Taking its inspiration from the Aegean region, and its plentitude from its Anatolian identity, Afyon is a city that brings together roads and travelers. Afyon cuisine is identified with its special clotted cream is now registered with UNESCO.
Afyonkarahisar is a city that has been an abode for travelers, for those coming from the King’s Way or the Silk Road, for those in the past and those in the present. The warm thermal waters that take a stand against the cool air in every season, the cuisine that is identified with kaymak (creamy dairy product similar to clotted cream), the friendly people -all are surprising and pleasant. Moreover, the flavors of this city have been registered with UNESCO and Afyonkarahisar has been added to the 2019 UNESCO Creative City Network. When one considers local flavors like sausages, cream, village potato bread, keşkek, and Turkish delight, it is clear that this is a local culinary tradition that deserves recognition. For this reason, now is the perfect time to discover the local flavors of Afyonkarahisar.
I begin my journey through Afyon from the foot of the magnificent Karahisar Castle. Afyonkarahisar is the official name of this city since 2005, but Afyon is still used by the people. The Karahisar Castle is positioned upon a gigantic rock, at a height of 226 meters; during my walk, it remains in sight at all times. The historical houses on the quiet old streets reflect the elegance of the old days. Accompanied by shy children, the city offers a plain but sincere face to us. While walking between the countless windows and doors that open onto the streets, which intersect one with another, I feel like a hero in a novel. Suddenly, I find myself at Ulu (Great) Mosque. Ulu Mosque, positioned on 40 wooden pillars, with bedazzling decoration -even if it is a bit worn- has been one of the symbols of the city from the Seljuk era. Without wandering too far from the extraordinary beauty of the mosque, I heed the call of the historical mansions that are arranged opposite it. A mansion that is decked out with historical furniture and decorations has been transformed into a café. The hot tea is like an elixir in the cool air. Suddenly, without my requesting anything, homemade bükme arrives at my table. In this region, this type of pastry, made with lentils, is considered to be the best accompaniment for tea. There is a secret to the flavor that emerges from mixing pastry with lentils; according to people from Afyon, “If it is homemade, and if it is cooked in a stone oven, it will be perfect.”
While continuing to walk down the streets, I enter the gravitational pull of Sultan Divani Mevlevihane, which is on Türbe Avenue. According to tradition, the mevlevihane, which dates back to the 18th century, is second only to the Konya Mevlevihane. During the era of Sultan Divani, a seventh-generation descendant of Rumi, this location was a center for the Mevlevi traditions. Accompanied by those who are looking out of their windows and by those who ask after my health, I arrive at the Millet Turkish Baths, with its cut-stone façade. The baths, constructed by Armenian craftsmen who lived in the region at the time, is a part of Afyon’s multicultural past.
A different story is waiting at every corner in Afyon. I meet women who are making bread -cooperative style village sourdough potato bread. They thrust a huge portion of freshly baked bread into my hands. While my hands are burning from the steam emitted from the bread, I head towards the marketplace. In the side streets I encounter felt work, the oldest craft that is particular to this region. The masters who transform wool into felt are working hard, but they take out time to greet me. Looking into the windows of antique shops, I pass through doors that are framed by beautiful stone carving, and enter Aşçı Bacaksız Restaurant. Aşçı Bacaksız, which has been run by the same family for four generations, is a modest and small shop whose menu consists of lamb kebab and ekmek kadayıf with cream. It is important to arrive early here; if you wait until evening, you will not be able to savor the delicious lamb kebab.
The shops on Uzun Çarşı that sell sweets and sausages are always jam-packed. Turkish delight with cream can be found up and down the street. There are long queues in front of the sweet shops… After seeing the historical Taşhan Bedesten (covered bazaar), which was built in the middle of the 17th century, and resting in the open courtyard for a while, I enter the mansion. The mansion, which carries traces of Ottoman civic architecture, has been restored and transformed into the Culture and Art House, a place that celebrates the daily life of the region. Climbing the stairs and opening the doors is like traveling to another time, to different traditions and lifestyles.
I continue my journey through the city by passing Gedik Ahmet Paşa Mosque, with its twisted minaret, and the Archeological Museum, where the cultural heritage of Afyon is carefully preserved. Its rich collection stokes the imagination.
I, then, knock on the door of Afyon Kocatepe University State Conservatory, keeping in time to the music. The Alimoğlu Music Museum, which is on the ground floor of the conservatory, gives the visitor a different museum experience, with instruments that have been collected from the four corners of the globe. It is possible to listen to every instrument in the museum, while also eavesdropping on the melodies that emerge from the conservatory’s classrooms.
