Thursday, March 29, 2012

Fresh Lime Soda


This is a quickie...
A common, delicious and refreshing drink in India.

The recipe:
Juice of one lime
1 Tbs sugar
One glass club soda
Mix. Yum!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Mo' Momo, Please!


I am quite taken with these Tibetan dumplings, which are basically a version of Japanese gyoza, or the Chinese potsticker. They can be pinched shut in a half circle, twisted or presented in a cute, button-like mound with a tiny hole at the very top. They are served with intense hot chutney or other spicy sauce. They are found fried, steamed or both, in soups, as an appetizer or a main course. Made in the home is the best way to have momos, but if you don’t have this option, don’t worry, as the in-town momo is phenomenal as well. Just keep your eyes peeled in Delhi, Manali, and other outposts of the Tibetan Diaspora (as well as in Tibet, I am sure) for this regional treat and you’ll be rewarded with a belly full of goodness.

making momo in a cafe
According to Peter, momo is a Tibetan dish dating to nomadic times; with long cold winters fortified by wheat-heavy dishes. Momos were intended to be a simple, quick food for the nomad-on-the-go.

many shapes of momo

Although both veg and non-veg versions are readily available, I will only be discussing the former here…

The process is simple. Combine flour and water, knead and let sit. Roll out thin discs, either by rolling a sheet and using a glass to cut circles, or the more traditional method in which you pinch off balls and roll them into discs. The dough should be thin, but not so thin that it will break when stretched around the filling. Once you have your discs, place a spoonful of filling in the center and pinch the sides together until they are closed. There are a variety of different methods for folding momo; I will post videos of the method I have learned here once I am back into the high speed cyberzone. For now, just pinch your momo shut and call it a day.




The filling can be anything, really. Peter and Poonam used a combination of onions, spinach, spices, oil and crumbled paneer (Indian cheese) in theirs and it was very tasty. If you use any other cheese, vegetables, mushrooms, etc you would still be well within the confines of momo tradition. (I personally feel that feta would be quite nice, and I always add garlic.) I don’t really think there are many rules here. One of the few rules is that you should be dipping your momo into a blazing chutney of tomato, cilantro or apple origin.



Of course, my internal GF conversion machine is calculating its next move…but you’ll have to wait. In the meanwhile…fried, steamed or all of the above, give traditional Tibetan momo a try!


Momos 
You’ll need a flat stacking steaming pot for this recipe. The bamboo variety would be best but any flat steamer will do.
WRAPPERS
  • 3 cups wheat flour
  • ¾ cups water (approximately)

Drizzle a small amount of water into the flour and mix with your hands, adding more water and kneading until you have a ball that is not dry and springy to the touch. Knead this ball for an additional few minutes to bring out the gluten’s magical properties. Set aside and prepare the filling.
FILLING
  • 1 onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 bunch spinach
  • 1/2 pint crumbled paneer
  • salt
  • small amount of olive oil
Chop and mince veggies, mix together with salt to taste, a drizzle of olive oil, and the crumbled paneer. Now it is time to assemble.
ASSEMBLE & COOK
Fill the bottom tray of your steaming pot and set it to the fire so it is hot when you add the momos. Make your discs, each about 3 inches in diameter. See the above post for instructions. For the fancy and traditional version, check back later for videos of Peter making the skins, once I return to the land of high speed. Place about one tablespoon of filling into a momo, and then pinch the sides together. Get creative in the meanwhile until better instructions arrive. Arrange the momo on the steamer tray so that they are not touching eachother. Once the water is boiling, place the momo over the steam and cover. Steam for about 20 minutes. Once steamed you can pan fry them in oil to add that element, but these are just delicious steamed and eaten with the chutney sauce.
CHUTNEY SAUCE 
This is Poonam, Peters wife's recipe with a definite Nepalese flair.
  • 1/4 cup green chillis, chopped
  • 5-6 tomatoes, parboiled, peeled and chopped fine
  • ghee or other oil
  • salt
 Toss the lot in a pan, saute until it seems super delicious.. Or, serve raw. Either way, sprinkle the juice of one lime into just before you serve.
 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Mountain Life & Sidu


Hi there! I’m finally coming up for air to check in and share some photos, stories and a recipe. I don’t even know how long its been since my last blog post but it feels like forever. I hope you can accept my apology in the form of this extremely cute puppy…

For about a week, we are staying in Himachal Pradesh region, in a large town called Manali. We are in a valley nestled in the foothills of the Himalaya. Ryan has friends here from a previous stay. 

