Artichoke, a good reason to visit Balıklıova
Wilco VAN HERPEN
‘According to many people, the best place is the İzmir area to find the best artichoke. To be more specific; Balıklıova is the place to be.’There is this one magic vegetable that you can find at every corner of the street at the moment. For thousands of years people have been using this vegetable, but in the beginning the use was more medicine-orientated. People were using the roots and leaves to make an extract that would help against all different kind of problems. Much later, the Romans used to eat this flower because of the aphrodisiac effect the flower was believed to have. In the Middle Ages, European people “discovered” the plant and it was the French who created the legendary artichoke with sauce Hollandaise.
For me, while living in the Netherlands, artichoke was always a very special and not a very cheap kind of food. Here in Turkey, artichoke is more of a kind of food for the people. From March onwards, you can see artichoke sellers at every corner of the street in Istanbul, Ankara, İzmir and many more places in Turkey. Generally, they arrive early in the morning in their Anatolian pick up trucks that are loaded with artichokes. A man takes his little plastic chair from the back of the car together with two big buckets. He sits down and starts cleaning the artichokes. With a couple of strokes with his knife, he cleans the artichoke and throws the bottom of the flower in the bucket.
But where in Turkey can you find the best artichoke? According to many people, the best place is the İzmir area. To be more specific; Balıklıova is the place to be. You can find this little village between Urla and Mordoğan. During summertime, people visit Balıklıova because of its fresh fish that the local fishermen catch, but during early spring artichoke is the reason to go there. Do not get me wrong; there are very nice artichokes in Ildır and Mordoğan as well, but the bonafide artichoke comes from Balıklıova.
From March to June
Just outside Balıklıova (follow the Ildır sign and before you reach old Balıklıova) a woman has a little stall at the side of the road. She sells the veggies that her own land gives her, so no tomatoes during wintertime. During this time of the year she sells artichoke and she loves this plant. When I talk to her and ask her where the artichokes come from, she directly took me to her land and showed me around.
“This is such a beautiful and easy plant. You can grow it for years in a row at the same place. For me, the season starts in March and goes on until June. Therefore, I have two different kinds of artichoke. If I need to multiply them, I just tear their roots and put it in the soil. That’s all I have to do.
Unfortunately, I am not growing organic vegetables, but what I do is ‘good’ farming, which means that I do not use pesticides and the manure I use comes from my own animals. The beauty of this plant is you can use everything: the roots, the stem, the leaves and the flower. From the leaves and the roots you can make tea, from the stem you can make a nice appetizer and the flowers [when they are buds] we use to fill with rice or make other kinds of food.”
Wherever I go, I see people sitting at the side of the road selling artichokes. Local restaurants prepare authentic dishes and housewives surprise their husbands with artichoke as a meze (appetizer) next to her husband’s glass of Rakı. The interesting thing of artichoke is that the best thing to drink while eating artichoke is water. The artichoke with the water together has such a nice, sweet taste. I have tried white wine, but that turned out to be a bummer. It becomes bitter and tasteless. But while preparing the artichoke it is nice to use some white wine.
I bought a couple of Artichokes from Hatice and left her. I never told you, but years ago, while I was still living in the Netherlands, I was a chef. Since I love cooking, but do not really have the ambition to be a professional chef for my cooking program I found a perfect spot; old Balıklıova.
Years ago, a governor had warned the people of Balıklıova. They were living under potential danger. A part of the mountain could collapse any minute and therefor he decided the people had to leave their houses and build new homes near the sea, where it would be safer to stay. Being scared of the danger, everybody left his or her homes as soon as possible. Years later, the buildings are still standing there, abandoned, but slowly collapsing because of wind and rain. Just one or two people are still living there, the rest of the houses are occupied by goats and other animals. It was there I wanted to make a nice dish with artichokes; this time I was going to make artichoke with sauce Hollandaise.
So there I sat in the old village of Balıklıova preparing my beautiful artichokes. While my artichokes were boiling I had to wait for half an hour and I used it to sit back, lean on the wall of an abandoned house and enjoy the view. Would someone else have sat there as well, looking at the bay I wondered. It was so nice and quiet here that I lost myself daydreaming about this plain. Before I realized, my artichokes were ready and it was time to make my sauce. I separated my eggs, mixed the egg yolks with white wine and my herbs and started heating it up au Bain Marie. Then slowly, first drop by drop and then a bit faster, I mixed the melted butter in my foamy mixture. A couple of minutes later my sauce was ready. I took one of the artichokes and cleaned the first outer leaves. Then, one by one I started to peel the leaves, dip the bottom piece of the leaf in my sauce and scraped it over my front teeth. The taste was beautiful and it did not take long before I reached the bottom. That, at least for me, was the bonus of this feast. I cut the bottom of the sauce and dipped it into the butter sauce. Man, this was good. The view, the beautiful food, what more could I want?
Suddenly, I knew what I wanted. I wanted to go to Ildır and eat some nice lokma. Just passed Ildır there is this shabby kind of place that makes the most beautiful lokma, a kind if fried pastry in syrup. I took my car, drove up to Ildır and ordered my lokma. It was about 6 p.m., a nice time to be there. The sun was setting and sitting at my table enjoying the lokma with a nice glass of tea completed my day.