Sitting here in the gloomy grey rain of an Auckland winter, it’s hard to imagine that just a couple of weeks ago I was frolicking in the clearest blue waters of the Aegean, having one of the best holidays of my life. Ten amazing days with my computer and blackberry turned off (what a luxury that is!), swimming in the clearest waters, surrounded by a deep and rich culture, warm, friendly people, amazing produce, interesting cuisine and a group of great friends. In my book it just does not get any better.
I had never been to Turkey before and hadn’t had the time to do any research. All I knew was that we were to meet some friends in Istanbul for a few days and then fly south together to Bodrum to meet other friends on their boat for a week of cruising the Turkish Aegean. Istanbul itself was a mega eatahon and adventure - an amazing city at the crossroads of East and West. But that's another story. For now I am still warm with memories of the clearest blue seas and skies, honey and almonds, string cheese and sheep curd and feta, hundreds of kinds of olives, hillsides of purple bouganvillea, ancient ruins and laughter, so much laughter in the company of wonderful friends.
Cruising the Turkish coast you can be sure that something new or unexpected can and usually will happen every day. Whether it's being able to trade beers for fresh fish from the local fishermen, barter for provisions at the weekly market or on the wharf, or be served cups of Turkish tea at the butchers or the towel shop. Whether you're discovering amazing untramelled ruins such as those in the remote and beautiful Knidos, or swimming in the waters where Cleopatra imported sand from the Sahara so she could cavort with Mark Anthony, it's all one big wonderful adventure.
Among the most exciting things to eat in Turkey are the mezze. Turkish mezze offer an impressive array beyond the standard hummus, taramasalata, baba ghanoush and yoghurt and cucumber dips we know so well. There are lovely vegetable stews, pastes of peppers and beans, cooked seaweed dishes, artichoke dishes, plates of octopus or squid salad - sometimes up to 20 different mezze will be on offer in a restaurant. You will find you really won't want anything else afterwards. Choose some mezze and they will come with bread. Raki is the preferred drink but Turkish tea is safer if you don't want to nod off to sleep for the afternoon. On the boat it was so easy to make a tomato salad of one kind or another, served up with fresh bread - so easy and so good.
Turkish breakfasts offer a fantatsic array of fresh and dried fruit, yoghurt (the best in the world), breads, jams and honey along with cucumbers, tomatoes, cheese and olives. Their other breakfast specialty, which I fell in love with, is a terrific dish called menemen. Every restaurant serves it and it's always just a little bit different. Menemen one of Turkey's national dishes in a very low-key kind of way - famous for being something every man knows how to cook before he is married. It's such an easy, good thing to make and every household has their own version depending on the ratio of onions or tomatoes or eggs.
You simply heat some oil and gently fry lots of diced onions and some Turkish or Hungarian peppers (lightly hot but not like chillies) without browning. Then add chunks of peeled tomatoes (Turkish cooks always peel their tomatoes like we might peel an orange) and let them cook down so you have a nice sauce. Give it a good season and then whisk in some eggs, stirring them so they cook like a scramble through the tomato and onion mixture. That’s it. I guess you could add dill or parsley or more chilli or chorizo, but they don’t and it's just delicious! My mother used to make us something very similar without the peppers, which she called tomato wiggle, and my Colombian friend Andres, who was with us, says in Colombia a similar dish is called huevos pericos - but there they use more egg. Such were my accolades for this dish that in Marmaris I actually made the national media with a press conference of about eight jourmalists and two TV channels!
Looking back now through these photos from Turkey it all feels like a dream. Good holidays are like that though - if life was like this on an everyday basis, well it just wouldn’t seem so special, would it? Give me another month or two of that life and I might be able to let you know! At this point I would quite like to be teleported back (without the pain of having to go on Turkish airlines – it's not until you travel on another airline that you realise just how good our own airline Air New Zealand really is...)