After a fabulous week or so of trying to fill a friend of mine’s shoes, we were holed up in Bodrum on the South West coast of Turkey.
It is always a delight for the senses to be in a Marina that has the haphazard layout found in most of the small European marinas. Where the boats on the pontoons are just an extension of the hard stands, technician cubicles and offices, work vans and the frenzied sailors prepping their pride and joys for the race to come.
No fences or safety barriers to stop you falling off the road/path (or stop fishing expeditions), but first you need to dodge the scooters and work vans parked haphazardly like a bag of dropped sardines or the live ones still flipping around in any available space. Signs in Turkish make no sense even if you could understand the wording. The guys in the security booth looking the other way and yet magically the boom gate will lift and you exit into the teeming footpath filled with tourists, bicycles, scooters and taxis – in no apparent order.
There is a lot of tree coverage along the waterfront and concrete seats with mosaic backrests ringing the trunks as far as the eye can see on the street side and the wide back decks of the Gulet sailing vessels that cram the quayside. These traditional sailing craft have a slightly piratical look to them and with the glistening depths on all surfaces of the varnish gives me pause to think that over the winter the crew would be kept busy with upkeep.
Market streets designed to confuse and trap poor unsuspecting shoppers in an endless loop and hoop led further and further into the older part of town, which was once called Halicarnassus. Having done over the towns alleyways and annoyed all the market shop keepers by looking but not buying, I managed to find my way back to the roadway that led to the Castle of Bodrum (also known as the Castle of St Peter, built by the Knights Hospitaller) which housed the underwater museum of artefacts. Standing in front of the Castle walls and the entry booth – I was slightly unenamoured of the clinical and pristine façade and the price of entry requested for the last hour of the day so turned around and figured I could check it out another time.
With the offer of some wheels and quite a bit of time up my sleeve, I phoned a friend to see if they were doing anything and after dropping some of the crew at the Bodrum Airport to fly to Cappadocia, I would continue my journey towards Antalya.
I let Spencer and Lani drive as they had done the trip the day before so knew their way out of town and I didn’t have to work out the Fiat manual car whilst negotiating the flotsam and random drivers on the streets and the unfamiliar territory (must be getting old….)
After leaving the plains with the airport behind, I started the climb into the first set of hills and the next 4 ½ hours to the shores of the Gulf of Antalya, arriving into town mid-afternoon. I headed to the 5M mall where parking is free and the toilets are easy to locate – seeing as I used to frequent the place when I was in town 3 years earlier.
I contacted Sinem to let her know I had arrived (she is in the last weeks of the 3 year project management of a 60+m Turkish built superyacht), she was excited that I had made it town but disappointed that she still had a few hours before she could knock off for the day. No worries, we will meet at the Mall. She swung by a couple of hours later to pick me up and we headed to a place called 7 Mehmet (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3m9yfwm3BJc) that sits up on the cliffs overlooking the Gulf and we had a couple of hours grazing through a beautiful display of modernised traditional Turkish dishes. Apparently the seven isn’t actually a 7 but more a logo that was a scar on the forehead of the original founder of the restaurant with the family name of Mehmet but had morphed into what it is known as today.
Being a Saturday night, the place was packed to the rafters and all the tables were dressed in their white linens and silverware and glasses, all across the terrace for at least 100 people. She had rung after I arrived into town and told them a little white lie, (that she had rung on Tuesday to book and how had they lost her reservation!!!) and so we were seated out in the open evening with a light breeze lifting the humidity and the soft growing glow of the setting sun became a tangible presence.
Sinem did the ordering in her softly and kindly spoken Turkish and the waiter listened with avid interest and subtle suggestions and then the food arrived. Just days prior, we had been discussing incredible foods of the Mediterranean and we had all agreed that French food was hands down the most elegant and perfect food for eyes and body. Turkish food didn’t really register with the luxury heights within that conversation but I have always enjoyed the fact that it is always fresh, seasonal and generally pleasant to consume – even if you never are sure what it is or what it is called.
