Sunday, 20 August 2017

Izmir Gourmet: Food is in the Air

Text and photographs by Albena Shkodrova   
Food is literally everywhere in Izmir.

The first stop a traveller would usually make, is Passaport – the vivid promenade along the seaside, which has turned into a landmark with its black and white pavement.

There, at eight in the morning the waiters already stand by the neat rows of tables, arranging trolleys with boiled eggs, olives, pealed cucumbers, cherry jam, honey and butter.
Your guide to Izmir by
Moments later their first customers – men, take off their jackets, roll up sleeves, and indulge. By noon women and men of all ages sit against each other over a glass of tea or beer and play backgammon. Their faces lit from the sun, reflected in the water, their hair flying from the sea wind. As the night falls, men with trolleys start crawling, their lanterns casting light over heaps of black mussels with lemon, buns and buzlu badem – almonds in ice. Now and then, customers from the tables approach them. They take their snacks, pay quietly, and walk away, as if shyly dissolving in the darkness.

But Izmir has so much more to offer. Eateries range from luxurious restaurants to Starbuck to iskembe salonu – small restaurants, specialized in tripe soup. The variety of tastes, in a similar way, starts at the trolleys on Passaport, and passes via an endless sequence of soups, burek (Balkan type of pastry),
bun rolls and pide (flat breads with a layer of vegetables, meat and souses, remotely resembling pizzas). Then it takes you to the vegetarian dishes, inherited from Greeks. Their fasting menu took a central place in Turkish cuisine with dishes such as broad beans pure with dill, stuffed vine leaves, green beans with yogurt and multiple pickles.

After that comes the old Ottoman cuisine, represented by the festive (due to origin and not thanks to its looks, really) kishkek – a dish of seriously overcooked wheat and meat, which, with the hours if boiling, have merged into a slimy pure.

Also sausages with pistachio, and the delicious hunker beendi (again, better don't look at it while eating), the latest consisting of aubergine pure and small, juicy and soft pieces of lamb.

The area of Izmir is a major producer of the delicious pine tree seeds, which are added to many exquisite Turkish dishes

And after all this triumphantly arrives the great collection of Turkish grill – all kinds of meatballs and skewers.

Amongst them typical for Izmir is Çöp Şiş – small skewers with a couple of tiny cubes of lamb meat, with a cube of lard in the middle. They are served of about 20 per portion.

The other signature food of Izmir is its fish. Fresh out of the sea, it can be found and eaten all along the sea coast restaurants – grilled, baked in a sarcophagus of salt, or simply fried.

Fish, baked under a thick crust of salt, is another specialty, treasured in Izmir

Octopus salad, shrimps in garlic and butter, deep fried calamari are also broadly served here. Even if refined contemporary cuisine is hardly typical for the area, once in a while one can find also some more imaginative dishes. For instance kukuretsi – a typical meze, made of finely chopped intestines and dried hot red pepper, here can be found made of minced calamari and shrimps, mixed with olive oil sauce into kind of a tartar, local version.

Here, just as anywhere else in Turkey, the deserts are often a grand ending of a dinner – golden mountains of baklava, halva, Turkish delight. Bowls of cleaned fruits, which dried honey apricots, large figs, filled with walnuts, dates. Candied fruits. And ice cream, named here with the wonderful word dundurma.

One of Izmir specialties is the addition of melted halva to its cakes. The other one is the mastic gum. A rare condiment, extracted from a local tree, it had produced some wonderful culinary results. The locals mix it in their coffee, make it into a jelly with a very specific taste.

Jars of mastic gum jelly, in the window of a central ice cream shop in Cesme.

But perhaps the most wonderful application is its addition to dundurma, which turns out with a thick, smooth, slightly jellied structure and specific, anise-like taste.

Restaurants to try in Izmir

Sipari Restaurant
A fish restaurant, the terrace of which offers great view at the Bay of Izmir and the town

Tavaci Recep Usta Restaurant
Atatürk Caddesi No:364 Alsancak
Tel: 0232 444 1978 / 0232 463 87 97
Quite a spectacular place with great variation of national dishes.

Tike Restaurant
A luxurious restaurant in the center of Izmir, aiming at offering a more refined culinary experience. Interesting wine list, some excellent, even if cosmically expensive local wines.

Manisa Kebapçısı Alim Usta

‎Kazım Dirik Caddesi
40 Kalearkası, 35210 İzmir Province, Turkey
0232 446 8364
Simple, good ethnic food. Similar can be found in all the kofte (meatballs),sis (skewers) or balik (fish)restaurants in the area.



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