WINTER IS COLD BUT TARSUS IS WARM. IT'S NATURAL TO EAT WHEN HUNGRY, BUT IT'S A PLEASURE TO DO SO IN TARSUS. TARSUS HAS A LOT TO OFFER TO THOSE WHO BELIEVE THEY'VE SEEN IT ALL. MAKE SURE TO TAKE TIME TO VISIT ONE WEEKEND.

If it is possible, you should reserve some parts of your holiday for winter. You should take advantage of a free weekend to get away from the city and from winter’s gloom. I suggest you visit Tarsus - let me tell explain why. Most of the structures that make up the city’s architectural richness are located in the city center, enabling you to explore Tarsus on foot. You can visit several places within walking distance including historical stone mansions, the Grand Mosque (built during the Abbasid Caliphate of Al-Ma'mun), Makam Mosque (where Prophet Daniel (a.s.) is believed to be buried), and St. Paul’s Well and Church. The ancient path is the most spectacular element of the city’s 1,000-year-long history; together with its columns it whispers the memories of many famous names such as the Stoic Philosophy School and Cicero, the Roman governor of Tarsus. If you’d like to explore the nearby visiting places, your first stop should be Ashab-ı Kehf (Seven Sleepers) Cave. Here, you can buy seasonal fruit and dried products from nearby villages.

Historically known as Cilicia, Çukurova has preserved its natural environment and culture. Its heritage dates back to 10,000 B.C. and is reflected in local arcihtecture and cuisine.

The products that grow on the lands at the foot of the Taurus Mountains, which the Berdan River spans on its journey to the Mediterranean, enrich and season the local cuisine. Add the favorable climate to the high-in-mineral soil and you have a city with a great variety of products from cotton to figs, citrus to corn, and dozens of vegetables. The cuisine of this region, where a field can grow eggplants, corn and peppers in the same year, is just as rich and varied. There’s also the contribution brought along by the region's cosmopolitan texture and the cultural exchange between the different ethnic groups.

The essence of Tarsus cuisine comprises Greek, Armenian, Arabic, Cretan, Christian, and Turkish-Ottoman elements. The use of olive oil and vegetable dishes made with olive oil are the gift of the Cretans who settled down here in the past.

Arabs’ greatest gift to Tarsus cuisine is tahini-flavored delicacies. Used in dozens of desserts and pastries, tahini is one of the primary local ingredients.

Since Tarsus has a lot in common with its neighbors in terms of structure, geography and culture, local cuisines also bear various similarities. All these cities, however, have their own unique personalities, and hence, the minor nuances which bring about different dishes. One example would be how kebab is made in Adana and Tarsus. While Tarsus kebab is made with less onions and oil, Adana kebab has no onions and is quite rich. While the locals in Tarsus bake lahmacun (pastry with meat filling) in small sizes, it’s large and wide in Adana. Tarsus is famous for its mamül cookies and Turkish shortbread; Mersin has kerebiç dessert which is another version of mamül.

Places that keep the characteristics and privileges of the city and its cuisine alive are indispensable to the locals in Tarsus.

The rich history of Tarsus is mirrored and nourished in local dining locations. Once you walk through Cleopatra’s Gate where Egyptian Queen Cleopatra and Roman General Marcus Antonius met, you’ll arrive at Mavana Fırın, a bakery. Or after visiting the well of St. Paul, an apostle from Tarsus, you can shop at the nearby ship biscuit shop.

You have many options if you feel hungry during a history and culture tour in Tarsus. If you opt for kebab, visit Yeni Ada or Kebapçı Eyüp; Kervan or Anıl for lahmacun or hummus. Polish it off with desserts such as the famous baklava with walnuts, karakuş dessert, sarı burma, mamül, cezerye, tahini halva and bandırma.

If you have the opportunity, make sure to visit Namrun Highland (Çamlıyayla); a one-hour drive from Tarsus, it stands at 1,150 meters above sea level. As you breathe in the lovely air of Tarsus, the bandırma, molasses and ship biscuits will be the best treats you’ve ever tasted. Make sure you try karsambac – a cold snack made by mixing molasses and snow from mountain tops. The molasses made from the special grapes on the Taurus Mountains enriches the flavor of the bandırma and karsambac. It's certain that you’ll never forget the beauty of this highland situated on hills and decorated with pine forests and mountain houses with wide gardens.

