Aksaray, the Silk Road stop lined with fairy chimneys and home to a traditional cuisine which blends Yoruk culture and the essence of a settled life, awaits its guests as a perfect host that offers traditional cuisine.
Aksaray is arguably the least known of those lucky cities blessed by nature. It neighbors Salt Lake and Mount Hasan, marks the beginning of Cappadocia, and hides the pristine views of children’s books in its bosom, in the very heart of Turkey. This is not just a figure of speech: geographically speaking, it really is in the center of the country. With a history of 11,000 years, it offers guests a delicious cuisine that inherits its inspiration from ancient times along with the hospitality of the Silk Road and the fairy chimneys and valleys shaped by winds and rains.
This region has been appreciated since olden times. The land has hosted the Hittites, the Kingdom of Cappadocia, and the Byzantines. After its seizure of power, the Sultanate of Rum built a palace here, changing the name of the city to Aksaray, i.e. “white palace” in Turkish. Time marches on and when Mehmed II conquered Istanbul, he moved a considerable part of Aksaray’s population to Istanbul, giving birth to the modern-day district of the same name. Today, the city continues to preserve the traces of past civilizations and their culinary codes in its DNA.
Taking even an ordinary meal very seriously, the city starts preparing early for weddings, soldier send-offs, and Bairams as big tables are set up for the entire village or neighborhood.
Let me list some of the star dishes of festivities. Tarhana soup with local split wheat, stuffed vegetables such as zucchinis and peppers, yogurt made with sheep’s milk, molasses halva, all kinds of homemade pastries, and a main dish made with veal or lamb.
I start exploring Aksaray from the Grand Mosque, a magnificent work of the Seljuks. With its monumental crown gate and square plan, it has been connecting all of the city’s streets for centuries. Without detaching myself from its spiritual atmosphere, I head towards Zinciriye Madrasah which has been standing since 1336. Turned into a library by the Aksaray Municipality, the madrasah is still a house of education. Seeing the adjacent Azmi Millî Fabrikası, one of the first flour factories of the Republic, I feel like I’ve discovered the secret of the nearby börek shops. I also visit Eğri (Tilted) Minaret on Nevşehir Street which replies in kind to the Pisa Tower, and Aksaray Museum before completing my tour around the city.
The road will take me to Aşıklı Höyük, the first village in Central Anatolia and Cappadocia. Founded at the foot of Mount Melendiz 10,000 years ago, Aşıklı Höyük is also regarded as the first place where brain surgery was ever performed in history. The skull from the said surgery is exhibited at Aksaray Museum.
The people of Aksaray have become experts in weaving and especially carpet-making. They also have an aptness for handicrafts such as tile-making and pottery. The city has a lively trade industry which must be why I come across local markets some set up in the districts from morning until noon and others that last the whole day. The stalls here have every vegetable and fruit cultivated in Aksaray in addition to dried fruit. Since animal husbandry is also widespread in the city, I also find products made with natural methods such as bryndza cheese made inside a goatskin casing called keçi kılı.
I take some time to watch the visitors in Güzelyurt. If they don’t go for these, then they definitely fill their bags with handmade tiles or Aksaray dolls wearing traditional costumes. But I’m curious about the carpets on which art comes alive through madder and knots, so I head towards Sultanhanı Inn, the biggest Seljuk caravanserai in Anatolia. Aksaray keeps the memory of the Silk Road alive with carpets and carpet-makers whose fame has crossed continents.
Before hitting the road, I listen to the local story of carpets at Sultanhanı Inn, which also lends its name to the district, and visit the workshops which continue to make identical carpets to those that once inspired Renaissance painters by remaining loyal to traditional methods.
Next, I arrive in Güzelyurt, formerly known as Gelveri, to fully enjoy the view of Mount Hasan which remains unmoved like the Northern Star. You need to stop by Güzelyurt to visit the historical mansions overlooking the Manastır Valley, to sip coffee under the sun on the square, to mingle in the conversation at the village coffeehouse, and to try the Gelveri çöreği pastry at a village house.