The food definitely had its roots in the rustic peasant foods that fed millions but the modern take and presentation gave these dishes an edge that lifted them. (the above link is in Turkish but the last at around 10:35 they prepare the foods below)
We began with 3 starters –
1. a plate of Natural yoghurt with roughly chopped mint leaves and green sour plums drizzled in a fruity olive oil. This is usually with the cucumber but they also use the seasonal produce available, like the sour plums or new berries. The tartness made the eyes and throat pucker but left such a fresh taste, almost like an aperitif.
2. Roasted and mashed Fava beans with a crown of caramelised onions – drizzled with the oil from the onions. Surprisingly edible for those who know my aversion to any bean or chick pea……omg, those onions……..
3. Lastly, a plate full of seasonal cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, meaty olives and fresh fetta which had the consistency of medium weight feta and Mozzarella but had an overwhelming aroma and flavour of the yoghurts I used to get with Mary in Koropi. It had to be Sheep milk as it was incredible. Again, this was drizzled with the incredibly fruity olive oil that we used the fresh bread to soak up liberally.
The afternoon started to darken and the wind began to pick up and from behind the line of cypress trees edging the carpark a line of threatening clouds started to really charge the air. Along the point out east towards Lara the clear skyscraper lines started to blur and disappear as a thunderstorm started to rip apart the evening sky. Large bolts of blinding white zig zagged through the charcoal clouds and people started to murmur and make a grab for their wine glasses. Leaves, fluff and pollen started to tumble and drive through the air and an occasional drop of rain landed on the table between our plates of food.
We were a little undecided but as the wait staff started to drag tables across the terrace and into the interior of the restaurant, other diners started to grab their glasses for real and headed in to find a safe seat. Within 2 minutes, Sinem had managed to commandeer another superb table with a view on the inside of the establishment this time, where she ignored the reservation card and whispered to a passing harried waiter, that when they had the time – our food was still outside…!!
Within 2 more minutes – our half-eaten starters arrived undisturbed, the trolley with our water and ice bucket was deposited along the edge of our table and the rest of the restaurant was like a massive tetras puzzle of dry interior tables and lightly dampened exterior ones. The odd glass that had been hit by rain drops were dried and polished and the large glass doors were pulled across to allow the bombardment of wind driven water to crash and thrash itself ignored by all and business as usual continued in the appreciation of food.
The interior of the restaurant catered for about 80 tables, so with the influx of all the exterior ones, the place was like a David Jones logo of tables and miniscule spaces – even with only one centimetre between them it felt like no table was crowded by another unless you were already dining with the extra parties outside.
Sinem signalled the waiter as he oozed past and they had another low-level discussion with only the occasional questioning look and murmur to me in words like ‘lamb?’ Looking decidedly pleased with herself as the waiter left, she explained that there were only a couple of portions left of Kokorec so she went ahead with ordering it in case we missed out.
I have come across this dish with Mary over the years of which I heard the first time as Cockroach – because that is what it sounds like to my uneducated ear, but I remember Rene and Mary both went into lyrical spasms of enjoyment when discussing or enjoying the meal. Kokorec is pretty close to the spelling in both Greek and in Turkish and essentially it is lamb offal wrapped in skin of innards to make a sausage – as a general idea.
When the plate arrived, it looked like an inch and a half Sausage roll balanced on its end, but smelt divine in the only way crisped and roasted lamb can.
Sinem asked me to go ahead unless I wanted her to serve it the way she would normally eat it? I gave her the go ahead, riskily accepting all the extra spices involved as she liberally sprinkled heaped teaspoons of fresh ground Cumin, dried herbs and on mine chilli flakes. Divine but not enough lamb….
Next came the mountain salad – so called because of its shape. A dish piled high with chopped tomato, red onion, the long thin green peppers of the Antalya coast, arils of pomegranates and loaded with crushed Walnut chunks. All of this swimming in a dressing of oil and pomegranate juice.
To accompany this – the traditional rice and lamb dish. Roasted Lamb – the slightly dry roasted skin tasting like the ashes of the charcoal fire and the succulent fall apart strings of lamb resting on the bed of rice. The rice had been cooked with small cubes of liver, plump currants, whole roasted skinless almonds and flavoured with cinnamon. Rustic and gorgeous.
