Building bonds in Bodrum

Building bonds in Bodrum

Aylin Öney Tan-

Bodrum is like the admiral ship of Turkish tourism. Sometimes I tend to think it will end up like Titanic, sinking while the orchestra is still playing. Every single year, the summer starts with talks and gossip about what’s new in Bodrum, and the list is long. Who is seen where, which Istanbul venue is opening in Bodrum and where, which Michelin starred chef is visiting, all about the changing locations, changing chefs, entrance fee to the beach clubs, new trends of the season like happy hour concerts, and last but never the least, the prices, in particular the “lahmacun” prices of top venues. This last one is like the tell-tale of the forthcoming season’s price profile, since the day decades ago the famed legendary boutique hotel Maça Kızı had put a hefty price tag on its lahmacun, the ubiquitous street food, which is a flatbread with a spicy, onion meat topping. Since then, it became almost like a trend of its own for Bodrum, every single deluxe place feels obliged to feature their version in the menu, otherwise a much-loved low-cost fare for the masses.

As said, every single year, there are a handful of places popping up, but vanishing to oblivion the next season. The prices are soaring this year, maybe not necessarily by international standards, but in some places, the prices are scary for most locals. Here, I have to stress the fact that, though Bodrum is a destination for international tourists, and especially targeting top-level clientele, all this gossip around who’s where is in news is the talk of Istanbul socialites, which seem to migrate to Bodrum every summer recreating their bubbles in certain chosen places. With this everchanging situation of places popping up one year and closing down the next season is the tell-tale of one of the biggest issues of our times: Sustainability.

Sustainability is now a big issue in the world of tourism. Though a week or two of indulging in luxury and splashing money on pampering ourselves is what we need to charge ourselves for the working winter months, we also need that clear conscience to feel better, or not guilty at least. Consumerism does not necessarily bring happiness. It is sometimes way better to find that local eatery, classic bakery, or ice cream stand in one corner of town that you used to frequent as a child and see that the place is still surviving despite the fierce rivalry. Not everything needs to be new and trendy, there is also virtue in old-school places, and most of the time, those places are the ones that give true character to a place. Luckily, Bodrum is still not short of such places, perhaps local humble places are the true power that keeps the admiral ship’s engine still working.

A couple of weeks ago I visited a top hotel and observed that both the architecture and the interior design were sadly out modish. Thinking that loads of money were buried in the property only a decade or two ago, it is sad to see that it needs another fortune to spend to keep up with the trending fashions of the hospitality sector. And then, there are places that endure time and change. Once new and trendy, they never lose their standing and become classics over the course of time. This only happens when a true design approach is in place. That is the case with The Marmara Bodrum Hotel. The architecture is by famous Turkish architects Ersen Gürsel and Haluk Erar, and the interior was designed by the late French architect Christian Allart, who was famous for his playful artsy style. The artworks that can be spotted in every corner of the hotel are still worth exploring, as they are not there as mere elements of decoration, but as true pieces of thoughtful art. The hotel was maybe the first seriously built town hotel in Bodrum back in 1999, situated not on a beachfront but uphill on the edge of town with a magnificent view, both away from the crowd, but in close reach to the craze of the bar streets only within minutes. Moreover, the place aims at staying open all year round, not only for a few months in summer as most places do. This automatically brings certain solutions to sustainability, it means that both the staff stays in place, and the purveyors that keep the hotel kitchen with their products have business going.

This year many venues are suffering from the soaring prices in Bodrum. Most have to put hefty price tags in order to balance the short season. In such tough times, building bonds with locals and producers become so important for sustainability. Chef Hakan Süve, the executive chef of Tuti restaurant situated within the hotel, is a young local from Muğla who has the vision to believe in locality and regionality. Tuti’s kitchen uses ingredients either grown in their own garden within the premises or primarily the products of local producers. Everybody knows that Bodrum’s neighborhood markets are phenomenal. The vendors always keep telling you how to cook a foraged wild green or try to explain the healing powers of a certain herb. They seem to be more interested in chatting with you about their food culture than selling their produce on the counter. Their naïve sincerity is contagious, once you connect with them, you can never go back to supermarkets selling vegetables and fruits in packages, and the bonus is there is truly a lot to learn from them. Süve is aware of this fact, plus being from this very region he can relate more directly, I bet even his dialect changes when in the market.

Being local is not an obstacle to being global, on the contrary, it helps to pave the way to international alliances for the same cause. Süve is recently listed in Slow Food Cook’s Alliance in Turkey, a group of chefs who are committed to promoting and safeguarding the hidden gems of regional cuisines, building concrete bridges with the ultimate guardians of biodiversity and collaborating with small-scale artisan farmers and rural communities. In line with Slow Food principles, he is also one of the local chefs that collaborate with projects for responsible and sustainable tourism, such as the latest project of TUI Care Foundation. Their recent project in Turkey titled “Flavor from the Fields” aims at helping small-scale producers in rural south-west Turkey to benefit from the tourism industry. Their main objective is to improve the livelihoods of farmers and small-scale producers in the Muğla region by boosting the local supply of traditional ingredients and delicacies to hotels and restaurants. By promoting local products to holidaymakers, there will hopefully be a bigger demand for locally produced regional specialties, creating a sustainable market for local producers. All these collaborations lead to sustainability at the end of the day, after all, sustainability is only possible through compassion and care for the virtues of the locality. Connecting and bonding with producers is the only way to create hope for the future. Congrats to The Marmara to invest in art, architecture and design almost a quarter of a century ago, and thanks to their vision to give a chance to a new generation of passionate chefs that will truly bond with Bodrum.

Türkiye, Aylin Öney Tan,