A Sea Odyssey
Antalya cookery bears every aspect of being Mediterranean. Freshly caught fish and seafood is abundant, and being strategically situated on the crossroads of sea trade in Central Mediterranean has resulted in the accumulation of a diverse food culture. Throughout the history interaction with other Mediterranean cultures, direct contact with Africa, Middle Eastern and Arabic cultures as well as trade with the Aegean islands and Venice provided access to various new foods and foodways. This continuous cultural exchange, combined with the fertile soil and ideal climatic conditions, resulted in the amazingly rich agricultural diversity of today.
Corneille Le Bruyen, 1728
Mystery of Ship Wrecks
The ship wrecks found off-shore the coast provide invaluable knowledge on the food of ancient times. The amphoras, the long terra-cotta jars with two handles and a narrow neck, were used to carry food items in ships. Stacked with thousands of them, ancient ship wrecks reveal secrets of the food and agriculture of the past. Amphoras were used to carry a diverse spectrum of dry or liquid goods; such as wine, molasses, honey, vinegar, olive oil, olives, dried figs and fruits, dried, smoked or salted fish, fish sauce, grains, sesame, resin and tar. All those items of economic value were shipped from the ports of the region to other Mediterranean ports. Likewise many goods unavailable in the region came in the same way from elsewhere. This intense trade of foods and other goods has been what that has shaped the Meditterranean world. The precious posession of the ships has been attractive for corsairs, and the feared Pamphilia pirates had great power. Underwater archaeology studies reveal astonishing information on the food trade of the region. Combined with the findings of archaeological excavations in various sites, we gather a picture of the foodscape of ancient world. For example, the refined red terra-cotta plates of Sagalassos were shipped to Egypt in return for the much praised dried smoked rare fish of the Nile Delta.
Voyage of Food
The ports of Alexandria, Cyprus and Antalya, has always been the top trio stops of Eastern Mediterranean trade routes. The ports of Phaselis, Side, Perge and Alanya were among other important trade points bustling with ships ready to set sail to the west. The bounty of Mesopotamia was transported from the ports of Syria, carried along following the shores of Anatolia, towards Aegean and Western Mediterranean destinations like Crete, Rhodes, Malta, Aegean Islands, Athens, Constantinople (Istanbul), Smyrna (Izmir), Venice, and Marseilles. Another important trade route from the Indian Ocean reached to Alexandria via the Red Sea, and followed a similar route with stops in Middle East and Cyprus, and then following the Turkish coastline.
Treasures of the SeaOttoman traveller Evliya Çelebi has nick-named Antalya as İskele-i Mısır, meaning “Gateway to Egypt”. Ottoman world had close contacts with Venice, and from the shores of Antalya, many goods like wheat, barley, walnut, dried apricots, sesame, cheese were exported to Venice. The Veneatians could not get enough of the precious saffron gathered from the Taurus mountains. It was not only export of course, the valuable items, coffee from Yemen, rice and sugar from Arabic peninsula arrived here, and then transported by karavans to the Topkapı Palace in Istanbul. This traffic of food lasting for centuries, made the region open to novelties and created a diverse agriculture. Many once new vegetables like okra, taro, molehiya arrived from Africa, the South American peanut made its way via the same route, and the symbolic orange made its way all the way from China by the hand of Portugese. The new world foods like tomatoes and peppers became regional basics, while the once Indian banana, travelled all along Egypt and landed in Anamur become synonymous with the city. Eggplants followed the same path becoming an indispensable part of Turkish cuisine. These are all giftsof sea routes that has enriched the culinary scene of the Mediterranean region.
Fishing has always been a life style in the coastal settlements. Uluburun wreck revealed countless items of fishing gear, hooks, lead fishnet weighs, glass fishnet bulbs, netting needles, harpoons etc. Roman steles of fisherman indicate the popularity of the profession.
The shores of Antalya offer a bounty of fish and seafood. However, fish is not confined to sea waters only. The lakes of Burdur and Isparta offer a variety of fresh water fish like carp, sazan,and the crisply cold, clear mountain streams are ideal for fishing adventures, especially to catch the red spotted trout. It is quite common to find a trout farm high up in the mountains and enjoy trout baked on terra-cotta plates sitting near refreshing fresh water springs.
Big fleshy white grouper varieties such as blacktip grouper, lahoz, and dusky grouper, orfoz, are typical of Antalya sea, and sometimes called as Arabian fish. Grouper has become like the signature fish of Antalya, gently cooked in delicious stews or just grilled. It can filetted to be pan fried of grilled, or cut into big plump morsels, to be skewered and cooked over open fire. The remaining fish parts, especially the head, can be braised into a wonderful fish soup. The bulging-eyed grouper, patlak göz, with its tender meat, is the most sought after variety. Swordfish, kılıç balığı, is also among the widely sought catches. Other popular fish types include barracuda, whiting and sea bass.The variety of Meditterranean fish is immense. Much praised are the red fleshed fishes like red seabream, blue spotted seabream, pink dentex, red pandora, oblade and red mullet. These are best when fried and served with talatur, a garlicky walnut sauce.
There are many local names for common fishes. Gilthead bream, çipura, is called mendik locally. Striped yellow mullet has the nickname ‘Pasha’s trousers’, and the grey trigger fish is called ‘Pig fish’. Large sand-smelt or silverslides are referred to as ‘Turkish delight’.
Seafood like octopus, squid, shrimp, sea urchin, and the rare slipper lobster are among other delights of the sea. The blue crab, mavi yengeç, catched in the shores of Kekova, is becoming more and more popular.
Fish with Garlic Walnut Sauce
1 kg red sea bream
flour to coat
olive oil to fry
1 cup finely ground walnut
¾ cup luke-warm water
2-3 cloves garlic
juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon salt
parsley to garnish
-Clean and wash the fish, pat dry with kitchen towel and salt slightly, drain in a colander till the juices drip off.
-Put about half a cup of flour to a plate. Flour each fish on both sides and shake the excess patting slightly.
-Heat about half a cup of olive oil in a shallow pan, fry all the fish on both sides in batches of two to three. Transfer the fried fish onto a paper towel to absorb excess oil.
-Crush the garlic with the salt. Mix the crushed garlic, walnuts, lemon juice, and warm water to a smooth sauce. If you wish, add a few teaspoons of the frying oil to the sauce.
-Put the fish in a serving plate and pour over the walnut sauce. If desired, cover with generous sprinkle of finely chopped flat leaf parsley and serve.