Afyon has always been a favorite for different civilizations due to its fertile soil and strategic position. Starting with the Hattis, many civilizations put down roots here, leaving deep traces. To explore this region, where beautiful nature combines with history, I stop by the Ayazini village, which was the settlement area of the Phrygians, and get lost in the Phrygian Valley. The atmosphere here is absolutely unique. The geological structure of the Phrygian Valley, with its volcanic tuffs, is a wide area that stretches to the borders of neighboring cities. This world, with the Phrygian and Roman tombs, the chapels and monuments, is unreal. Before leaving the region, in Demirli village, I prepare myself a meal of tomatoes from a garden and warm homemade bread. I learn that I need to eat the potatoes, cooked over coals, accompanied by the regional tuluk cheese. Tuluk is a type of tulum cheese; when eaten with potatoes, the flavor overcomes my weariness.
The fact that the Phrygian Valley is close to thermal waters has always made this region attractive to travelers. From ancient times to today, Afyon’s thermal baths have been a source of healing and health and there are many alternatives to make your journey more enjoyable. You should definitely visit Eber Lake, with its unspoiled natural beauty. Eber Lake is approximately one hour from the center of Afyon. The lake is surrounded by reed beds, and a number of different species of birds stop by here, making this a beautiful place to enjoy nature.
After watching the swans on the lake, I return to the center and take a break in the Tarihî İkbal Restaurant on Uzun Çarşı. The chef and manager Mehmet Pancar and I have a long conversation. I learn the importance of ox milk for Afyon kaymak, that the first meal of the day in this city is keşkek, and that on special days they set up a Sıra yemeği, a meal that is eaten with the community. In this city, one of the heroic places of the War of Independence, in this restaurant, which was named “İkbal” by Atatürk, I taste everything from eggplant börek to ekmek kadayıf. I bid a fond farewell to Afyon, which knows how to please the taste buds well.
6 cups flour / 5 ml salt / water / 100 ml oil / 1 tbsp. lard / 100 g green lentils / 100 g crushed poppy seeds / 1 onion / 1 tsp. black pepper
Mix the flour, salt, and water together, and knead until you have a soft dough. Divide the dough into two. Mix one half with the melted lard, followed by the oil and the poppy seeds. Knead the dough into a ball and let it rest in a cool place. Roll out the second ball of dough in the same way and grease it. Combine it with the first ball of dough and form a larger ball. Mix the thinly sliced cooked onions with the cooked lentils, salt, and pepper.
Cut the dough into squares and roll out each piece into a rectangle. Place the lentil mixture in the middle of each piece and fold over. Repeat the process with the remaining pieces, and grease their tops. Cook in an oven for 40 minutes and serve.
EGGPLANT BÖREK ( PATLICAN BÖREĞİ )
6 eggplants / 4 eggs / 750 g ground beef / half a bunch of parsley / 1 tsp. salt / 1 tsp. pepper / ½ tsp. red pepper powder / tomatoes / green pepper
Peel the eggplants, divide into four and fry. Mix the ground beef, parsley, eggs, salt, pepper, and red pepper powder. Cut the fried eggplants into small pieces, add a tomato and half the ground beef mixture. Spread across the prepared oven tray. Add the remaining half of the mixture on top. Slice the remaining tomatoes and place on top of this, along with the green peppers. Cook for 30 minutes, and then slice the eggplant börek and serve.
WEDDING SOUP ( DÜĞÜN ÇORBASI)
300 g diced meat/ 600 ml stock / 750 ml water / salt / black pepper / red pepper / butter/ 400 ml yoghurt / 100 g flour / 1 egg
Boil the meat in water. In another pan, add the water and stock, and bring to a boil. Mix the egg yolk with the yoghurt and flour. When the stock boils, add the salt and then slowly add the yoghurt mixture. Stir until the mixture boils and add the butter. Add the diced meat and let cook for a few minutes. Place the soup in bowls, and serve with the sprinkle of spices if so desired.
1 cup dried okra / 150 g chopped meat / 1 onion / oil / tomato puree / 1.3 liters stock / juice of a lemon /citric acid / parsley /salt / pepper
Boil the dried okra in water with the citric acid. Drain and let cool. Boil the meat and shred it. Cook the chopped onion with the tomato puree. Boil the meat with the stock and onion. Add the okra and lemon juice to the meat. Place on a serving platter and garnish with parsley.
EKMEK KADADAYIFI WITH KAYMAK
1 portion ekmek kadayıfı / 3.5 kg sugar / 3 liters water / juice of half a lemon / Afyon kaymak
Boil the sugar, lemon juice, and water to make a syrup. Place the ekmek kadayıfı on a tray and wet with warm water. When it swells up, drain the excess water. Place over medium heat and pour the syrup over it. When both sides are cooked, let it to cool. Slice and serve with Afyon kaymak.