The people of Bolu who name a kebab after Köroğlu and a dessert after Bolu Bey attribute the flavor of their meals to the philosophy of "cooking what you cultivate." Of course, they do not shy away from feeling proud of their cooking skills.
When one talks about Bolu, some first think of picturesque lakes such as, among others, Abant, Gölcük, Sünnet, Sülüklü, and Yedigöller. Then, they remember the names of Kartalkaya and Esentepe ski centers. Situated between Istanbul and Ankara and embraced by forests, Bolu and its districts are best appreciated when you broaden this ordinary perspective. Bolu smells of mastic. Here, the scent of apples leaves a lasting impression first on the mountains and then on the town of Seben. Kıbrıscık is the home of nightingales, and Yeniçağa is a land of thousands of flowers. Göynük keeps track of time with its Clock Tower. Mudurnu winks at the past with its wooden mansions. Mengen is the home of cooks and a throne of forests. Dörtdivan is the child of the mountains and Gerede is blanketed in snow, complementing the city center of Bolu. While men cut kindling wood with hatchets on the highlands, women line onions on the verandas and hang out red peppers to dry. Those who are from Bolu but live away from their hometown unite with their fellow townsfolk during a special occasion called "Hacet Bayramı." Together, they eat rice with meat and bulgur pilaf. They adorn the tables and cook the dishes together. While everyone is busy eating, mischievous kids impatiently and secretly grab a diamond-shaped slice of palace halva. The people of Bolu are very skilled in the kitchen. They cook Köroğlu yaprak kebab in ceramic casseroles. Bolu whets people’s appetites even with the mention of Hızır kebab, cincile böreği, Mengen rice, Bolu Beyi dessert, kedi batmaz, and Yedigöller kebab. The secret partly lies in their philosophy to “cook what you cultivate” as the ingredients used in Bolu’s cuisine are cultivated in the surrounding gardens and fields.
When you utter the words “Bolu” and “cooking” together, Mengen is naturally ahead by a spoon’s margin. The cooks from Mengen had a credible reputation in the Ottoman palace kitchen, while Yakup Ağa is known as the first royal cook from Mengen. When these cooks started passing down their skills to younger generations through the relationship of master and apprentice, a tradition was born in the palace kitchen to hire cooks from Mengen. Today, the people of Mengen understandably work hard to keep this reputation. Opened in 1985, Mengen Anatolian Culinary Vocational High School is a solid example of this endeavor. The school trains students in all aspects of culinary arts from cooking to the intricacies of serving and hints about preparing ingredients. Since 1981, Mengen hosts the International Cooking and Tourism Festival among cooks. We should also mention the local cooking contest among women. Furthermore, a few years back, experienced chefs got together with children with Down Syndrome and cooked delicious dishes. In addition, the festival serves a great opportunity for many cities in Turkey to promote their local cuisines at special booths.
The district of Mudurnu still preserves the heritage of Ottoman architecture, privileged by its old mansions and Clock Tower. Nevzat Anlıtan from Yarışkaşı Mansion explains why the people of Mudurnu call cranberry “hekimdöndü” (loosely translated as “the doctor turned back.”). “There was once a physician who was riding his horse towards Mudurnu. On the town's outskirts, he saw the cranberry shrubs, thought ‘People here are probably never sick, so I may starve’ and headed back.” Indeed, when someone in the household is sick, the remedy is to take korova cranberry paste from the shelf and eat it. Anlıtan also tells us how to make pumpkin gözleme pastry which is served with pickles and fruit stew.
Mudurnu also has a 700-year-old tradition called “esnaf duası” during which shopkeepers get together to pray for good business before the Friday prayer every week. To perform this tradition which has been inherited from the Ahi order, the shopkeepers meet at Orta Çarşı and Demirciler Çarşısı markets, wishing for benevolent and abundant business along with the locals of Mudurnu. During this prayer, they also share bread. On Thursdays, everybody wakes up early because it’s the day of the market. The night before, women fill baskets with tarhana, cheese, çökelek cheese, mushrooms, medlars, or clotted cream. The marketplace offers women a space of their own. This is where they sell the vegetables from their garden, homemade noodles, cranberry sherbet, molasses, strained yogurt, oven-baked pumpkins, and olive breads, and the eggs of their chickens.
Göynük, a district in Bolu known as the “hometown of Akşemseddin, the tutor of Mehmed the Conqueror,” is famous for its groceries managed by elderly men with white beards, tailors who sew clothes in their homes, and large beans laid on the pavements to dry. It looks like a sibling of the district of Mudurnu. In fact, the meaning of life is hidden in this concept of “siblings” for the people of Bolu, who regard sharing their food with those less fortunate and friends as a virtue. They have already discovered the secret to doing all this with flavor. To understand this, you can savor trout by the lake, kaşık sapı in a mansion, or Kartalkaya kebab at one of the restaurants around the market –as long as you enjoy it in slow bites!
Each district in Bolu brings another delicacy to the table. Preparing these dishes from various parts of the city is as enjoyable as tasting them.
Kaşık Sapı Pasta
1 kg flour / 1 egg / Salt / 1.5 cup mixture of grated keş (dried yogurt) and ground walnuts / 180 ml sunflower oil or 100 g butter
Knead the dough and roll it into a thin layer. Cut it into small squares. Take each square piece of dough and wrap it around the handle of a wooden spoon or your finger. Slowly remove the handle from inside the dough and place the noodles on a tray. Boil them in water and drain. Place some on a serving platter, sprinkle with grated keş and ground walnuts. Repeat the layering sequence. Heat the oil/butter and add the mixture of keş and walnuts. Pour it on top of the dish and serve.
For the dough: 1 kg flour / 1 egg / Salt / Water
For the filling: 1 kg grated pumpkin / 2 onions / 1 handful granulated sugar / Black pepper / 100 g butter / Milk / Clotted cream
Grate the pumpkins and cook them with the diced onions. Add black pepper and granulated sugar (optional). Knead the dough and roll it into a thin layer. Spread the pumpkin mix on one layer of dough and cover with another. Cook in the oven. Sprinkle the cooked pastry with a mixture of milk, butter and clotted cream and place them on top of each other. You can serve them in any shape you want.
500 g homemade noodles / 1.5 cup mixture of grated keş (dried yogurt) and ground walnuts / 180 ml sunflower oil or 100 g butter
Boil and drain the homemade noodles. Place them on a serving tray. Sprinkle the noodles with a mixture of grated keş and ground walnuts. Repeat the layering sequence. Heat the oil/butter and add part of the keş-walnut mix. Pour it on top of the dish and serve.
750 g flour / 1 egg / 180 g sunflower oil or 100 g margarine / 1 handful walnuts
For the syrup: 300 g granulated sugar / 2 cups water
Cook the flour and the oil/margarine on low heat. When it changes color, add a little sugar and the whisked egg, and keep stirring. You can also sprinkle a handful of walnuts into the flour. When it’s cooked, add the boiled syrup and cook until it absorbs all the liquid. Let it rest. Place on a serving tray while shaping with a spatula.
1 cup cranberry tarhana / 4 cups water / 4 garlic cloves / 100 g butter
Boil some water in a deep pot. Stir the cranberry tarhana into the boiling water and keep stirring for 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat. Smash the garlic cloves and add them to the soup. Heat the butter and add it to the soup as well. You can also add ground walnuts or minced meat while heating the butter.