Explore the sensory overload that is Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. Look up to take in the intricate tile work of the Blue Mosque. Admire the baklava, dripping with honey, piled three feet high in window displays on bustling İstiklal Caddesi. Or beach-hop along the Mediterranean from sophisticated Bodrum to turtle-inhabited İztuzu; Brit-crazy Fethiye to secluded Patara; resort-heavy Antalya to the endless sandy expanse of Alanya. You won’t spend a lira.
In Turkey, the street food comes to you. Whether you’re sprawled under an umbrella in Bodrum or joining the locals for a nightly picnic in İzmir’s seaside Kordon park, you can’t escape the musical call of the street vendors.
Start with a cone of sesame- and honey-glazed peanuts, then move on to midye dolma — stuffed mussels, served up for 30 cents a pop from massive round trays, and carried on the vendor’s head from customer to customer. Pay attention as the midyeci shows you how to use the top shell as a spoon for scooping out the aromatic rice that’s been flavored with a dash of cinnamon and a squirt of lemon juice.
Flag down the roasted-corn-on-the-cob cart, or watch the procession of seasons as the plum cart’s stock transitions from tiny, tart, green yeşil erik in May to plump, juicy, purple tatlı erik by July. Whatever you sample, save room for a slice of honeydew kavun, deftly carved in front of your eyes. The sweet, juicy flesh tastes even better after a long, hot day of sightseeing.
In the deep-valley hamlets of Turkey’s Black Sea region, the start of summer means time to take the cattle up into the mountains so they can graze on the fresh, untouched grasses that sprang up during spring. You can watch this seasonal tradition, which ends in July with the Vartovor festivities, when people celebrate by playing instruments that look (and sound) strikingly similar to Scottish bagpipes.
A few names to keep an ear out for include Mehmet Gürs, Didem Şenol, Civan Er, Arda Türkmen, and Kemal Demirasal. These artisans are consistently putting imaginative dishes on the table, from classics with a twist to totally original offerings. Most have signature restaurants with killer settings and accessible tasting menus.
Though the exact time changes every day, the ezan is reliable enough to plan your day around. You’ll wake up just before daybreak for Sabah. Get up, see some sights, and right around Öğle it’ll be time to find some lunch. If you plan to visit a mosque, do it before the shadows cast by objects are equal to their height, or else you’ll arrive at İkindi — when non-Muslim tourists are denied entry. By the time Akşam rolls around you’ll be ready for dinner. And as the last rays of light disappear from the horizon, listen for the final warbling strains of Yatsı.
You want to know what’s in the kofte? The waiter will happily bring you out back to the kitchen to meet the chef. Wondering how baklava is made? The woman selling it in İzmir’s massive Bostanlı Pazar (“BosPa” for short) won’t speak much English, but she’ll happily pantomime the day-long production for you.
And in Eastern Turkey, you can trade in the hostel for a homestay. That’s where you’ll get the best cooking lesson from the ultimate Turkish chef — a mom. Imagine rolling sarma with grape leaves picked off the very arbor you’re sitting under.
None of Turkey’s shores touch open ocean, but at Alanya on the Mediterranean and Kerpe on the Black Sea, some crazy Turks are riding the waves. The Alanya Surf Team and Danube Surf House and Academy are two small communities where you’ll learn that there’s a certain subculture of Turks who are constantly checking weather reports and will jump in the car at a moment’s notice to jet to a remote seaside town where waves are going off, however briefly.
Maraş dondurması is made with salep, a flour derived from orchid tubers, which creates a stretchy, marshmallow-like treat that melts at a controllable pace. So slowly, in fact, you can do as the locals do and order it sandwiched between kağıt helva wafers. You’ll find it all over the country, but you can also go straight to the source: Maraş, the city in southern Turkey famous for producing this Turkish version of the ultimate summer treat.