As the last of the Sav Blanc washed this down – another murmured discussion took place and a dish of the typical dessert of the Antalya region was ordered. Arriving at the table was a burnished deep orange item – marinated and roasted pumpkin. Apparently, the pumpkin has the top cut open to allow the removal of seeds and then it is filled with Grape Molasses and cooked and cooked until the whole thing has been absorbed and is a caramelised lump. Then it is served with double roasted Tahini sauce and more crushed to almost dust walnuts.
I would have loved a Turkish tea but my back teeth were already finding it difficult to hang onto their gums – so we headed out into the fresh evening that had been washed clean by the storm that had worked its way out to sea.
Sinem was waiting for a message back from the Chef from the project so we could catch up for the evenings entertainment so we headed over to one of the hotels that we saw disappear into the rain earlier in the afternoon – to watch the sun descend behind the backing mountain ranges that ring the gulf. In the years since I had been there, a village had sprung up in the foothills above the Free zone port in the distance and there appeared to be a lattice of stars dusting the face in the gathering dusk.
We were entertained by 3 weddings in the grounds, each had a different style of music. One classical music with the piano and string quartet, a thrash rock one and the last and most loud was the one playing typical Turkish music and had the whole crowd up with joined hands revolving in their circle dancing.
The entertainment started as the chef arrived – the Pianist who was dressed in slinky trousers with suspenders and a collared shirt whose hands were encased in fingerless gloves (not unlike the ones I used so often over in WA), the bass player looking as stringy and gaunt as his spare modern electric instrument, the drummer with his tiny man bun and eyes shut except when he opened them to glint and smirk at the others, the guitar player whose moves on the fret board where a blur and the trombone player whom I have apparently seen before but when I knew him he had dreadlocks and played in the old town and tonight he was in the sleek slimline trousers with suspenders and the collared shirt of the piano player and the shaved hairline of a lice victim. They all seemed to play for themselves -smiling and nodding or shaking their heads in time to some other music and having a grand ole time.
Part way through the first set, the piano man introduced a friend who was to play with them this evening – an elderly gentleman with a suit where the legs where crushed at the front as if he had come a long way and the most expressive face I had ever seen. Every note, every nuance, every emotional plea in the songs he sang were carved into the folds of his face. Frank Sinatra he wasn’t but he sang with all his verve and swagger, thanked everyone after each song or expectation to applaud in Turkish, Russian, French and English. Songs like What a wonderful world were interesting in the fact that W was said as a V and then he would head off on a tangent with babadoo and doobydoos in the lowest tones that would make the speakers reverberate and chatter into your soul.
Next morning, Sinem took me for a tour of her project boat in the Free zone before we had a traditional Turkish breakfast – more tomatoes -fresh and cooked, eggs that were boiled and scramble with the tomatoes, peppers and cucumber, cheeses, nuts and olives and the traditional bagels or simit and a wonderful donut style that was fabulous with the sour cherry jam or the double roasted pepper spread with chunks of walnut through it, fried potato and peppers and some pastry that instead of butter between the sheet had water which had made it so moist and light.
Back into the car for the 3 sets of mountain ranges and valleys where I watched the countryside change shape and colour, past the roadside shacks that serve steamed corn cob and tea urns that you can see for car lengths due to the smoke from their chimneys drawing the charcoal fire to heat them. The inflatable bakers’ dolls that have one hand waving to beckon you in. The craggy hillsides with the occasional landslides, grassy plains, rocky river beds choc full of gypsy tents or brilliant full bloom pink oleander bushes looking like a river of fairy floss. Herds of goats stringing themselves miles ahead of their shepherd. Trailers towed by tractors and small vans full to the brim with cases of tomatoes and peppers and melons and the growling thunderheads with bolts of lightning and wind driven rain come and go as I reach each range only to emerge into the blinding white clouds and brilliant blue skies on the other sides.
As I get within the city limits of Bodrum and the home run to the Marina – the piece de resistance…. A small van with 2 cows going for a ride.
You wouldn’t be dead for quids!