Outside the bustling everyday life of Istanbul there is a magically serene interior that I can only hope that each of you are lucky enough to see one day. I recently traveled to Cappadocia, a region settled in the interior of Turkey. Comprised of several smaller cities, we opted (purely by chance) to stay in Goerem. Our hotel, The Local Cave House, was entirely charming and I would not hesitate to stay there again. The staff were charming and helpful stating over and over again that this was our home and that we could do as we liked. Upon leaving I realized that I had left my charger in the restaurant. The hotel manager called our airport transport and had him pick up the charger prior to picking us up at the hotel. You couldn’t buy service like that in the states.
Throughout my entire trip I was in awe of Turkey. The glimpse that I got into life here was wholly different from what I had experienced in Istanbul. While Istanbul may be the gem of Turkey, my breath was taken away by the astonishing vistas presented by the Turkish landscape. I do not believe that the photographs to it ample justice. The dazzling landscapes, painted with a palette that would have made Picasso swoon, were the things of vivid fantastical fever dreams. Over and over I questioned whether or not I had stepped into Middle Earth and was on a Journey to Mordor (seriously, there was even a mountain in the background). I stopped a hundred times to take pictures. Each photograph was more important than the next. One could spend years photographing Turkey and still not do its beauty justice.
I made some good decisions on this trip and I made some less fortunate decisions. The worst decision that I made was not biting the bullet and booking / purchasing my balloon ride on the first day I arrived. It’s easy to get caught up in the beauty and adventure of a new place. So much so, that you run out of time and miss out on some extraordinary aspects of the trip.
The second mistake I made was not covering my head. Extremely curly hair is both a blessing and a curse here. Turkey is fairly homogenous in terms individual characteristics. Most people are fair with dark hair. Sooooooooooo . . . . anything different is a novelty. It is not uncommon for African-Americans or Asians to be asked for photographs. By the time I got done at the Goerem Open Air Museum, I had taken so many pictures with other patrons that I should have gotten in for free. I will say, that I make special allowances for children. One little girl asked if she could take her picture with me, I responded, “Sure.” Her English wasn’t very good and she interpreted this as no, the crushed look on her face was heartbreaking. Her teacher translated for her, she was all smiles again, and many pictures were taken. It’s not the same as the U.S. and in this particular situation I could only envision my niece and nephew being curious about someone from a different culture. So it was pictures for everyone. All in all the Goreme Open Air Museum is amazing, but don’t be afraid to hike in the hills opposite the actual museum. The museum is simply the bit that has been renovated, the hill are literally dotted with other examples of churches.
In terms of good decisions there are two that framed the entirety of our trip (I traveled with friends). The first was renting a car. While the rules for renting a car in a foreign country require a license and a passport, at the end of the day neither were necessary. The gentleman at the rental establishment said that he trusted me and promptly handed over the keys after I handed over the rental fee (130TL). As an FYI – we took a look at tour prices (there are several different tour routes available in Cappadocia – the prices ranged from 90TL to 130TL per person. If your’e on a budget, have a map, and you’re with good friends – renting a car is an amazing economical experience. Additionally, renting a car allowed us to travel at our own pace and see the sites that truly interested us. Rather than having an overly touristy adventure, we had a fun road trip. Armed with little more than a map and GPS we got wonderfully lost. We ended up finding a secret lake that was literally emerald green in color.
One of the highlights of our trip was stopping at a local market somewhere between Goerem and the Ilhara Valley. We stood out like sore thumbs: the locals were as curious about us as we were about the market. We saw what we wanted, went were we wanted, and wondered in the splendor of Turkey’s beauty.
The second best decision I made was eating at Topdeck restaurant . . . twice. Eating at the same restaurant twice on a vacation trip is, in my opinion, a cardinal sin. It decreases your opportunities for culinary nirvana by at least 50%. So when I tell you that we ate at Topdeck twice, please be assured as to the tastiness of the fare at this particular establishment. The experience in and of itself would be worth a return trip. The entire restaurant is run by a family: the farther and mother cook while the children act as the most charming servers you will ever envision. The oldest child, a beautiful young woman of South African and Turkish decent, plops down on cushions and discusses the days fare with you.