The cuisine of the famous Manastır Valley in Güzelyurt is splendid both for its ingredients and preparation. The city’s culinary potential is reflected in local delicacies such as crispy kapak böreği, stuffed onions, tarhana soup with split wheat, Gelveri casserole which blends meat and garlic, and molasses and flour halva.
The region is like a treasure for travelers. As I finish my trip to Aksaray among the ruins of the ancient city of Nora around Helvadere, I see a parade of the images carved into my memory: the Analipsis Church (High Church) which greets Mount Hasan from its perched rock, Gelveri casserole, the 6th-century Red Church in the village of Sivrihisar, Narlıkuyu Crater Lake, the abundance of the markets and, of course, Ihlara Valley… Oh, how much I’ve seen in Aksaray!
Aksaray's culinary arts bring together the local abundance of nature and the city's advantage as a transfer point for centuries. You're invited to Aksaray to try the amazing delicacies which serve as a combination of traditional recipes and local produce.
Tarhana Soup with Split Wheat
2 cups split wheat / 3 cups yogurt / 1 egg / 1 tbsp. flour / 1 tbsp. butter / 2 liters water / Dried mint
Boil the split wheat in a deep pot. Whisk the yogurt, egg, and flour in a bowl. Take a ladleful of the hot mixture from the pot and add it to the yogurt mixture. Lower the heat under the boiling split wheat. Add another ladleful of hot water to the mixture. Slowly pour the lukewarm yogurt mix into the pot. Stir on low heat. Prepare a sauce with the butter and the dried mint on low heat. Place the soup into a bowl, pour the sauce on top, and serve.
½ kg veal belly / 1 whole garlic / 7 long green peppers / 2 tomatoes / 50 g tail fat / 1 tbsp. sunflower oil / 1 tsp. salt
Chop the tail fat and place it at the bottom of a large pan. Chop and mix the peppers, tomato, garlic, and meat in another bowl. Add oil and salt, and pour into the pan. Cover with foil and bake in the oven for nearly 1 hour.
2 large onions / 1 small onion / 1 tbsp. tomato paste / 1 tbsp. sunflower oil / 5 g mint / 5 g thyme / 1 cup rice / 1 cup water / Fresh mint / Parsley
Chop the small onion and cook with the tomato paste. Add the water and rice and cook for 15 minutes. Add thyme and mint and let the mixture rest. Cut the ends of the large onions, mark their surface with the edge of a knife, and boil them for nearly 15 minutes. Separate the onion layers and stuff them with filling as you would cabbage leaves. Place them in a deep pot and cook them on low heat for 15 minutes. Garnish them with fresh mint or parsley and serve.
For the filling: 6 medium onions / 2 tbsp. pepper paste / 1 tomato / 4 green peppers / Sunflower oil / Parsley / Salt / Black pepper / Red pepper flakes
For the dough: 1 kg flour / 1 tbsp. salt / 3 cups water / 250 g butter / 1 tbsp. olive oil
To prepare the filling, chop the onions and peppers, and sauté them in oil. Add the pepper paste and continue cooking. Chop the tomato and parsley and add them to the mix with the black pepper, red pepper flakes, and salt. Cook some more and let the mixture cool down. To prepare the dough, mix the flour, salt and water. Knead the dough and let it rest for 15 minutes. Cut it into two pieces and roll out each piece as thin as a phyllo sheet. Melt the butter and mix in the olive oil. Spread one of the phyllo sheets on a tray and brush it with 1/3 of the melted butter and oil. Mark a circle into the middle of the pastry. Fold the outer circle towards the middle. Spread the prepared filling evenly across the pastry. Cover it with the second layer of phyllo and brush with the remaining butter and oil. Bake at 250 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, cut into square pieces, and serve.