Monday, 21 April 2014

Tarhana Soup - The Ultimate In Turkish Recipes?

Ten and a half years we've lived in Turkey - and last week was the first time we tasted what is perhaps Turkey's most well known soup; Tarhana Çorbası. I put this on my Facebook profile and on Twitter. "Noooo waaay," was one reply. People couldn't believe we'd never tried it before. We couldn't believe we'd never tried it before. Here we are; two enthusiasts about all that is Turkish food - and we'd never slurped tarhana soup.

So we thought about some of the possible reasons. Way back in 2010, we did a list of 6 Turkish soups you're likely to find in the lokantas around Fethiye. Tarhana çorbası doesn't make that list because you don't find it in lokantas. That's one reason...

A Turkish Recipe For Tarhana Çorbası

And perhaps another reason is this is a soup that's made and eaten at home. It's a comforting, winter family staple. It's what parents make and send to their kids who are away at uni or working away from home just so they can be sure their offspring are at least eating one sensible meal occasionally. Because tarhana soup starts off looking like this:
Turkish Recipes - Tarhana Dough
Tarhana dough
It's a dried food; a process that takes days, and most Turkish households will have tarhana tucked away somewhere that's been made by a mum, auntie or grandma before being divided up to be shared amongst family and neighbours. 

So how did this tarhana come into our possession? It was a lovely gift, that's how! A friend of ours from Istanbul has recently returned to Fethiye. She's come with mum's tarhana in her luggage and, when we went to see her, she produced a bag for us. "My mum said give this to Barry and Julia. She's really sorry there's not more." A gift with an apology? Noooo, big thank yous from us. Because you can buy tarhana in packet form in the supermarkets, these days, but that's just not the same, is it? The tarhana in our photo above has been made by the hands of our friend's mum - and she's thought to send some for us all the way from Istanbul. Lovely!
Preparing Tarhana Soup
Stock and rehydrating tarhana
So, because of that, we wanted to make sure we made a proper chicken stock to give our tarhana gift the respect it deserves. 
  • Put two generous tablespoonfuls of tarhana into a coffee mug and fill with tepid water. Leave this for a couple of hours or so until the tarhana has rehydrated and become a thick liquid.
  • Now you need around 3 coffee mugfuls of chicken stock. Use a stock cube if you like, but we make our own from the carcass of our kömürde piliç. Throw it in a pan, fill with water, onion chunks, herbs and stems from vegetables and bring to a rolling boil for 15 minutes or so. Simple.
  • In a large pan, melt a knob of butter on a low heat, add your tarhana and 2 dessertspoonfuls of salça (tomato paste) and salt and pepper. We added some chilli flakes, too.
  • Now ladle in your chicken stock and keep stirring every so often so the tarhana doesn't settle and stick to the bottom of the pan.
  • The soup will thicken as it heats. It's usually served thick, so add more water if you want a thinner soup. We ended up using all of our stock and the soup was still thick.
Once it's heated through, your soup is ready to eat.
Tarhana Çorbası
To serve, we sprinkled with chilli flakes and a drizzle of chilli-infused olive oil. And the verdict? Barry tucked in before me (you can see him dipping bread in the background) and said, "Awww, lovely. Reminds of something we used to eat as kids all the time and I can't put my finger on it."
I delved in... "Heinz oxtail soup," I said.
"Yeah, that's it."
Most people of our age in Wigan have been brought up as kids on Heinz staff sales - cupboards filled with tins without labels. Oxtail soup always seemed to feature more than the others. So a staple Turkish comfort food also took us back to our own childhood comfort foods. We like tarhana soup! 

Tarhana Çorbası - More Information
  • Our recipe made four servings.
  • Tarhana soup is traditionally served with beyaz peynir (white cheese) crumbled over the top.
  • Some people also add minced beef - we've got some tarhana left over and will try this next time.
  • If you'd like to try tarhana soup and are like us and have a bit of an aversion to packet soups, you can buy tarhana from the market. Just look for the stalls selling dried beans and rice etc. There's usually a big sack of tarhana in the mix somewhere.
  • We haven't told you the ingredients of tarhana or why it takes so long to make. That's because it's also explained so vividly in this great blog post by Olga at Delicious Istanbul.
  • Tarhana soup is usually eaten as a warming winter soup. We're Barry and Julia. We had ours on a sunny day at the beginning of summer. That's life... 
Saturday, 19 April 2014

East Turkey Road Trip Part 5 - Ani; You're Special!

This was supposed to be our final post in our little East Turkey road trip series but it's actually the penultimate one...just then we can round our tale off nicely. So, in our last post, we took you from the police station (and car pound) in the town of Iğdır further northwards to the Tuzluca salt mines. We stopped off at these salt mines en route to the ruins at Ani, and it's the wonderful Ani we're heading to in this post... 

