Along the southwestern coast of Turkey, the vibrant blue waters of the Mediterranean crash against dry, rocky mountains jutting from the water’s edge. For centuries, pilgrims and adventurers alike have scrabbled over the unforgiving terrain between Fethiye and Antalya known as the Lycian Way. Ruins dating back to Greek and Roman times nestle between the scrubby trees and undergrowth, melding with the landscape and painting a picture of the life that has always dotted the shore. The Turquoise Coast is a popular place to visit in the summer, with massive sand beaches and countless pansiyons catering to every type of tourist. While most people visit this region for its stunning vistas and beaches, it has exceptional food if you know where to look.
Hiking down the coast, stopping at sites like the nearby fires of the mythical Chimaera, is a true backpacker’s holiday. The naturally occurring methane flames on the mountain inspired fearsome monsters common to the lore of the region. Minibus (dolmuş) travel in the area is remarkably simple and can take you almost anywhere along the coast. One of our preferred stops is Demre. While not supporting the tourist industry of Olympos or Kars, the city has a great deal to offer, as well as a hidden culinary treat.
Demre is a small city that does not especially cater to the hordes of tourists roaming the Lycian Way or hunting for beachside bungalows. Its primary attraction is the ancient city and necropolis of Myra, once the Bishopric of Saint Nicholas, of Santa Claus fame. The restaurant scene is not substantial, and for that reason Gaziantep Restaurant caught us completely by surprise. Occupying the corner directly adjacent to the old Saint Nicholas church, Gaziantep exudes a glowing, campy charm. Gently rolling rotisserie chickens glint with glorious grease. The restaurant is constructed from lightly lacquered wood with low ceilings. We slumped into cushioned seats on a platform and were immediately greeted with buttered puffy lavaş and fiery ezme. The glow of incandescent bulbs illuminated the glistening bread with a warm hue before it was torn to shreds and inhaled. The entire atmosphere is homey and comforting, beckoning passersby to come and stay for a while.
The Ali nazik (lamb and yogurt atop a smoky eggplant puree), yoğurtlu kebap (skewered minced meat over a yogurt and tomato sauce) and beyti sarma (kebab wrapped in thin flatbread and doused in a tomato sauce, with more yogurt on the side) arrived at the table, and we were lulled into an awed – or exhausted – pause, deciding where to start. Our desire for copious quantities of yogurt was utterly realized. The food was fresh, piping hot and perfectly cooked. The sour tang of creamy yogurt was invigorating and worked wonders in each dish, blending perfectly with the dairy and bringing out the succulent flavors of the meat. Pistachios danced across the top of the sarma, adding a subtle crunch. Even the underlying pide was perfectly firm yet pleasingly spongey at the same time.
We ate every last bite, down to scooping up every last speck of sauce and allowing a serious contemplation of the etiquette involved in licking the plate clean. We were ready to plan our next excursion and clamber over the ruins of Myra the next day. A meal at Gaziantep Restaurant is a perfect pit stop for the weary and adventurous, or simply those looking for a good meal off the beaten path.