There is always a lamb dish, a beef dish, a lamb dish, and a vegetarian dish. There are also mezze plates available in addition to Cigari Borek. Your server, the most adorable person you will ever encounter, will bounce to the table, sit Indian style on one of the pillows (if you opt for a floor seat) and discuss the days menu with you. In terms of food, the menu is pretty simple: various sizes of mezze platters, three main dishes that vary depending on the day, sigara böreği, wine, and dessert. In terms of priorities the first order of business was ordering wine. I personally have yet to master the art of ordering Turkish wine, which can range from what the Turks laughingly refer to as, “dog killer” – to the best stuff you have ever had the pleasure to sip (or guzzle). My preference is for dry red wine. Upon discussing my ignorance with our waitress, she was kind enough to let us sample the bottles they had before we made our final selection. We went with an Anatolian wine, whose name I have forgotten, but more importantly none of the wines available were over 45 TL.
With regards to ordering food, your inclination will be to order more. Your waitress will try to persuade you to order less – for the love of God DO NOT LISTEN TO HER. Over order, you will not regret it. The food at this establishment is so amazing that not over-ordering could be considered a cardinal sin. The mezze plate alone is an adventure for the senses; it is as if Angels are dancing on your taste buds. Stuffed eggplant, dolma, humus, couscous, and a number of things that I cannot even begin to remember the names for decorated the mezze plate. I recommend either the dinner mezze plate or the extra-large mezze plate; anything less and you will be cheating yourself. If you are clever you will restrain yourself from eating all of the mezze plate. The different main dishes matched with the different flavors and textures of the mezze plate will take your eating experience to the next level. There is also a delicious salad that is overshadowed by treasure trove of amazing food.
Both nights that we were there we ordered the lamb, chicken, and beef dishes as mains. The chicken dish was a marvelous concoction of chicken thighs grilled to perfection, lightly salted, and accompanied by a bit of pilaf. The chicken was tender and juicy and tasted like something that came off of my dad’s grill in the Mississippi Delta.
The beef dish was my least favorite, though it was spectacular in its own right. Both nights that I visited Topdeck the beef dish was a tender flavorful dream. Paired with carrots cooked to perfection, the beef dish was a rich myriad of delightful Anatolian flavors. The juices that the beef and vegetables were languidly bathing in were perfect for dipping bread into.
My favorite dish by far was the lamb dish. Braised to perfection, the meat was actually falling off the bone. As a matter of fact the only reason it was served on the bone was to showcase the chef’s culinary acuity. Served with rice and a perfectly cooked potato, the lamb was the star of the evening. Richly seasoned with cardamom, this dish was reminiscent of India with an Anatolian flair.
And then came dessert. I myself never save room for desert. My companions however always have room and decided to try the Acide. I have no idea what the technical description of this dessert would include because i have no idea what is in it. Yet the bit I tasted was cinnamony and sweet without being overly sweet. Piping hot with a texture of pie crust – this dish reminded me of a fruit cobble that did away with the pesky fruit and concentrated on carbs, sugar, and cinnamon.
At the end of the day the entire bill for an appetizer plate, sigara böreği, wine, dessert, and three entrees was less than 200.00TL, amounting to less than $100.00 USD. In the U.S. this entire meal would easily have cost you about $200.00+ or 400.00TL.
All in all, eating at Topdeck was an amazing experience, one that wholeheartedly plan to recreate when my family visits. As an aside, one of the dishes that the region is well known for is clay-pot kebab. I tried it a couple of times while in Cappadocia and it was definitely a treat. The kebab is cooked inside of a sealed clay pot. This means that the moisture has absolutely no chance to escape. Once the dish has finished cooking, your server will come to the table and crack open the clay pot with what looks like a machete, pouring its treasure onto your plate with flourish. The food is tasty, but I was more amazed by the presentation than anything else. If I had a choice to make, I would eat at Topdeck every night – hands down no contest.
P.S. In the fall Topdeck offers cooking classes for those who can’t easily trek to Cappadocia for a fix of their tasty food.