The ruins at Ani lie in the Kars province, southwest of the city of Kars in a village called Ocaklı. As with all of the drives we did around this area, the route from Iğdır towards Kars and Ocaklı is virtually traffic free, the roads stretch for miles until they disappear over the horizon...and, as we told you in our driving tips for east Turkey, they're full of potholes. When you turn off the main road to head towards Ocaklı, your giant slalom skills will improve immensely but as there's very rarely any oncoming traffic, this is more of a fun activity rather than an annoying hindrance, and you can keep a decent speed up. 

Ani Ruins, Kars, East Turkey
The entrance gates to Ani
A drive through the tiny village, parking the cars on a clearing (occupied only by a man watching over his three horses) and here we are - the ancient walls of the Ani citadel just there, right in front of us. No approach road, no real car park, no coaches, no queues of tourists...just us and a guy on the gate checking our Müzekart. It's the story of our East Turkey experience really - wild, lonely, vast, beautiful. Here we are in a ruined city which was once a major part of the Silk Route and rivalled ancient Constantinople and Baghdad in size and importance - and there's only us here...
Church of St. Gregory The Illuminator, Kars, East Turkey
Ani - The beautiful setting of the Church of St. Gregory The Illuminator 
And just like Ishak Paşa Sarayı, this is another ambition realised for us. We've seen so many photos and posters of east Turkey's ancient Armenian architecture over the years, we've said over those years we'd love to get there one day, but there was never a definite plan. We knew these structures were somewhere near Kars - and that was about it...

What we didn't expect was the fabulous, lonely setting. Before our visit, we didn't know that this was once a thriving city, abandoned centuries before. Once again, we're tiny people in a huge expanse of grassy highlands. We're not exploring a 'site' as such. It's a feeling similar to walking around the ruins of Kayaköy in winter - although it's abandoned, it almost feels like you're intruding. Amongst the wows at the scenery, the architecture, the frescoes; there's also a feeling of melancholy.
Turkish-Armenian Border At Ani, Kars, East Turkey
The Turkish-Armenian border
"Look at this place," says one of our party, sadly. "Not a soul here and most people probably don't even know it's here." He says this in the context of awareness about the area rather than creating a tourist attraction. It does feel like a secret place as we clamber up and down hills following the ravine which marks part of the border between Armenia and Turkey.
Ani Cathedral, Kars, East Turkey
A detail of Ani Cathedral
This place, Fethiye Camii (Church of the Holy Mother of God - Ani Cathedral) was begun in the year 910. Along with the rest of the ruins, it's not in the best of states (with earthquakes, sackings, abandonment, harsh weather conditions and neglect, it's testament to those builders that anything is left standing at all) and there's modern day graffiti telling us who loves who and the date they loved each other. Both close up and from a distance, standing all alone, nestled in a dip between two hillocks, the cathedral commands your attention. Can't help but compare the distant scene to a Bronte-esque image. Almost Wuthering Heights...
The Landscapes Of Ani, Kars
This gorge reminded us of Ihlara Valley in Cappadocia
We spend some time at Ani. There's quite a bit of ground to cover between each structure, but it's no chore walking between them. The scenery is amazing; caves buried in the cliff faces lining the gorge, shepherds and their herds just tiny dots by the winding river below. Exhilarating to be in so much open space - especially while exploring ruins that, in other places in Turkey, could be packed full of people doing the same as us. 
Defensive Walls of Ani Citadel, Kars, East Turkey
Walking back to the defensive walls of the Ani citadel
Eventually (after around three hours or so?) it's time to move on. We need to press on to Kars to eat some food before heading back to Patnos. We're all quite sad to leave - because, quite honestly, it's been a privilege to be able to see all this. How much we've seen on our East Turkey road trip...and what a grand finale Ani has been.

We wander back through the gate of the city walls and back into the village and daily life of Ocaklı. It's assumed food in Kars will be the end of our adventure. However, what we don't have any idea of, as we walk back to the cars, is our adventure is not over just yet...

The Ruins of Ani - Useful Information
  • We were driving but it's possible to get Ani as part of a trip from the city of Kars. If you want relative solitude (we bumped into a smattering of other people the further we wandered) and to explore and take all in your own time, we'd recommend getting a car.
  • Click on our map of Turkey to see the location of Ani.
  • Entry to Ani is free with a Müze Kart - but if you haven't got one, it was 5TL entrance fee in May 2013.
  • Give yourself 2-3 hours to take in Ani - comfortable clothing and shoes and a picnic and you could spend a full day here.
  • As with Ishak Paşa Sarayı, there are just too many photos for one blog post so we've added more elsewhere. This is our East Turkey Flickr album.
  • The history of Ani is centuries old. Rather than take away from that history by summarising in this post, read more about Ani on Wikipedia (this is one of the more comprehensive pages on Wikipedia and has more sources in the footnotes).
  • And finally, it's not often we go out on a limb like this but we will say, we can't recommend Ani highly enough.
Thursday, 17 April 2014

