as black tea, green tea. You can also boil it to use it for different purposes as fruit salads, deserts and alcoholic or non- alcoholic beverages.

How to make the tea : For one glass of hot water, put 1 teaspoon of the tea, wait for 3-5 minutes, strain it and drink. You can also give it a boil to make it stronger and faster. You can also cool it down and add ice to make ice tea.

7. VANILLA TEA
Vanilla Tea includes vanilla beans and black seylon tea.

How to make the tea : For one glass of hot water, put 1 teaspoon of the tea, wait for 3-5 minutes, strain it and drink. You can also boil it with milk for 4-5 mins, strain it and put cinnamon powder on top to have “hot milkshake” . You can also use the boiled vanilla tea “milk” for your pudings to have “vanilla tea puding”.

Flowering-tea-1

8. GREEN TEA -JASMINE TEA
This tea includes green tea and jasmine flowers. Green tea is very good for immune system and jasmine flowers have a calming effect on the body.

How to make the tea : For one glass of hot water, put 1 teaspoon of the tea, wait for 3-5 minutes, strain it and drink. You can also cool it down and add ice to make ice tea.

9. JASMINE FLOWERS TEA
This tea includes white jasmine flowers. Jasmine flowers have a calming effect on the body. You can drink it by itself or you can add it into other teas such as black tea, green tea. You can also boil it to use it for different purposes as fruit salads, deserts and alcoholic or non- alcoholic beverages.

How to make the tea : For one glass of hot water, put 1 teaspoon of the tea, wait for 3-5 minutes, strain it and drink. You can also cool it down and add ice to make ice tea.

rosehip

10. RED TEA
Red Tea includes herbs (hibiscus,rose) and fruits (cranberries, rosehip, pomegranate) that gives sweet and sour taste. These herbs and fruits gives strength and boosts immune system. Red tea is also written on many article as being effective on heart.

How to make the tea : For one glass of hot water, put 1 teaspoon of the tea, wait for 3-5 minutes, strain it and drink. You can also cool it down and add ice to make ice tea. After cooling down the tea, you can pour it into empty ice tray to make red ice cubes. These red ice cubes goes really well with both alcoholic (such as vodka) and non-alcoholic (such as lemonade).

11. GREEN TEA
This tea includes green tea leaves. You can drink it by itself or you can add other teas into it such as orange, lemon, apple, jasmine tea.

How to make the tea : For one glass of hot water, put 1 teaspoon of the tea, wait for 3-5 minutes, strain it and drink. You can also cool it down and add ice to make ice tea.

Turkish_tea

12. TURKISH TEA
To make Turkish tea you should use Caydanlik which is a small tea pot-brewer (demlik) on top of a kettle. Pour 3 cups of water into the larger kettle. Put the Turkish tea leaves and 2 tbsp of water into the teapot and place it on the kettle. Bring the water in the kettle to boil over medium heat. Then turn the heat off. Wait for the water to settle*, then pour half of the boiling water from the kettle over the leaves into the brewer. Let it brew for about 5 minutes**. Then pour the brewed tea into tea glasses using a small tea strainer. Fill in half of the tea glasses with the brewed tea and the rest with the hot water. Serve Turkish tea with sugar cubes.

* If you pour boiled water immediately over tea leaves, the tea will lose its vitamins. ** If you extend brewing time, the taste will get bitter. Also freshly brewed Turkish tea should be consumed within half an hour of brewing time.

13. LINDEN TEA
This tea includes linden flowers. Linden tea is very good for respiratory system especially on winter. Some of the articles say that linden helps losing the fat stocked in the body.

How to make the tea : For one glass of hot water, put 1 teaspoon of the tea, wait for 3-5 minutes, strain it and drink. You can also cool it down and ad ice to make ice tea.

14. SAGE TEA
This tea includes sage flowers. Sage tea is very good for respiratory system especially on winter. Some of the articles say that linden helps losing the fat stocked in the body.

How to make the tea : For one glass of hot water, put 1 teaspoon of the tea, wait for 3-5 minutes, strain it and drink. You can also cool it down and ad ice to make ice tea.

15. WHITE TEA
This tea includes white tea. White tea leaves and buds are allowed to wither in natural sunlight before they are lightly processed to prevent oxidation or further tea processing. White tea is very good to lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, stronger bones and it is antibacterial, antioxidant and antivirus.

How to make the tea : For one glass of hot water, put 1 teaspoon of the tea, wait for 3-5 minutes, strain it and drink. You can also cool it down and ad ice to make ice tea.

