Beena takes the family to Turkey and discovers that inland is a far cry from the coast with enormously friendly people and food to make you enormous.
I’m surrounded by green Tuscan-like hillsides cupped by the pink-hued Taurus Mountains. We’re miles inland from the well-trodden Mediterranean coast of Turkey and are surrounded instead by farms with blond-hued fields of wheat. I try hard not to take any notice of the whinging: My six-year-old has discovered her first challenges of eating away from home: the yogurt tastes a Ã¢â‚¬Å“bit funnyÃ¢â‚¬Â.
In fact, served in pristine white clouds, it’s delicious. And yogurt is big business here. Turkey consumes more per person than any other country and most is produced at street-level for local sale.
We stay between two rural villages: the farming village of DÃƒÂ¶ger and that of Yaka, in one of the most fertile growing regions of the country.
Here in the MuÃ„Å¸la Province, meals are largely a continuation of Ottoman cuisine, which borrowed elements from Greek, Central Asian, Jewish and Balkan cuisines, so we’re happily spoilt for choice.
The barn we’re staying in at the moment in Doger is a work in progress, yet beautiful. The land around has wild camomile flowers growing around and is dotted with fig trees and date palms alongside a stream where tortoises shelter. I look at my daughter as she’s presented with some locally sourced-honey: served with baked peaches, everything in her face is pleading for something familiar.
I offer her a drink of freshly squeezed juice, which is available like water here from the heavily burdened orange trees. There are also plenty of cherries around, which go down well.
Pomegranate trees are aplenty too, recognisable by their flame coloured flowers, which turn into the fruit. Around here they create a Turkish staple: Nar eksÃŒÂ§isi Ã¢â‚¬â€œ a sweet and sour complement to a salad and is very tasty.
Another morning, different accommodation, (this time Yaka Village), same problem. I try some other breakfast options on my cherub: pastries, goats’ cheese (firmer and less salty than we get here) juicy watermelon and even the honey on its own (produced by hosts at Yaka village from their 14 beehives which, they have to move up and down the valley according to temperatures).
The honey is delicately fragranced and is the colour of light toast Ã¢â‚¬Â¦but my daughter isn’t keen. There’s Turkish tea served alongside simit; a bracelet of Turkish bread with sesame seeds. No, she won’t eat that either.
Our second day at the mountain lodge in Yaka Village, and we pause to take in vistas overlooking the Xanthos Valley. It’s an olive’s throw from the ancient Lycian town of Tlos, which has great tombs and homes carved into the mountainside and features just two small roadside cafes which serve ice lollies, juice and snacks. That day we have a breakthrough of sorts and my daughter proclaims her desire to eat trout for the rest of the week.
This fortunate, if not pretentious announcement comes as welcome news as trout is popular here. We are not far away from the Saklikent Gorge (the second longest in Europe) through which the Xanthos River runs. We also happen to be a few minutes drive from Yaka Park Ã¢â‚¬â€œ a utopian hideaway, which, happens to double up as a trout farm.
Yaka Park houses a restaurant with tables in huge tree houses housed up mighty oaks. There are others dotted around waterfalls and plunge pools. This escape also has water cascading down steps carved into the mountain and through the hollowed bellies of carob trees.
In this place: one may buy trout and have it cooked for you, and should you feel the need: you can also tickle a trout. Stand by the bar and baby trout are swimming in a channel, there for you to quite literally tickle, which they seem to rather enjoy.
We order the little one some trout with thyme and salad and she’s delighted. The rest of us tuck into crispy Turkish pancakes Ã¢â‚¬â€œ more savory than expected and mezes of aubergine (always in season here) served with flat breads cooked outdoors by two women at the speed of light: 200 of these planet-sized discs are created in less than an hour.
We eat dolma Ã¢â‚¬â€œ stuffed cabbage leaves, which in Turkey Ã¢â‚¬â€œ are ranked as socially important: Apparently a mother-in-law sizes up potential daughters by the quality of their dolmas. These come with ezme Ã¢â‚¬â€œ a muddle of tomatoes, parsley, onion, garlic, mint and pomegranate molasses.
We have strained yogurt and mint, stuffed mushrooms and Turkish chips Ã¢â‚¬â€œ served tanned and cooked in locally produced olive oil. Finally, we manage to share a gÃƒÂ¶zleme: a flatbread stuffed with herbs, spinach and leeks (though can vary). They are crispy and delicious, and remind me of the stuffed parathas my Pakistani mother makes.
Another evening we decide to head way up into the hills, having driven through Turkey’s abundant pine forests and witnessed, en-route, two ostriches, two camels and a donkey. We discover the abandoned town of Kayakoy, south of Fethiye. This ghost town clings precipitously to the mountainside and remained occupied until the forced exodus of its Greek residents in 1922.
To the bottom is a single cafÃƒÂ©, offering hammocks, a pool and a surreal collection of memorabilia from a typewriter to a gramophone. Here I start my love affair with Karades GÃƒÂ¼veÃƒÂ§: a delicious casserole of tomatoes, shrimps, onions, garlic, parsley, peppers, and cheese melted on top.
The gÃƒÂ¼veÃƒÂ§ is the ceramic dish it’s cooked in. I also order an Ayran, a cool plain yogurt drink popular here. My partner Ã¢â‚¬â€œ who’s not interested in anything with spices, garlic or anything interesting to eat, takes a sip and describes it as’middling to awful’.
A trip to Kemer, in Seydikemer – a working Turkish town, sees us find its single restaurant perched at the very top. It is empty, bar a puppy. The speed of service is glacial, but this doesn’t matter as we idly watch the twinkling lights of the villages below.
When the food comes, it’s delicious. I order gÃƒÂ¼veÃƒÂ§ with shrimps, and my daughter orders fish Ã¢â‚¬â€œ which is fresh and served in batter made to order. We tuck into Russian salads, mezes, stuffed mushrooms and peppers and pide (a Turkish pizza, doughy and oval Ã¢â‚¬â€œ originating from the Black Sea area).
Having a child in tow, the obligatory last day has to contain a beach visit. We head for Patara beach Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Turkey’s longest and most uncrowded beach, which is a habitat for endangered loggerhead turtles. For lunch, we forfeit the single cafÃƒÂ© here in favour of travelling to nearby laidback village of GelemiÃ…Å¸.
Adorned with bright blooms everywhere, the bars, tea shops and restaurants are quiet as Turkey has seen tourism fall by one third this year. We settle in a cafÃƒÂ© where, the Turkish love of children once again means my daughter is soon rolling out dough and helping to make the pides. We follow this up by a dish of sesame halva Ã¢â‚¬â€œ it’s a strange sensation eating this as it explodes into a powdery concoction upon impact with my mouth, but once I’m used to this, I can’t get enough.
Our last night is spent at the lodge. Here, poolside, we eat and chat, listening to the call of a nightingale and watch several shooting stars dance under a thick blanket of night sky.