Once again, the Turkish Turquoise Coast has beckoned us from halfway ‘cross the world. What better way to while away an early October week than aboard a traditional Turkish sailboat?
According to our beloved Wiki: “A Gulet is a traditional design of a two-masted or three-masted wooden sailing vessel from the southwestern coast of Turkey.
Built in the coastal towns of Bodrum and Marmaris, similar vessels can be found all around the eastern Mediterranean.”
We depart port from Bodrum on one of these mighty sailing vessels.
Coaxed by fair winds and rocked by Aegean waters, we participate in a nautical tradition since time out of mind.
This ancient sea has carried spice traders, fishermen, slave boats and pirates.
All manner of human hubris has traversed these waters, from the Phoenicians to the Greeks, rapscallions and scoundrels become conquerors.
Humankind has used her as a superhighway of trade and conquest. Birthing and mourning countless civilizations, people have risen and have fallen like the briny tide herself.
But enough of this historical dalliance, I am here for the pure sensual sense of place—and quite frankly—again—for the food.
The first evening we are served grilled sea bream, a puree of fava beans, beetroot and a local delicacy called deniz börülcesi, or samphire salad.
Made from a local plant plucked from the intertidal marshes, it requires a surplus of salt and copious amounts of water to grow in.
We English speakers call it glasswort or sea asparagus because of its long grass-like appearance.
Rarely cultivated in Turkey, it is instead harvested wild along the saltwater marshes that line the rocky coast and, indeed, at one mooring, we spied it growing casually along the water.
The taste is wild and salty, with a hint of primordial soup.
It has no leaves, but instead is formed of cylindrical, jointed branches of a light green color, smooth, very succulent and salty.
Deniz Börülcesi Salatası – Samphire Salad Recipe
To prepare gently blanch the stalks for a few minutes in boiling water—do not add salt because their very essence is briny.
Mix together crushed garlic, lemon and olive oil while the samphire cools.
When the stalks are lukewarm to the touch, brush the tiny side appendages from the main stalks by holding the main stalk near the root and rubbing your hand along it reliably.
Place the little side branches in a salad bowl and drizzle the entire lot with lemon-garlic dressing.
This plant Samphire is not only known for its flavor. When burned, it is rich in soda, and the ashes were employed in the ancient art of glassmaking and soap for many centuries.
Turkish yogurt salad enhances the flavor and is the perfect side salad to the local grilled fish.
Our first day aboard ends with local flavors and a bit of historical indulgence.
Every Gulet has a captain, crew, and, most importantly, a gourmand cook.
He is the center of the vessel, the culinary compass we navigate around as the days pass.
Our beloved cook is Ibrahim, and he is constantly cooking.
Yusuf is our captain, and he began cooking in Marmaris with his father in 1968. He was first a cook and only then became a captain.
The next day begins moored up in a pine-studded azure cove. After a dip in the turquoise waters, we dig into a traditional Turkish breakfast.
Peeled beefsteak tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, every manner of salty white cheese (rarely called feta here) accompany olives, eggs and flatbread stuffed with fresh spinach, a Turkish pancake.
Fruit, yogurt and honey prepare the final thrust of gluttony before we are turned to sunbathe.
No sooner do we take another bob in crystalline water before again, Ibrahim, our beloved cook, is frying potatoes, eggplant and zucchini.
How can we ever eat again? And so soon?
Lunch is served as a vegetarian affair. Bulgar wheat with paprika, broad green beans cooked soft in olive oil and tomatoes. Green salad brimming with onion, tomato and cucumber.
Turkish yogurt salad or Cacık is ubiquitous at almost every meal and thus appears at almost every meal.
It’s easy to make! By choosing 6-8 slender Persian cucumbers grated or thinly sliced. Mix together a cup of plain Greek yogurt, 1/8 cup lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 2 cloves of crushed garlic, salt pepper with 1/2 cup of chopped dill and 1/2 cup of chopped mint.
Stir until smooth and mix with the cucumbers.
It can be eaten immediately or refrigerated and enjoyed later to allow the flavors to mingle.
Second Day – Eat, Swim, Repeat
Breakfast the second day is again a typical Turkish feast—this one punctuated by small traditional pancakes, thick blood-red sausages, and brightly yoked eggs—scrambled with soft white cheese.
No sooner have we finished, and the dishes wiped clean than the cook, Ibrahim, slices ribbons of skin off eggplants. He deeply fries them in bubbling oil until tender and brown even as the boat frolics across the sea.
While this precarious dance of oil and motion takes place, he chops onions, green and red elongated peppers and simmers them in olive oil.
This mixture comes to simmer with tomatoes and freshly minced beef.
He grates more cucumber and lets it rest, at the ready for more Cacık salad—perhaps mixed with carrot or beets.
Foreign vegetables become a local cuisine.
This Mediterranean faire we enjoy is based heavily on vegetables that do not originate here. Instead, the eggplant, tomato, pepper, squash, cucumber and potato all once claimed their native roots in the Americas.
These sun-loving veggies were enjoyed by the Aztecs in prehistoric meals, cultivated by the Incas and Mexican grandmothers. They traveled to Europe in the 16th century—brought back as curious bounty by the Spanish Conquistadors.
Soundly embraced by the peoples of the Mediterranean basin, they were mixed with exotic spices, native onion and olive oil. Hence an entire regional diet was born, and it has flourished for centuries.
These vegetables from a far-flung continent are treated and torn, boiled and baked in every which way to suit the whims of the cook.
Meanwhile, the eggplant has cooled from their fiery bath, and their flesh is tenderly tucked inside their own skin. Their little cavities await to be filled by the meaty mixture.
One by one, they take their sweet burden, and the flavors embrace as the skin holds them in.
A young white cheese called Kasar peyniri is thinly sliced and layered with an elongated green pepper—or çarliston biber. These colorful toppings are balanced atop the meat-stuffed eggplant and put to bake in a hot oven.
The wind has subsided, the sails are down, and the motor putters us across the Gokova bay.
Lunch will soon be served.