16. POMEGRANATE TEA
This tea includes pomegranate buds or/and flowers. Pomegranate tea leaves and buds are dried under the sun. Pomegranate tea is very good for relaxing both nerves and stomach.

How to make the tea : For one glass of hot water, put 1 teaspoon of the tea, wait for 3-5 minutes, strain it and drink. You can also cool it down and ad ice to make ice tea.

17. ROSE TEA
This tea includes rose buds or/and flowers. Rose tea leaves and buds are dried under the sun before its open. Rose tea is very good for relaxing both nerves and stomach.

How to make the tea : For one glass of hot water, put 1 teaspoon of the tea, wait for 3-5 minutes, strain it and drink. You can also cool it down and ad ice to make ice tea.

18. JASMINE BALLS
This tea includes jasmine balls. Jasmine flowers have a calming effect on the body. One of the ball can make a bowl of tea for 3-4 people. You can add more hot water on to make more tea at a time.

How to make the tea : For one glass of hot water, put 1 of the ball, wait for 3-5 minutes and drink. You can also cool it down and add ice to make ice tea.

19. GREEN TEA-LEMON-MINT
This tea includes green tea, lemon peels and mint leaves. These three herbs are very good together for immune system, stomach and respiratory system.

How to make the tea : For one glass of hot water, put 1 teaspoon of the tea, wait for 3-5 minutes, strain it and drink. You can also cool it down and add ice to make ice tea.

Indian chai in Kolkata

20. CHAI
This tea includes black seylon tea, cardamom and ginger. Home of the CHAI is India.

How to make the tea : For one glass of hot milk, put 1 teaspoon of the tea, wait for 3-5 minutes, strain it and drink. You can also cool it down and add ice to make iced CHAI.

~ Courtesy of Ucuzcular Spice Team. The shop can be found at the world famous Spice Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey.

Top 7 Street Foods of Istanbul

Over the years, I have heard two opposite words of travel wisdom – “Avoid street food” and “Must try the street food.” Even so, I don’t feel conflicted. Street food is a cultural experience in itself. It gives one a chance to learn about everyday life, what people eat when they are rushing from home to work, and often times showcase culinary customs that aren’t found in the modern day restaurants.

In the bustling streets of Istanbul, Turkey, you will find street vendors not only selling food and drinks to the hurries pedestrians, but artists putting up acts for spectators to enjoy before they dig into their purchases. Here are some of the common street foods you will see on in Istanbul.

1. Simits – A circular pretzel bread made with flour, molasses and sesame or poppy seed. It is a little chewy on the inside and crispy on the outside. Archival sources show that the simit has been produced in Istanbul since 1525. Simit is generally served plain, or for breakfast with tea, fruit preserves, honey or cheese. Find them at limit trolleys and baskets for 1 Turkish lira, and fancier Simit Saray bakeries for a little more. Tip: Buy simits in the morning while they are warm and fresh.

img_3010

2. Dürüm – A local name for Turkish wrap. Most people are familiar with doner which refers to the shaved meat cooked on a rotisserie. You can get the meat (typically lamb, but some places have chicken) rolled inside a Turkish flatbread, sprinkled with sumac, raw onions and parsley. Dürüm and Ayran (salty yogurt shake) make for a great on the go meal for about 5 liras, and is generally not served with any side.

turkey-streetfood6

3. Orange Juice – Fresh squeezed orange juice (plus some other fruits depending on the season) can be found on Istiklal Street for only 1 Euro. Restaurants in Turkey generally don’t serve fresh juices, so this is where you want to stock up on Vitamins (another name for juice).

juice stands istanbul

4. Dondurma – Also know as Maras ice cream, it is gummier than the ice cream you may be use to. It is made with milk, sugar, salep (flour used in desserts), and mastic (natural gum), and available in few flavors like pistachio, vanilla, strawberry and chocolate. The best part about the ice cream is the magic show that the vendors put up before they serve it to you. They will stretch it, drop it, make surmountable mounds and tease you until you have a good laugh! Best place to watch the ice cream show is near Sultan Ahmet Square or The Blue mosque and costs about 7 liras.

turkish ice cream 

5. Türk kahvesi – Street vendors prepare coffee the traditional way, in copper jugs over charcoal. Turkish coffee refers to the style of preparing it as the coffee beans themselves come from other countries namely Yemen and Brazil. The roasted beans are finely ground and simmered over medium heat in a special coffee pot called cezve. Once it comes to a boil and starts foaming, the foam is removed and put in the coffee cups, while the water is allowed to boil for a second or event third time, to extract flavors. Next time, you have a backyard cookout, tell your guests you just put a pot of coffee on the grill and watch the look on their faces!

