With its sour meatballs in cherry leaves, cookies made with the flour of apricot seeds and fruit leather from grapes from the district of Arapgir, Malatya is ever fruitful with its plain expanding towards Beydağı Mountain.
The symbol of orange color due to being the world’s number one apricot producer, this friendly city is named after the Hittite word “melid,” meaning “honey-like, sweet” according to Czech scholar of Eastern Studies Bedrich Hrozny. The word “melit/melid” transformed into Malatya in time. The city was the home of Oghuz Turks who came to the region in the 11th century. Battal Ghazi, who made Anatolia the homeland of Turks, became famous as a hero who rode his horses through these lands in many legends. Since then, Malatya has also been the home of spiritual legends such as Somuncu Baba and Battal Ghazi.
Malatya Plain is connected to the Mediterranean region through Sultansuyu and Sürgü Creek valleys, to Central Anatolia through Tohma Valley, and Eastern Anatolia through the Euphrates Valley. The beauty of its waters mixes in with the land, creating a city that’s admirable all year round. Situated at the foot of Beydağı Mountain, an extension of the Taurus Mountains, the city witnesses the natural wonders of each season. Spring in Malatya welcomes you with apricot blooms; but you need to hurry because the apricot tree quickly sheds its flowers and grows green almonds. Painted with all shades of green towards summer, Malatya Plain is also the source of all delicacies in the city. The gardens are blanketed with a sheet of yellow in mid-summer while, towards the end of the season, the apricot is accompanied by fruit leathers, walnuts and other dried fruit. New colors pop up if you happen to explore outside the city center. For instance, Arapgir welcomes you with the dizzying smell of fresh purple basil. Autumn in Malatya is when purple basil ripens and people make dried apricots or fruit leather with the black grapes from Arapgir. If locals who live outside Malatya wish to drink the cold waters of Beydağı Mountain, they visit the city to eat çakşır mushroom that grows only in May. You also need to wait until then to taste the karlık honey of Beydağı flowers, as recommended by Necati Güngör, an author from Malatya. Whenever you visit Malatya, you’ll be blown away by, among others, the beauty of the valleys, the canyons, and the highlands hidden among mountains. Malatya is a humble land of delicacies, a “fertile land full of lovely fruit” as written by Niyazî, a local poet.
Born from the foot of the nearby Beydağı Mountain and meandering across the city, Derme Creek meets the locals’ need for water, irrigating the crops planted in the lower Malatya Plain. It’s only natural for a city to be this pleasant when you have such a lovely creek flowing through it. The locals have decorated the bank with summer resorts. On hot summer days, Derme Creek cools its surroundings like a natural air conditioner.
The local apricot called mişmiş is the city's trademark. Just as nuts, it’s harvested in Turkey and exported all across the world. Dried or fresh apricots, apricot jams, in kebabs and fruit stews, it can be found everywhere in the city. In addition to this, you can visit Şire Market and its surroundings to buy other local products and souvenirs. This centrally located market sells everything made with apricots from sun-dried apricots to fruit leather, döner (cezerye with nuts) and almonds.
Your next stop should be the Copper’s Market where you can buy local copper objects. The local restaurants serve dishes, especially those with meat, in these pots. The locals are ambitious about meat dishes. The region’s flora add a distinctive flavor to its cuisine. Meat restaurants in Malatya are very skilled in cooking meat without using too many spices.
During your tour around Şire Market, you’ll see different kinds of bulgur, which is an essential part of local cuisine such as the tiritli dolma (analı-kızlı meatballs). In his travelogue, Evliya Çelebi praises the city for harvesting seven kinds of seven-grain wheat. Each of the 15 bulgur variations are used in meatballs, stuffed leaves and vegetables. I think it’d be enough to describe the richness of Malatya’s cuisine to say that they make stuffed leaves with 11 different fruit such as cherries and mulberries.
We visited Malatya for a few days in the autumn when apricots are dried, and grapes are turned into fruit leathers or unfermented juice. We drank its cool waters, and tried its local dishes, a limited selection of which are presented to you in the following pages from meat to meatballs, stuffed leaves to vegetables. Enjoy it to your heart’s content!
Each dish in Malatya cuisine, where bulgur is the lead actor, is delicious in its own way. But it's hard to find cherry leaf meatballs anywhere else.
Sour Meatballs with Spinach
2 cups of coarsely ground wheat / ½ kg spinach / 1 cup of brown lentils / 3-4 medium-sized onions / 3 tbsp. butter / 1 tbsp. tomato paste / 1-2 tbsp. kef (a sauce with butter and flour) / Plum syrup
Dice the onions and cook them in butter. Add the tomato paste and cook a bit more. Add 7-8 cups of water and lentils and keep cooking. Knead the wheat with salt and water, and make chickpea-sized meatballs. Add a bit of salt, the meatballs and plum syrup to the lentils. Cook for 10 minutes. Add the spinach which has been washed and chopped. Add kef to give thickness and serve hot.
Sour Meatballs with Cherry Leaves
3 cups of coarsely ground wheat / 1 kg sour cherry leaves / 3 tbsp. butter / 1.5 kg yogurt / ½ kg onions / 2 tbsp. flour / 1 tbsp. plum syrup / 1 egg yolk / Salt
Knead the wheat with salt and water into a dough. Soften the cherry leaves in water, roll them with the meat stuffing and place at the bottom of a pot. Put a plate on top. Add some water and salt, and cook on medium heat. Mix the yogurt, flour, egg yolk and plum syrup. Add two cups of water and mix by boiling until it becomes thicker. Pour the mixture over the stuffed leaves and bring it to a boil. Place the stuffed leaves on a serving plate, making sure to get rid of any excess liquid. Dice the onions and cook them in butter. Add 1-2 spoons of the broth and mix. Pour the rest of the broth over the stuffed leaves on each plate. Put the onion mixture on top and serve.
Spicy Yogurt Drink
1 bunch of purslane / 5-6 green peppers / 1.5 kg yogurt / Salt
Clean the purslane, boil it in 100 g water and sieve. Mix the yogurt with 100 g water. Wash and cut the green peppers, and mix them with the boiled purslane and salt. Let it rest for two days and sieve. Serve cold.
½ kg dried apricots / 1 cup of walnuts / 2 tbsp. honey (or granulated sugar) / 2 tbsp. unsalted butter / 4 tbsp. granulated sugar
Wash the apricots and soak them in lukewarm water for 10-15 minutes. Stuff the apricots with the walnuts. Mix the honey or sugar with 5 grams of cinnamon, and use to brush the apricots. Place the apricots on a tray brushed with oil with small pieces of butter and sprinkle 4 tablespoons of sugar. Add 1 cup of water and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes. Serve with apricot seeds and walnuts.
8-10 pieces of Malatya tarhana / 250 g fried meat / 4 tbsp. butter / 2 tbsp. dried mint / 10 cups of meat broth or water / 1 kg yogurt / 2 tbsp. flour
Dissolve the tarhana with enough water and sieve it. Add 10 cups of broth or water and boil. Then add the fried meat and salt. Cook until the tarhana pieces dissolve. Mix the yogurt with the flour and stir it into the soup. Cook the mint and red pepper flakes in butter and pour on top. Serve hot.