A highway restaurant like an oasis
Wilco Van Herpen
Ceren's restaurant is a place where you can have a good rest before you throw yourself back into the hectic Turkish traffic.I don’t know how long you have been here in Turkey, but the first time I visited Turkey was in 1987. The situation of the roads at that time was completely different compared to how it is nowadays. In the past, we had two lane roads leading to İzmir, Antalya, Bodrum and many other places. All of this changed after, let’s say, 2004. From then on, highways were given four lanes and sometimes even six lanes. This has made traffic safer despite the fact that, especially during the religious holidays, people still manage to drive like brainless chickens and by doing so not only risk their own life, but also the lives of their fellow road users.
Over time I visited numerous highway restaurants and I like the restaurants between Sapancı Lake and Bolu a lot. But last week, while driving back from İzmir to Istanbul, I stopped at a place that really managed to surprise me. It was after Akhisar that I saw huge signs, reading “Ceren.” It was the first time I saw this sign so I decided to give it a try. About 30 kilometers after Akhisar and yes, there it was. Actually it is easy to find; it is the only place after Akhisar with a petrol station on each side of the road.
1985: Mehmet Kalbuz puts his signature on a document and by doing this, he became the proud owner of 16,000 square meters of land. His friends thought he was crazy; what to do with such a plot of land when there is nothing around in this area. The nearest village is six kilometers away, but that is no problem for Kalbuz. “Over time, this will be a wonderful place,” is his standard answer when someone asks him why he bought this land. Shortly after, he opens a small restaurant for people who pass by on the road. It’s a quiet road that connects Istanbul with İzmir.
2014: The road is a very busy four-lane road, but during the summertime and the religious holidays, this road is even busier. To satisfy all of the clients and lower the barrier for customers Mehmet and Cansu Kalbuz together with Seval and Feride decide to create two different restaurants for their clients. One of them is a restaurant for the truck drivers; the other place is more for families and other drivers. In both of the restaurants, they serve more or less the same menu though…
Have a good rest
The fun and relaxing starts immediately after you park your car. This place is like an oasis; wherever I look, I see flowers, plants and trees. The tables and chairs are all very comfortable and made of wood or bamboo; not the plastic things you have to sit on like in many other road restaurants. This is a place where you can have a good rest before you throw yourself into the hectic Turkish traffic again. A variety of poğaça (a kind of bread cake people eat for breakfast), cookies and cakes are on display on a table inside the restaurant. By just looking at it, my mouth began to fill with water. On the other side, a vitrine displays the food they serve at the restaurant. The selection might not vary too much, but what they serve is perfect.
Do not expect hamburgers here; Cansu wants the people to enjoy their food and in her philosophy, there is no place for hamburgers here. One of the highlights, at least for me, was the chickpeas. I generally do not eat chickpeas unless it has been transformed into humus, but what they serve here is magic. Slowly cooked in olive oil, these chickpeas are a legend. Their bulgur pilav (cooked wheat), biber dolması (stuffed pepper), chicken, kuzu eti (lamb meat), baked beans and especially their mantı (a kind of ravioli served with garlic yoghurt); it is too difficult to make a choice what to eat here. In the kitchen, they use their own produced olive oil and all the vegetables come from the villages in the area.
A female touch
The restaurant has a definite female touch; the decoration, the clean toilets, the fresh prepared food. I loved it. During wintertime, they burn firewood in the fireplace and it most probably will be very difficult to continue with your trip. Besides the splendid food and atmosphere of the restaurant, Ceren also has a shop where you can buy homemade pasta, dried (very spicy) red pepper or beautiful cloth. And as if this is not enough yet, they also have a section where they sell things for your house (even some antiques…) or garden. Looking at all the things that are on display here, it is as if you look at one of the many fancy magazines about home decoration.
“Partir ce mourir un peu” (Leaving is a bit like dying) as the French use to say, and here, at Ceren, it is really difficult to leave. With two big bags filled with groceries (do not forget to buy their Tulum cheese), I leave Ceren and hope I soon have to return to İzmir. From now on, this place is my favorite place to have a rest on the road between Istanbul and İzmir.