 turkish coffee

Turkish coffee at weddings: As well as an everyday beverage, Turkish coffee is also a part of the traditional Turkish wedding custom. As a prologue to marriage, the bridegroom’s parents (in the lack of his father, his mother and an elderly member of his family) must visit the young girl’s family to ask the hand of the bride-to-be and the blessings of her parents upon the upcoming marriage. During this meeting, the bride must prepare and serve Turkish coffee to the guests. For the groom’s coffee, the bride-to-be sometimes uses salt instead of sugar to gauge his character. If the bridegroom drinks his coffee without any sign of displeasure, the bride-to-be assumes that the groom is good-tempered and patient. Indeed, as the groom already comes as the demanding party to the girl’s house, in fact it is the boy who is passing an exam and etiquette requires him to receive with all smiles this particular present from the girl, although in some parts of the country this may be considered as a lack of desire on the part of the girl for marriage with that candidate. Source: Wikipedia

6. Tarihi Osmanli Macunu – Street vendors make to order the traditional Ottoman candy  with five flavors of thick taffy spiraled around a stick. The artist makes the candy when you order it and it is captivating to watch him roll the different colors with such ease.

ottoman candy

 

7. Kumpir – Best known as make your own baked potato. You select your choice of endless toppings on an enormous baked potato. Hot dog slices, corn, peas, vegetable salad, pickles, pickled beets, green and black olives, yogurt kısır (bulgur), spicy red-pepper sauce and condiments are some of the garnishes. The best place to try Kumpir is Istanbul’s Bosphorus-side village of Ortaköy.

Other street vendors sell roasted chestnuts, waffles, corn on the cob and sliced watermelon.

Know of another street food from Istanbul you love? Leave a response below and share your ideas with our readers…

Go Eat Give organizes Destination Turkey

As part of our monthly focus on cultures in Atlanta, Go Eat Give hosted Destination Turkey an evening to discuss the cuisine, culture, travel and issues in Turkey. The event was held at Cafe Mezo, a Midtown establishment opened in January 2014 by two brothers who migrated from Istanbul. Kemal, one of the brothers, was visiting US as a tourist, and met his future wife. They got married and decided to stay back for 2 years to gain some experience living abroad. Turned out their passion for the restaurant business lasted much longer, so they decided to open another restaurant in Atlanta (the first one being in Istanbul).

The evening started with networking and cash bar featuring traditional Turkish beverages such as Ayran (non alcoholic yogurt, water and salt), Boza (fermented bulgur with water and sugar), Raki (strong, clear, anise-flavored spirit, similar to Greek ouzo and French pastis), and a selection of Turkish beer, wine, tea and coffee.

Turkish food at Cafe Mezo

A private space upstairs seated 50 Go Eat Give guests who enjoyed family style dinner in an in time environment. Cold Mezes (appetizers) included delicately spiced shoksuka (eggplant salad) and sweet and savory carrot salad, served with warm bread. For entree, long wooden planks boasted tender pieces of Mezo lamb kebabs and boneless chicken kebabs, decorated over thin sheets of pita and dressed with an unassuming bulgur and onion salad. Vegetarian diner enjoyed a special platter of grilled vegetables prepared just for them. For dessert, we had homemade Turkish Baklava with chopped pistachios and honey, that tasted like it had just come out of the oven a few hours ago.

Dr. Mustafa Sahin, who runs academic affairs at the Atlantic Institute shared his journey of coming to the US. He said when he wanted to go abroad to study, he only thought about US. Except for the good education system, he was fascinated by the fast cars (as seen on popular TV show Knight Rider) and the city of Miami, where Turkish people dream to have a home at. When he arrived in Atlanta, he realized that the popular Italian restaurant called Veni, vidi, vici is actually a Julius Caesar phrase that means “I came, I saw, I conquered” that originated from Zile, a Tokat province in Turkey, where Dr Sahin grew up.

Dr Sahin pointed out that Turkish-American relations dated back to 1802 when President Jefferson appointed a US consulate to Smyrna, Turkey. Even today, Muhtar Kent, Chairman and CEO of Coca Cola, cardiothoracic surgeon and award-winning author Mehmet Öz, along with a number of scientists, professors, and business leaders are contributing to the society at large.

