Herb festival gives town near Bodrum a big high

Herb festival gives town near Bodrum a big high

Wilco van Herpen ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Herb festival gives town near Bodrum a big high

During the herb festival, the tables are slowly being filled up with all different kinds of food; börek, soup, bread and some traditional local dishes are standing side by side. Photos by Wilco van Herpen

It is spring again and the hills and mountains of Bodrum are covered in green – a view most foreign tourists do not see. By the time they “occupy” Bodrum during the hot summer months, the verdant hills have turned yellow, dry and dusty. As such, spring is definitely the best season to visit Bodrum. Just a few tourists wander around the empty streets, and people everywhere are preparing themselves for the coming summer season. I was not there to visit Bodrum but was invited to be a member of the jury for a local cooking contest in Yalıçiftlik, which is 20 kilometers from Bodrum.

Yalıçiftlik is a small village that still gives you that “untouched” feeling even though during recent years, a lot of people from Istanbul have “discovered” the village, settling there. The local villagers still (try to) live their lives as they always have done, but in recent years, more and more small pensions have opened their doors to tourists seeking an escape from the noisy and crowded Bodrum.

The best season for villagers starts early – around the beginning of February, when the first kinds of weeds start growing. The season lasts until the middle of June when the weather becomes too hot and the landscape turns into a dry and dusty environment, yearning for the fall showers to turn the area into a sea of green once more. For me, it was a great opportunity to see, gather and eat food that we do not know at all in the Netherlands. I worked for over 15 years in Dutch kitchens as a chef, have been surrounded by food my whole life because of my father, also a chef that used to bring the strangest kind of things home for us to try, but we do not have a herb back home.

HDN Herbs

It was early in the morning that I met Hatice. She married the love of her life when she was 20 years old, only to lose that same person when she was 21. Hatice never married again and for a single woman to live in a small village, life can be hard and difficult.

After a cup of tea, she invites me to come with her to find some different kinds of herbs that grow on her land. This is the countryside and Hatice, without hesitating, finds the right kinds of herbs. Every now and then she gives me a different kind of herbI eat sarı ot, kişniş, hardal ot and turp filiz and they all taste great. Some of them have to be eaten cooked, some fried. Some of these weeds are excellent for olive oil recipes; other ones have to be stir-fried. But then I show her an interesting berry, and her smile immediately evaporates. “Don’t eat that one. A foreigner who tried that berry was hospitalized 10 minutes after eating it,” she warns me. The best herb she made me eat was a kind of asparagus that even eaten raw tasted beautiful. For me, though, it was time to move on, as the herbfest was about to begin.

Four kilometers away from the village, people start slowly gathering for the first Bodrum herb festival.

Graffiti artists are still spraying the walls of two buildings at the abandoned area, turning them into a colorful background for the festival. The tables at the festival site are slowly being filled up with all different kinds of food; börek, soup, bread and some traditional local dishes are standing side by side.

Finally it is time for the cooking contest. Seven excited amateur chefs gather while bringing their special prepared dishes. One by one, they present their food and all of the candidates have one thing in common: this is important for them and it is impossible to hide their excitement for us. As with many of those kinds of contests, the difference in quality is huge. Some of the dishes are prepared and put on the plate as it is. Some of the prepared dishes, though, had a touch of creativity as well, and two contestants managed to impress me.

HDN Dishes at the contest

One of the dishes was “mücver,” a classic Turkish dish, but this time prepared with herbs accompanied by a yogurt sauce with coriander. The other dish was “kuru fasulye” (baked beans) mixed with some weeds. I was impressed. It was such a nice, different look at traditional Turkish cuisine.

It was a kind of answer to one of my questions about Turkish food in Turkey. I so often find it boring the way Turkish professional chefs present Turkish food. It is time to do more with the food than just put it on copper and cover it with a lit, or put it as army food on your plate. I know, there are restaurants that really make a difference, but in my opinion, Turkey still has a long way to go concerning the development of their dishes.

Therefore these women (Hilal Karakaş and Şükran Sert) filled me with hope. If a housewife can come up with such nice alternatives then please, professional chefs in Turkey, work your butt of and put Turkey on the culinary map opf the world.