Peter Dorje: the Tibetan Jacques Pépin?

We are enjoying the hospitality of Ryan’s friend Peter Dorje, an outdoor guide and personality extraordinaire. Here is a link to a really funny article about one of Peter's previous undertakings. Although born and raised in India, Peter is Tibetan to the core. So we’ve been enjoying all kinds traditional and local dishes prepared by him and his wife, and learning how to make them. Manali is a place that you can find the food and culture of the Tibetan Diaspora. Colorful prayer flags hang throughout the city, on homes, in the market and spanning river and valley.



There are both Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and Hindu temples here, nestled in next to a lively market and avenues of sweet shops, puri vendors and pure-veg food stalls, Tibetan momo and noodle joints, Nepalese restaurants, wine shops and oodles of Kashmir wool vendors. Some are basic and some specialize in delicate, soft, hand embroidered scarves made only from the wool of the neck, or the side of the breast of the appropriate sheep.

Lunch in a Tibetan monastery school, part of our next student travel project.

We’ve been too busy eating, hiking, and having adventures with motorcycles that are not fit for the roads we took them on to buy any wool scarves, but I’m sure that there will be time for shopping as well, before we leave.

giving a tow

The last time I checked in with you we were in Mumbai. An overnight train from Mumbai to Delhi landed us in the capitol city for two days, one night. As we fly out of Delhi in a couple of weeks, this will now be the hub of the remainder of our journey. I’ll report more on Delhi soon...this city is famous for its street food, which is my second-favorite type of food here (I save the #1 spot for home-made).





For now, let’s jump right in to one of the foods we’ve been enjoying while staying with Peter and his family.


March is the time of transition between winter and spring here. There is snow on the peaks surrounding the town but the valley itself is relatively warm and quite lovely right now. We are in the foothills of the Himalaya mountain range right now. During the winter the diet shifts more to what Peter calls “flour foods”, or wheat based dishes. Rice is the base of the warm weather diet, which has not quite come into full bloom here, making us well placed for trying all the dishes of the area.  

For me, wheat is a travel-only ingredient. I am so glad that I have this rule or I would be missing out on so many wonderful dishes right now, but at the same time I can’t help but devise in my mind possible gluten-free versions to try once I get home.

For the time being, in the spirit of cultural preservation, I have recipes in their original format as prepared and served in the Dorjee family home.

The first one I’d like to share with you is called Sidu, and it is absolutely delicious. Please give it a go. For all my GF friends out there, just wait for a month or so and I’ll get back to you. I’m thinking that rice or chickpea flour, flax meal, and possibly eggs would do the trick.

ready to be cooked

Sidu, as a dish, is relatively new. According to Peter, the settled Tibetans of the Himachal Pradesh region were inspired by momo, which are Tibetan dumplings not unlike potstickers or gyoza. They are served with a fiery hot sauce and come in a variety of shapes. Some call sidu “big momo”. I am absolutely enamored with momo and have a whole blog post planned just for the little buggers, but I’ll include a picture of some now so you can get an idea of the ancestor of sidu, the star of this post.


momo: sidu's ancestor

Sidu is a large yeasted and steamed dumpling, filled with some kind of vegetables, cheese or meat. We had a version with a green leaf not unlike spinach mixed with onion, oil and crumbled yak cheese. Once cooked, the dumpling is sliced into chunks, drizzled with ghee and served with a dipping sauce or chutney. Our chutney was tomato based, cooked with green chilis, salt and oil in a pan like a marinara dipping sauce. It was so flippin’ good.

