SPREADING ACROSS THE MESOPOTAMIA PLAIN FROM THE EAGLE-NEST HILLS, MARDIN IS A CITY THAT DESERVES TO BE EXPLORED LIKE A MUSEUM WITH ITS STONE HOUSES, MOSQUE, CHURCH AND CARAVANSERAIS. AND IT'S CUISINE IS A WHOLE OTHER STORY.
Being one of the Silk Road stops in Upper Mesopotamia and one of the empires’ favorite cities means being home to traces and traditions of civilizations that are thousands of years old. Visiting Mardin gives off this feeling. This richness is reflected not only in the structures, but also in its human treasures and local traditions. The city, where Turks, Kurds, Armenians and Arabs have been cohabiting for centuries, was also one of the prominent culture hubs thanks to its commercial and military importance.
That’s why the local cuisine in Mardin offers a varied menu with dozens of ingredients and cooking techniques. The city's old part on the hilly area has dishes each of which remind us of a historical event. The shops around the back alleys of Birinci Cadde (street) release an appetizing smell into the air.
Feeding on different geographies, beliefs and cultures, Mardin’s cuisine is a result of the city’s climate, agriculture characteristics and traditions. The people of Mardin traveled a lot because of trade, and added the influences of other cuisines on their own.
What you’ll see on Birinci Cadde and its branches are the projection of this rich urban memory. Yemen Kahvecisi rejoices the palate with its daily roasted and ground coffee blended with cardamom while vendors sell fresh roasted chickpeas, or, almond candy (also made with ginger) around the Grand Mosque.
A Day Seeped in Cuisine
Now, let’s talk about what one should eat in Mardin. If you’re staying downtown, make sure to visit the fruit market early in the morning. Buy some fresh yogurt made from sheep’s milk and cheese from the villages, some freshly picked garden cress and parsley, and hot pita bread from the bakery to have a perfect breakfast picnic accompanied by a spectacular view of the plain at the back of Şehidiye Mosque. They also serve delicious tea here, which will add to your pleasure.
Is it lunchtime in the city center? You can find lots of alternatives of kavurma (braised meat), stew and other dishes at Hasan Ayar Bazaar and the surrounding smaller restaurants. If you’re a kebab fan, you can stop by Kebapçi Rıdo where only uses cleavers are used to mince the meat.
If you enjoy snacks in late afternoon, I suggest you try Mardin-style peksimet (sea biscuit) and Mardin çöreği (a type of pastry); or you can buy some filling from a butcher to cook your own sembusek (folded lahmacun, Turkish pizza with meat topping). Your next stop should be Şehidiye.
A Local Common Value: Kitel
Kitel (boiled stuffed meatballs) deserves its own category in Mardin cuisine. Comprising the city’s local cuisine, Arabs, Assyrians and Kurds cook kitel in different sizes on different religious holidays; make sure to buy one when you see it.
I prefer not to make a suggestion for dinner because what you see in Mardin during the day will give you a better idea as to what to eat.
Let’s go a bit outside of town and see what we can purchase as souvenirs. If you visit Kızıltepe and Midyat in late spring and early summer, the fields you’ll see on the way will tell you that you’re in a place famous for red lentil and chickpea production in Turkey. Midyat is renowned for the easy-to-prepare and deliciously addictive pickled gherkin and melons with a heavier taste. The fields here grow durum wheat and Mardin bulgur, regarded as one of the world’s finest bulgur wheats. Blended and served with roasted vermicelli, this bulgur is the essential ingredient for bulgur rice, acin (a local interpretation of çiğ köfte, bulgur wheat meatballs), and kitel.
Meat plays an important role in Mardin cuisine and the city produces its own. Sheep and goat farming is dominant in the city due to the short spring followed by a hot and dry summer, and harsh winter. That’s why most of the dishes are made with lamb meat, and people use suet in local dishes and stews.
I’ve mostly talked about the culinary scene in Mardin but the city is a true treasure with its stone architecture that resembles poetry, and cultural richness that amazes visitors with its cohabiting cultures. This will be a unique experience during which you’ll realize that cuisine is closely knit with life, death, beliefs, music, halay (a local dance), and values.
From salads to meat dishes, desserts to meatballs, we've picked the most delicious delicacies of Mardin cuisine.
Stuffed Lamb Ribs
A lamb's limb (2.5 kg)
For the stuffing: 500 g lamb cubes / 1.5 cups of rice / 1 cup of peeled almonds / 1 bunch of parsley / 3 g allspice / 3 g ground black pepper / 1 tbsp. basil / 1 tbsp. butter / Salt
For sealing: Sunflower oil / 1 bowl of yogurt / 2 tbsp. tomato paste
For a bouquet garni: 1 tbsp. allspice / 1 tbsp. peppercorns
Wash the lamb cubes and put them in a saucepan. Add oil and cook on medium heat. Wait until the meat releases and absorbs its water. Boil and peel the almonds, and cook them until they change color. Take the meat off the heat. Put the rice in the meat oil and cook. Add 115 g water and parboil the rice. Add the cooked lamb cubes and almonds, finely chopped parsley, allspice, black pepper and basil. Let the dish cool. Open a pocket in the ribs between the meat and the bones. Stuff the rib with the meat mixture and seal it around. Mix the yogurt and tomato paste in a bowl, and brush the ribs with the mixture. Seal the ribs by frying them in a large pan. Place the meat in a deep pan with the bony side up, and fill the pan with water halfway. Place the allspice and the peppercorns in muslin to form a bouquet garni. Put it into the water with the rib and cook on medium heat. It takes 3-6 hours for the lamb ribs to cook based on the tenderness of the meat. Check regularly and add boiling water when it evaporates. Serve on a large serving dish.
Dried Tomato Salad with Pomegranate
For the dressing: 50 g dried tomato / 80 g pomegranate syrup / 50 g olive oil / 1 tbsp. isot (ground Urfa pepper) / 1 tsp. sumac / 1 lemon
For the salad: 1 bunch of arugula / parsley / 1 tomato / 2 pomegranates
Mix the ingredients for the dried tomato sauce and let it rest for 30 minutes so that the tomatoes absorb the spices. Add the arugula, parsley, and peeled and cubed tomatoes. Pour the pomegranate seeds on top and serve.
For the meatballs: 140 g kitel bulgur / 70 g fine bulgur / 1 tbsp. ground coriander / salt
For the sauce: 1 red pepper / 1 large onion / 1 tbsp. pepper paste / 2 garlic cloves / Dried mint / Ground coriander / Olive oil
Mix the kitel bulgur, fine bulgur, ground coriander and salt. Add cold water to cover the top. Let it rest for 10 minutes. Place the mixture on a large tray and knead until it doesn't stick to your hand. Cut off nut-sized pieces and shape into buttons. Boil the button-shaped meatballs in salted water and drain. Cook the finely chopped onions and peppers in olive oil. Add pepper paste and garlic and keep stirring. Add the boiled meatballs to the sauce. Add coriander and dried mint. You can also serve with garlic yogurt.
Harire (Milk and Molasses Pudding)
1 liter milk / 1 cup of granulated sugar / 3 tbsp. cornstarch / 1 bowl of cold water / 2 cups of grape molasses / 1 tsp. allspice / 1 tsp. ground cinnamon / 1 cup of walnuts
Boil the milk. Add the granulated sugar and stir. Add two cups of grape molasses and keep stirring. Mix three spoonfuls of cornstarch into a bowl of cold water. Add the starch mixture to the boiling milk. Add the allspice, cinnamon and walnuts and keep stirring. Remove from heat when the mixture thickens. Let it cool. Serve with walnuts.