East Turkey Road Trip Part 4 - The Tuzluca Episode

And we left the story where we were sat in a police station in Iğdır, on a national holiday, smiling politely at the policeman on duty in the hope that he would authorise our hire car to be released from car prison. There are four of us, sitting there. Our two Turkish friends are doing the talking - 'we're teachers in the area, we're on a road trip for Gençlik Bayramı and look, we've got foreign guests, too, and we need to get back to Patnos tonight in the hire car, and we've just been to Ishak Paşa Sarayı...' That sort of conversation. And everything's amiable - even if the police guy does look a tad bored with life; well it is a holiday, and he is at work.

And then the other police guy in the room beams. He's heard our friends say to the other policeman that we'd hoped to get to Ani, near Kars, today sometime. "Oh, don't miss out on the salt mines at Tuzluca," he says. We've never heard of them so he explains it's on the way to Kars. We nod and smile, all the time our heads pleading that the other guy will authorise the release of our car, otherwise, we're going nowhere... 

Tuzluca Salt Mines, East Turkey
Cave entrances on the approach to Tuzluca Salt Mines
The car's released, fines paid, profuse thank yous...and that's how we end up pulling off the main road from Iğdır to Kars into the little town of Tuzluca. One random comment from a policeman and here we are. First impressions...well we're intrigued from what we can see in the distance. The Tuzluca salt mines certainly look worth seeing. ('Tuz' means 'Salt' in Turkish so the whole town must exist because of these mines - apparently they've existed since Mediaeval times.)

We drive up the mine road and wonder if there must be a visitor centre of some description. Not sure why we think that as everything seems so ad hoc in these parts - and then we arrive at the entrance to the salt mine - and it is just an entrance to a salt mine. No payment desk, no guide...have we just arrived at a place of work and it just happens nobody has thought to stop us?
Tuzluca Salt Mines, East Turkey
Entrance to Tuzluca Salt Mines
Have we just arrived at a place of work and it just happens nobody has thought to stop us? Well, here's the entrance to the mine. We stop the cars, park them and get out and look at the entrance into the rock face; solid salt stalactites hanging from the rock faces at the entrance to many smaller openings. It's definitely impressive - nature at work - and obviously, it's being made use of. This is a huge mine, judging by the approach road we've just driven up.

So at this point, sensible readers, your mind might be saying to you, "Well obviously, everyone should leave. This is not a tourist sight. It's a place of work. No place for five young Turkish teachers and a pair of Brits." Well, that's what I'm thinking, anyway, while we're standing there...except we're with five young Turkish teachers (their profession is irrelevant - the fact is, we're following them). Let's just say the males amongst us (3 of them) look more gleeful at the sight of the cave/mine entrance than the females (4 of us) do. "Are there rats," one of the females asks. Who knows...
Tuzluca Salt Mines, East Turkey
A lorry leaves the Tuzluca mines
As we get deeper inside, curving around the huge, arched, carved entrance, a dumper truck passes us, heading towards daylight. Packed with salt, we assume. "Errrm, we're really not supposed to be here," says one of the female camp. "And there might be rats!"

At this point, I'm thinking there's no way we should be here. If this was just me and Barry, I'd have turned the car around way before the mine entrance; me being Mrs Sensible and everything...but here we are, and it's quite funny. Some of us, including me, are thinking how fascinating, weird, hilarious it is that we're all stood in a salt mine with cameras and ipads. Some are worried about potential rats - that's the least of my worries...and then one of our party gets even more curious, wants to know where that lorry has just come from, goes back outside and returns with his car! 
Tuzluca Salt Mines, East Turkey
Sometimes, further exploration is needed
It's not often we have people pics in this blog but here are our road trip buddies, in a salt mine in the east of Turkey...with a car! Should we have been here? Errrm, we'll guess not - but what are you gonna do? The car takes off and the sound of the engine disappears deep into the mine. We stay around this area - far enough away from the entrance for it to be dark, but close enough to make a run for it if needs be...well, you never know if a super rat is going to jump out!

We take photos of salt deposits on the walls of the cave, shout to each other, laugh...hope our other driver is okay after wandering off into that deep cave of darkness in his car to who knows where. Well, he returns after 15 minutes or so - any thoughts of traveller horror stories are put to bed. Resume normal positions. 
Tuzluca Salt Mines, East Turkey
Salty stalactites at Tuzluca salt mines
We go back outside, into the real world. And really, Barry and I genuinely cannot tell you if we were supposed to be here or not - but it was a part of our adventure on the roads of Eastern Turkey, nobody stopped any of us as we all wandered into the mine (the lorry driver didn't even give us a second glance) and well...look at it...of course it was worth seeing. The Tuzluca salt mines, even if it's just the exterior rock faces, are amazing.
  • The Tuzluca Salt Mines are on the road between Iğdır and Kars and can be seen here on our East Turkey Road Trip map at point E
  • One online video has given us a clue that tour buses do enter the mines so they are worth a detour
  • This post is the penultimate post in our East Turkey road trip series. In our next post, we head towards Kars and the Armenian ruins at Ani. Another ambition realised for us...

