Our first thoughts of Turkish cooking are of a late-night doner kebab grabbed on the way home after and evening’s drinking, but closer reflection will remind us that Turkish cuisine is widely regarded as one of the great cuisines of the world. As well as sharing much in common with other cuisines of the Mediterranean – notably Greek and Italian – it also draws on the legacy of Ottoman cooking as well as borrowing ingredients and traditions from its Eastern neighbours – Armenia, Syria and Iran. Indeed most first-time visitors to Turkey are impressed, above all, by the variety and richness on offer at the the Turkish dinner table.
Many a visitor will buy themselves a souvenir cook book in Turkey, but alas, on returning home, they find it all too difficult to reproduce the exciting flavours they tasted on holiday. One of the the common frustrations is that Turkish cooking is too labour-intensive, and all too often the once-cherished cook book will soon find itself at the bottom of the pile – or worse on the second hand pages of Amazon. It is certainly true that Turkish cooking relies on the quick hands of (almost invariably) Turkish women, but there are more than a few tricks involved which considerably shorten the preparation time.
While we were staying in Cappadocia on our recent Treasures of Turkey Tour, we were treated to a cooking lesson in the village of Ayvalı, not far from Ürgüp.
Ayvalı is as close as it is perhaps possible to get to “responsible tourism” in Turkey. The villagers have taken the initiative to open their houses to teach visitors cooking, or handicrafts or even to let them witness a typical Turkish village wedding.
Our teacher, Ebrü, showed us how to make börek, yaprak sarması and mantı. Mantı is a kind of Turkish village ravioli and can be particularly fiddly to prepare. I long remember evenings with friends making mantı in Ankara. However, once we had been shown the trick to folding up the tiny parcels of mincemeat progress was swift.
Within and hour we had cooked up a wonderful Turkish feast, which even we ourselves could be proud of.
All the photos on this page are of this cooking class.