Dear Culinary Backstreets,
I’m planning to visit Cappadocia this summer, and while I have my sightseeing and walking itinerary all lined up, I would love to know where I can find the best places to eat in the region. Can you help?
Cappadocia suffers from what I’d call Sultanahmet Syndrome, which means that most local restaurants dish up mainstream Turkish fare aimed at the needs of short-stay tourists on tightish budgets. That said, there are a few great places to eat that home in on local specialties, often served in attractive settings, as well as a couple of restaurants that offer the sort of New Turkish cuisine so popular in Istanbul.
The signature dish of Kayseri and by extension Cappadocia is mantı, small pasta packets, usually stuffed with meat (sometimes cheese) and served with a tomato and/or garlic sauce. It’s a dish best sampled in private homes, although locals also swear by the version dished up at Zeytin Cafe & Ev Yemekleri (Kayseri Caddesi 31, tel: +90 384 341 7399) in Ürgüp.
Autumn visitors get to see local women stirring cauldrons of pekmez, molasses made from locally grown grapes that were once the only sweetening agent available. As a result there used to be lots of local dishes made from pekmez, some of them sweet and some sour. Your best hope of sampling any of these dishes lies in an invitation to eat in a private home. Failing that, look out for asude on restaurant menus. It’s a deep brown, fudge-like dessert made from pekmez that is not quite as sweet as the better-known baklava.
Local restaurants often trumpet testi kebabs, stews made in locally made testis (pots) that are set on fire before the neck of the pot is cracked in front of would-be diners. There’s a seed of authenticity in this inasmuch as locals certainly did customarily cook stews in such pots, often slipping them into the hot ashes left after the pekmez cauldrons were cleared away. The flames and the cracking of the pot are all for show though – and if you opt for testi kebab you need to pick through the stew carefully to avoid cracking your teeth on stray pieces of pot. Try testi kebab at Dibek (tel: +90 384 271 2209), a pleasingly restored stone house in central Göreme. Dine at a conventional table or sitting on floor cushions around a low table in traditional style.
Gözleme (pancakes) and börek (stuffed pastry) crop up all over Turkey but Nazar Börek (Müze Caddesi 30, Göreme, tel: +90 0384 271 2441) rings the changes on the usually savory dishes with an excellent elma böreği (apple börek). Particularly tasty, piping-hot gözleme is grilled at the simple cafés near the entrance to Zelve Open-Air Museum.
In search of good, Turkish meaty staples? Then head for Dayı’nın Yeri (tel: +90 384 511 6840), right by the bridge in Avanos; locals swear by its Adana and other kebabs. Afterwards you can try thick-as-it-comes Maraş ice cream at the waterside branch of the chain store Mado (tel: +90 384 214 1001), again a big hit with the locals.
Presided over by a man who was a renowned Göreme chef long before he turned professional, Top Deck Restaurant (Efendi Sokak 15, tel: +90 384 271 2474) is housed inside an old cave stable. It’s a family restaurant where mom, dad and two daughters pitch in to dispense excellent home cooking. Advance booking is essential in high season. It’s closed Tuesdays.
For those who prefer fusion cuisine to these wholly Turkish offerings, stylish Ziggy’s (Tevfik Fikret Caddesi 24, tel: +90 384 341 7107) in Ürgüp is run by émigré İstanbullus who offer a short menu of excellent mezes to be followed by their take on chicken satay. With its rocky backdrop, the setting is magical.
For special occasions, Seten (Aydınlı Mahallesi, Göreme, tel: +90 384 271 3025) is a partially indoor, partially outdoor restaurant with a firmly Turkish menu. It’s a good place to try kabak çiçeği dolması (stuffed zucchini flowers) in season. In high summer it also offers a local take on the delectable Tokat kebab.
At the gourmet end of things, Muti (tel: +90 384 341 5808) in central Ürgüp is the brainchild of famous İstanbul restaurateur Muhittin Ülkü (Mikla, Nuteras, etc.), who fled the rat race for Cappadocia’s slower pace. It’s a place to sample the very best of Turkish food with imaginative twists: Ezine cheese wrapped in pastry and served with pekmez; börek stuffed with pears, walnuts and cheese. Part of the splendid Argos in Cappadocia hotel complex in Uçhisar, Seki (Kayabaşı Sokak 23, tel: +90 384 219 3130) is best known for its award-winning selection of wines, stored in a labyrinthine rock-cut wine cellar.
Although most hotels include breakfast in their room rates, it’s worth taking the King’s Valley breakfast tour offered by the Kelebek Hotel (tel: +90 384 271 2531), which offers organic banquets in a hidden valley where chickens forage beneath the table and the jams come thick enough to eat with a spoon in traditional Turkish style.
Cookery classes are very much the thing in contemporary Cappadocia. Students learn to rustle up such staples as mercimek çorbası (lentil soup) and mücver (zucchini patties) in a local home, sometimes but not always in a cave.
Self-caterers should head for the local markets to stick up on fresh fruit and veg. The best are in Avanos (Friday) and Ürgüp (Saturday). In spring look out for the desert truffles that grow locally and are great cooked with eggs or chicken.
(photo by Yigal Schleifer)