Click here to see the full speech by Dr Mustafa Sahin

Live entertainment was performed by a local artist, Joshua. A self taught American dancer, he was deeply interested in the male form of belly dancing called köçek.  Popular in the Ottoman culture, the köçek was typically a very handsome young male rakkas, “dancer”, usually cross-dressed in feminine attire, employed as an entertainer in the courtrooms. The male dancers were generally more prized than the female ones.

Watch live köçek dance at Destination Turkey.

Joshua wowed the crowd with his sword balancing acts and encouraged the audience to participate. Not everyone felt so confident with sharp edged swords on their heads, but at least they posed for photos and had the most unique Turkish experience in Atlanta.

Go Eat Give organizes Destination events every month featuring a different country. Sign up for our mailing list to receive an invitation for the next destination.

See photos from Destination Turkey

Cafe Mezo
794 Juniper Street
Atlanta, GA 30308

Variations of the Thanksgiving Turkey

What started as a traditional North American holiday is now also celebrated by millions of immigrants and ethnic groups who call the United States home. In 1621, the Plymouth colonists (English) and Wampanoag Indians (Native Americans) shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.

Given that the United States has become a melting pot of different races, ethnicities and nationalities over the last two centuries, it is only reasonable to expect that preparation of the Thanksgiving turkey is somewhat influenced by cultural palates.

Most households prepare a whole roasted turkey rubbed with butter and herbs, but here are some other variations of the Thanksgiving turkey reflecting the cultural diversity of the country.

Chinese Glaze Turkey – The American-Chinese substituted turkey in their popular duck recipe. This delicious creation has a glaze of soy sauce, honey, sesame and ginger. We recommend a side of steamed dumplings, sautéed green beans and fried rice.

Asian Thanksgiving Turkey. Photo courtesy Food and Wine
Asian Thanksgiving Turkey. Photo courtesy Food and Wine

Tandoori Turkey – Indians love grilled meats (usually chicken, goat, fish) basted with tandoori marinade (a sauce blend of coriander, cumin, cloves, chili, cardamom, clove, cinnamon, fenugreek, salt and pepper). Whole turkey can be cooked on an open grill or slow broiled in the oven. Serve with mint chutney, yogurt relish and rice pilaf.

Tandoori Turkey. Photo courtesy gearpatrol.com
Tandoori Turkey. Photo courtesy gearpatrol.com

Raw Vegetarian Turkey – Non meat eaters enjoy a raw turkey look-alike spread made entirely of vegetables. Lettuce, celery, carrots, bell peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers layered in a creative display also makes a good starter for a Thanksgiving party. Show up at a potluck party with this and wow your coworkers!

Turkey of raw vegetables . Photo from Pintrest
Turkey of raw vegetables. Photo from Pinterest

Extreme Mexican Turkey – Mexican cook and writer Pati Jinich, of Pati’s Mexican Table uses citrus and achiote paste in her turkey recipe, then wraps it in banana leaves and bakes it in aluminum foil to emulate the ancient technique of cooking food in underground pits. Melissa Trimmer of Le Cordon Bleu Chicago also suggests a Turkey mole served with rice and beans, and flan for dessert.

Mexican Turkey. Photo by Penny De Los Santos
Mexican Turkey. Photo by Penny De Los Santos

Peruvian Turkey – The slow cooked Peruvian spice rubbed turkey is a close cousin of popular Peruvian grilled chicken dish. Chef John of Food Wishes serves it with chile verde instead of brown gravy.

Peruvian rubbed turkey. Photo by FoodWishes
Peruvian rubbed turkey. Photo by FoodWishes

Italian Thanksgiving Turkey – Many Americans are Italian decedents so its only natural to have Italian inspired dishes at the Thanksgiving table. Nonna Carolina Marino, originally from Calabria, stuffs her turkey with layers of delicious Italian sausage, Parmesan cheese, fresh herbs and Porcini Risotto. Watch the full recipe on YouTube.

African Roast Turkey – African Birdseye Chillies paired with brown sugar give the turkey is sweet and spicy flavor. Another good option is to rub Nigerian Suya (grilled meat) spice on the turkey for some smokiness and stuff it with Jollof rice.

If you have an ethnic inspired turkey recipe to share, please feel free to share it in the comments box below. Happy Thanksgiving!

Italian Thanksgiving Turkey. Photo from Cooking with Nonna
Italian Thanksgiving Turkey. Photo from Cooking with Nonna