If the drive back from Namrun makes you hungry again, stop by Ehlikeyf at the entrance of Tarsus and taste grilled ribs with local side dishes.

I suggest you focus on local delicacies on the second day of your history, culture and gastronomy tour in Tarsus. For lunch, visit Sutuç or Stoa, both clean and lovely local eateries. Stuffed dried eggplants, kibbeh, tray meatballs, analı kuzulu, liver tantuni, stuffed tripe, mumbar, and vegetable dishes with olive oil are only a few of the reasons to visit.

What to bring back? Namrun bandırması, mamül, cezerye, tahini halva and Tarsus cookies. Şumrali çörek, which used to be baked in homes but today can also be found at patisseries, is exclusive to Tarsus and is one of the many local specialties worth trying. Comprising seven different spices, şumra is a traditional delicacy made with yeast dough kneaded with olive oil and milk. Just as the famous simit (Turkish bagel), boiled in water.

 

Thanks to the warm winter climate, Tarsus has been enriched with Mediterranean, Arabic and Anatolian influences and has created its own cuisine. It will take you on a pleasant and delicious journey into history.

 

The Recipes

 

Time to feast in Tarsus! Here are a few recipes you can prepare from eggplants with tahini sauce to filo pastry stuffed with walnuts.

 

Pan Meatballs

 

Serves two-four
759 g full-fat ground meat (lamb and veal) / 3-4 medium-sized onions / 
2 tbsp. butter or margarine / ½ bunch parsley / 1 tbsp. pepper paste / 
1 tbsp. red pepper flakes / 2 kg potatoes / ½ fine bulgur / 1 egg / 1 cup of semolina / Flour / Salt / 50 g olive oil

 

Boil, peel and mash the potatoes. Mix the bulgur, egg, semolina, salt and warm water. Add the mashed potatoes and knead some more. Add two bowls of flour. Divide it in two parts. Spread the meatball mixture evenly across a glass oven pan brushed with margarine. Cook the ground meat with onions, let cool and spread on top of the meatball. Roll out the other half of the mixture in the pan. Using a knife, cut into squares. Pour 50 g sunflower oil on top. Cook for 45 minutes at 190-200 degrees until the top is crispy.

 

Eggplant with Tahini Sauce

 

Serves two
1.5 kg eggplants / 2 cups of strained yogurt / ¾ cup tahini / ½ lemon (or more according to taste) / Salt

 

Peel the eggplants and cut them in four. Further slice the quarters in half and fry them in a little oil or bake them. Mix the yogurt, tahini and lemon juice for the sauce. Add salt. Mix the eggplants with the sauce. Place on a serving plate and sprinkle with red pepper flakes and black olives.

 

Liver Tantuni

 

Serves two-four
1 lamb liver (black part) / ½ kg onions / Sunflower oil or margarine / Salt, red pepper flakes, cumin and black pepper / Pomegranate syrup / Parsley

 

Rinse and clean the liver and chop it into small pieces. Wash them again and rinse the water. Cook in a saucepan with 50 g water. Add sunflower oil and onions, and lower the heat. When the onions soften, add salt, red pepper flakes, cumin, black pepper and the pomegranate syrup. Remove from heat after 5-10 minutes. Place on a serving dish and serve with parsley.

 

Bread with Peppers

 

Serves two-four
1 cup of red pepper flakes (not hot) / 2 fresh red peppers / 1 large onion / 50 g olive oil / 
75 g sesame seeds / Salt / Leavened dough

 

Place the red pepper flakes in warm water and allow to soak before draining. Finely chop the onions and knead with salt. Chop the fresh red peppers and add the sesame seeds and olive oil. Spread the yeast dough on a baking tray brushed with oil. Spread the mixture on top and cook at 200 degrees for 30-45 minutes.

 

Filo Pastry Stuffed with Walnuts

Serves two-four

25 filo pastry sheets/ ½ kg walnut / ¼ kg melted warm butter / 2 cups of sugar / A few drops of lemon juice

 

For the syrup, boil two cups of water and two cups of sugar. Add lemon juice before it boils. Remove from heat and let it cool. Cut the filo pastry sheets lengthwise into 4 cm strips. Put two pastry pieces on top, brush with butter and roll around two walnuts. Repeat with the remaining pastry. Finish all the pastries. Brush the remaining butter on top of the rolled pastry. Cook for 40 minutes at 185 degrees. Remove from oven and pour the cool syrup on top. Let rest and serve.

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