I do not normally focus on food while traveling. I have a love / hate relationship with it and mostly eat more out of necessity rather than desire. My visit to Gaziantep, Mardin and Urfa changed that though. When comparing the region to the west, I recognized a huge difference in culture, traditions, and even languages spoken daily in the street. I figured that with all these differences, eating traditional food in Southeast Turkey had to be done.
Gaziantep and Paça Beyran Soup
Everywhere I went in Gaziantep, there were sheep’s heads staring out of restaurant windows. I found this a quirky way of advertising local delicacies however am quite sure that if a KFC branch in the USA or UK, started displaying severed chicken heads in their windows, restaurants would soon be emptied of all customers.
As it was the early hours of the morning, my stomach could not handle a sheep’s head for breakfast. Instead, the recommendation that came from the waiter was Paça Beyran Corba, which was actually a nice surprise. Served in a silver plate, it is a mixture of rice, broth, and lambs leg. I also had the option of adding garlic sauce or chili peppers. Accompanied with fresh bread, it was a tasty alternative and I can see why the locals of Gaziantep often eat it for breakfast.
Watching cooks prepare the soup on a gas burner is also entertaining and I was so lucky because I managed to find a cook who did not permanently have a cigarette dangling out of his mouth.
Dalak – Lambs Spleen in Urfa
The adventurous plan to introduce my palette to new tastes also led to an overwhelming fondness for lamb’s spleen. I soon found that throughout the south east, the most popular budget food is kebabs.
However, by the time I got to Urfa, I was sick and tired of kebabs. Beef, chicken, or liver, the thought of eating another kebab made me want to stab myself in the eye with the skewer. I asked the waiter for a recommendation and Dalek is what he duly served it to the table, well-cooked as I requested. I loved the crispy barbeque taste but after numerous translations including a joke among the staff that I was eating cow’s bollocks, no one could actually tell me what Dalak was.
It was down to the power of Google, to discover that my favorite food is now grilled lambs spleen. Having dismembered numerous sheep carcasses at the time of Ramadan in Turkey, I am no longer surprised at the culinary delights, that a Turk can conjure up from any animal body part but have I spent the last 11 years walking around Turkey with my eyes shut?
Why did I never know about Dalak and the gorgeous taste before?
Stuffed lambs ribs in Mardin – Kaburga Dolmasi
By the time I got to Mardin, I had already read the guidebook from front to back and knew the local dishes that I had to try. Kaburga dolmasi was first on the list. Translated as lambs ribs stuffed with rice, the actual dish served to me appeared nothing like the picture. Nonetheless, I decided to dig in and can now firmly state that the cook should be sacked and internationally barred from ever cooking food for the general public again.
The dish was vile but it was not the ingredients at fault, just the way it was cooked. The rice was cold and soggy; the lamb was tough and had the potential to crack every new filling and crown that I had paid my dentist hundreds of lira to construct for me.
Even in my culinary disasters that I have created in the kitchen, there is no way I would serve that dish to anyone! My quest to introduce my palette to new flavors had suffered a setback. The reason I paid for the dish is because the restaurant was the only one in town serving alcohol and I did not want them to bar me.
Traditional Food in Southeast Turkey
When it comes to regional cuisine and local dishes of the south east of Turkey, I just scratched the surface. It has taken me 11 years to get bored of Turkish food on the west coast of Turkey, but in the south east, there are completely different attitudes for cooking and unusual recipes for local foods. I think that learning about traditional food in Southeast Turkey is going to take me another decade at least.
PS : I never saw a Burger King or McDonalds in the south east of Turkey, and have to confess that as soon as I arrived back in the west and got off the bus, the first stop was Burger King for a hamburger meal? Am I bad?