If you’d like to try this at home, and you just can’t seem to find dried yak cheese, please don’t let that stop you. You can substitute anything. Some other cheese, more vegetables, or chopped mushrooms come to mind. And if you don’t have any ghee, just use real butter, coconut oil, olive oil, or just the dipping sauce. But I must admit that the ghee was really nice. I don’t have perfect measurements, but I watched, took notes and pictures. If you try this, let me know if something is way off and I’ll fix it.


Sidu 
(Dorje family style)
 
BREAD
  • 3-4 cups wheat flour
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 1½  teaspoons yeast
  • small amount of hot water
Mix the dry ingredients. Add hot water a small amount at a time until the dough forms a ball. Knead for about 2 minutes, or until it is elastic. Set in a bowl and allow to rise for about 20 minutes.
 FILLING
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 bunch spinach or other dark leafy greens, chopped
  • 1 cup dried yak cheese (or other cheese)
  • 3 TBS olive oil or ghee
  • salt to taste
Chop the onion and spinach, crumble the cheese. Mix all together and set aside.
SAUCE
  • ¼ cup hot green chilies
  • 5-6 medium tomatoes
  • 4 TBS oil, ghee or other
  • salt to taste
Chop the chilies and tomatoes. Heat the oil and add them to the pan. Cook until it is saucy. Salt to taste. This is a Nepalese style sauce.
ASSEMBLY & COOKING 
Fill the bottom of your steamer tray with water and begin to heat, so that by the time that you finish forming the sidu the water is hot. Knead dough back down. Make balls about the size of a plum or a tangerine, and then roll the balls into disks that are approximately 6 inches in diameter and ¼ inch thick. Place about ¼ cup of filling into the center of a disk and fold in half, making the top of the half circle join first. Pinch the edges together firmly, starting at the top. Then, fold and twist the edge together starting at the beginning of the half circle and ending at the other side. Place the entire dumpling on the counter so that the folded edge is pointing up, and then gently bend it at the middle to give it a crescent shape. Gently place on an oiled steamer tray and continue with the remaining dough and filling until all the sidu are shaped and placed in the tray, each one not touching each other.
Place the lid on the steamer tray and put this over the water that is already hot. Steam the lot for about 20 minutes, until puffy and cooked. Once finished, take a sidu and place it on a plate. Slice it into several pieces. Drizzle a few spoons of ghee or other oil over the top and serve with a pool of dipping sauce. I dare you to only eat one of these guys. It’s hard for me to believe that this is such an obscure, local dish…it should be famous.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Sardar Pav Bhaji


In the past few days, we have managed to eat a lot of food. While we have yet to consume anything that has not been downright delectable, some foods are even better than others. And some places are famous for their specialties, for a reason. This would be the case with Sardar Pav Bhaji in Mumbai's Tardeo Circle.


According to Wikipedia, Pav Bhaji (pronounced "pow-bah-jee") originated in Mumbai as a fast food lunch dish for mill workers. It consists of a flavorful vegetable curry with potatoes, tomatoes, onions and spices that you dip soft buttered bread rolls into. This dish is very buttery...I would say there was a quarter stick on each plate of bhaji. While not gluten-free or vegan, it is vegetarian, and quite delicious. 



Last night we met up with some old friends of Ryan's from his Mumbai days. They suggested that we eat at Sardar, the most famous joint in the city for this ubiquitous dish. Even though we already had a plate of the stuff at Chowpatti Beach that afternoon (good, but not as good as Sardar), we readily agreed, as A) we are quite keen on the dish, and B) how do you pass up anything that comes from an eatery universally agreed upon as "famous" by the local population? The place opens at 7pm, and we arrived at 7:05. All the tables already full, we were second in line of the queue that formed immediately, curving around the corner and down the street. 



Serving up only one thing, Sardar is in the business of selling pav bhaji not only to the sit down clientele but also to an endless stream of to-go customers on foot and in car, which does not let up until closing time at 2am. It was fascinating to watch the cooks mashing up huge pans of butter, spices and vegetables into the famous red colored curry that we would be sopping up with hot, buttery rolls. The sheer volume of food that this place churns out is formidable, ensuring fresh, delicious fare from opening time until closing.