Monday, 14 April 2014

Return To King's Garden Restaurant, Fethiye. This Time We Ate...

The best laid plans... Yes, just over 12 months ago, we wrote a blog post about how we stopped for much needed refreshment at King's Garden Restaurant in Fethiye after we'd walked to the top of Fethiye Lycian rock tombs. The staff were just having a food break during their gardening activities and we were very kindly given some of their kısır to go with our drink - and very nice kısır it was, too. 

From that day, we fully intended to go back for a proper meal; we'd go over summer, we said. We'll take some friends up there, we said. We can go up there with my dad, we said. And summer came and went in its usual summery haze and we never made it. It doesn't matter, we can go over winter, we said. And all of a sudden, here we are in April. Well, we got there in the end - we had meal at King's Garden Restaurant last week.

View From King's Garden Restaurant, Fethiye, Turkey
Just one of the fab views of Fethiye from King's Garden
The sunset from King's Garden is one of its attractions and we'd love to show you a photo of that...but it was a stormy day when we went - no sun! However, the views of Fethiye alone are reason enough to get out the camera and take a few shots. 

But what of the food? No point going up to a restaurant to enjoy the beautiful scenery of Fethiye if the food spoils your evening. Well, you know we must have enjoyed it, otherwise we wouldn't be writing about it. There were three of us eating. Let's have a look at what we ate:

Hot And Cold Meze Dishes
Meze Dishes At King's Garden Restaurant, Fethiye, Turkey
Hot and cold meze dishes at King's Garden Restaurant
A classic case of ordering too much, eating too much bread with it...and then wishing you'd left just a tiny bit more room for your main meal. Not to worry, though, we managed. Between us, we shared a cold meze platter with Antep ezmesi, olives, olive oil, aubergine salad, yoghurts and a very tasty celeriac and yoghurt dip. 

Hot meze dishes included (and we're not just saying this) one of the best, if not the best, calamari dishes we've had in Turkey. So flavoursome and tender (bouncy calamari just does not cut it for us). We mentioned it to Salih, the owner. You could tell in his face he knows his restaurant's calamari is good. All in the marination process, apparently.

King prawns were served in a creamy garlic sauce - you can see here where the too-much-bread-situation arose. Prawns eaten, juice mopped! And then there were onion rings. Now, these weren't homemade but if you're an onion ring fan (we are), you'll know what they taste like and you'll know they're good.

The Meaty Mains

Main Meals, King's Garden Restaurant, Fethiye, Turkey
Main meals at King's Garden Restaurant
Sweet chilli chicken, pepper steak and chicken and mushroom in a creamy garlic sauce. All meals were served with lightly roasted vegetables and potatoes, as well as Turkish rice and broccoli. I had the sweet chilli chicken and can tell you it's got a bit of a kick as well as its sweetness. Yummy! And perfect for me as I don't like ordering a meal with 'chilli' in the title and then not being able to taste any chilli. Barry's steak was a decent sized slab, cooked medium and got the thumbs up, as did the chicken and mushroom. We usually sample each other's food but, to be honest, we'd all overdone it with the bread and stuck to concentrating on the appreciation of our own meals.
Fethiye Rooftops From King's Garden Restaurant
View of old Fethiye and the sea from King's Garden Restaurant
It was a leisurely meal - you get a good gap between each course - and we had a couple more drinks afterwards so it was getting late by the time we left. It's still cool at nights at this time of year so the windows are still in the restaurant. They're removed during the summer season but we quite like this photo through the window, over the rooftops of old Fethiye, over the bay to Çalış and reflections of the table lamps of the restaurant.

Next task: don't leave it another year before we return to King's Garden Restaurant. Maybe we can take our friends over summer...The best laid plans...

King's Garden Restaurant - Useful Information
  • King's Garden Restaurant is on 135 Sokak, Kesikkapı Mahallesi, just below the rock tombs in Fethiye.
  • For those of you who don't know King's Garden and are thinking it looks a bit of a climb, never fear because Salih - the owner - does a pick up service. He's got really good English so it's easy to arrange.
  • King's Garden are on Facebook and you can send them a message or call them to arrange a booking. Click this link to 'like' King's Garden on Facebook.
  • King's Garden, and lots of other restaurants and bars, feature on our Fethiye Eating & Drinking page.
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