This restaurant is all about the food. Bright lights, stark decor and fast service are what you get. If you need more bread, simply get the waiter's attention and he will toss another couple of rolls down on your plate. When you are finished, pay up and get out of there as there are dozens, if not hundreds, of others waiting to take your place. 



If you are visiting Mumbai, be sure to hop on the train to Mumbai Central and take the ten minute walk to Sardar for the butteriest deliciousness you will ever have. Here is a Google Maps link in the event that you plan to go there.

this awesome sequence made by ryan

When I get home I might experiment with a vegan GF version, which will certainly not taste the same, but hopefully will evoke some of the sensations that I have experienced while eating the pav bhaji here. Coconut oil, maybe? I probably shouldn't mess with something so iconic but we'll see...

Sardar Pav Bhaji
166b M Malviya Marg, Tardeo-tulsiwadi, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400034, India

+91 22 2494 0208 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Achchha Lagta Hai!


Means "It's very tasty" in Hindi...or something to that effect. Forgive me for possibly butchering both spelling and meaning but it is what I've been taught to say since arriving...and I use this phrase about 10 times a day.

Am I in heaven?


Writing about the joys of veggie-voyaging in India is like shooting fish in a barrel. Let me just say that, if you are looking for the vegetarian mecca, it is here. Four days in and my pants are already a size too small, and we've done our fair share of "walking it off." I feel like its hard to find a restaurant that does serve meat. Let me offer you a list of the things I have had the good fortune to consume since our arrival early Wednesday morning. 

Pani puri, pav baji, dosa, chana masala, chai, bathura, malai mutter, mysore masala dosa, ginger lime soda, sugar cane juice, bhel puri, dahi patata puri, sabudana, aloo palak, baingan bharta, wada sambar, coconut water, samosa, idli & sambar, vegetable pulao, fresh juice.

upscale dosa...

restaurant dosa...

I don't even know where to start. I'm loving the dosa of course. If you are not familiar with this delicacy, it is a fermented rice and bean flour crepe filled with deliciousness, eaten with the hands. We have had corner store dosa, fancy catered dosa, street food dosa, and restaurant dosa. Happy to report that the hands-down best version yet would be the street food dosa. It was so flippin good that I will tell you how to go there in the event you are in Mumbai, near the train station and the post office, and not afraid to eat street food while standing on a noisy road. Slathered with ghee, loaded up with potatoes, onions, tomatoes and spices and served with sambar and coconut chutney, I actually spent 10 minutes after we finished eating directing other foreigners straight to the stall so that they could share in my culinary delight. Here is the approximate location on the map for your reference. It's on Saint George Road, just outside the train station by the post office. Eat at Tamil Nadu Foods, for a culinary taste explosion. See the locals also enjoying the delights? Always a good sign.

best. dosa. ever.

But really, I have yet to try something that was not delicious. Like I said, I think I'm in heaven.

aloo palak and baingan bharta

Of course, India is not just about the food. There is so much to take in here, like a sensory overload. In addition to big flavors, there are big colors, big smells (good and bad), big sounds. Our color and sound sensory input were turned up to 11 on our second day here at the holi festival, or festival of color. Marking the change of the season, this is the holiday in which people blast each other with colored powders and water, basically a big water balloon fight on the streets. In the olden days it was believed that during the change of the season it was prudent to throw around medicinal colors to help ward off sickness. Neem, turmeric and other natural powders were smeared and tossed around in a communal inoculation of brilliant hues. These days the colors are synthetic dyes that can stain the skin and hair for days. I was encouraged by my friend who we are staying with to douse my blond hair with coconut oil and then cover it up. That of course, did not stop her husband Vijay or Ryan from wrestling my scarf off my head and then dousing my hair with colored water and powders. Fortunately, the coconut oil did the trick and I am still looking natural. A few days of pink hair would be fine but Jill reported that one year her hair stayed colored for months.


all dressed up for holi
the aftermath

the pyre for a holi bonfire

We are in Mumbai, and will be here until Tuesday, when we depart for Delhi. The rest of our trip will be spent in the northern states, where Ryan called home years ago. So I am doing my best to soak up the sights and sounds of the south while here. We visited caves, saw monkey families and a festival in the street yesterday. Tonight will be spent with old friends of Ryan's and I hope there will be much more walking and eating today. Maybe we'll check out a Bollywood film at some point, Ryan claims samosas and chaat are on offer as well as popcorn...

One more thing...Ryan has posted some pretty funny pics of our time in Capadoccia...check it out
http://everthine.blogspot.com/

a sweet way to end a meal

Friday, March 9, 2012

Food & Friends


fun with seagulls

That’s what it’s all about, right? Gathering together, drinking wine, preparing dishes side by side, sharing stories. Making connections and building relationships through something that we all love and need, food. No matter where you live or who you are, food is bound to be a common tie, a place to begin and to continue to build lasting friendships. This is what has happened for us here in Turkey. Or should I say Turkiye, as my new friend Demet says, because “turkey is a bird, not a country”. In the beginning of our week here, I never imagined that we would spend our last few days in the company of such like minded, fun, kind and hospitable people, but I am writing this post from the 15th floor of an apartment building in the Asian side of Istanbul, far above the rumble of traffic and nowhere near the touristy avenues of Sultanahmet. I feel so comfortable, and so lucky to have met these lovely people that have opened up their hearts and home to us so quickly. They have made our visit so much more memorable than it ever could have been otherwise, and have ensured that there will be a return visit in the future.



 Meet Ilke and Tuğçe, our hosts. We all met by chance on the shuttle bus to Capadoccia, which at least in the snowy wintertime is a destination not only for tourists but for young Turkish couples at well. Between the stunning landscape, fascinating history and multiple vineyards, there is no lack of fun to be had in this area. An immediate connection followed by a lovely restaurant dinner helped to solidify a blossoming friendship, and upon our return to Istanbul we found ourselves not stashed back in a hotel for our remaining two days but scooped up by Ilke, fed by Tuğçe (friends call her Tete), and entertained with a fun day of wandering about Istanbul. The other two we met with them joined us later in the evening as food and wine were flowing, at a mini-party held in our honor. We are blessed, are we not?

dolmas for sale

Highlights of this day include: riding a ferry boat on the Bosphoros and tossing bits of bread to seagulls flying behind the boat, and eating fresh dolmas and olives bought in the market. And getting to know our new friends.



I have been learning a lot about Turkish cuisine. Not being vegetarian themselves, our dinner party was something of a novelty to our hosts as well as to us, but with such rich and diverse dishes, I don’t think that anyone missed the lack of meat on the table, and there was much conversation of how fresh and healthy the fare was, how they should eat this way more often, how delicious and satisfying vegetarian food can actually be. (This is something we are well aware of, and I’m always delighted to see others come to this conclusion as well.)

I find Turkish food, which is fresh and delicious, to be rich and filling as well. I think its all the olive oil, cheese and yogurt that fill me up before I can go back for seconds or thirds. The wide variety of dishes on offer at most meals might also account for this; I counted seven offerings, not including dessert. The menu for our dinner party included two soups, an array of mezes (small dishes), and a variety of local pastries for dessert. Ilke had asked his mother to prepare some dishes for our feast: a yogurt, rice and mint soup as well as the ubiquitous lentil soup that I have quickly come to love here, although this homemade version certainly took the cake. She also prepared delectable zucchini croquettes made with egg, dill, flour and onion and a cold meze salad of boiled and seasoned vegetables: celeriac, carrots, and onions. Tuğçe made the rest (with a small amount of assistance from me): Zucchini (Kabak), and carrots with yogurt (Yaourtlu Havuç). There was also a delicious, fresh potato salad with dill, olive oil, and lemon juice. My favorite dessert offering was a buttery pastry stuffed with sweetened tahini, which was definitely not vegan or gluten free, but absolutely delicious.

It is going to take me some time to archive recipes for all the dishes I am learning about here, but I’ll start with a couple of the mezes that we had at dinner just to whet your appetite, and go from there. I hope you can get together with friends, and have your own veggie voyager style Turkish spread of mezes, wine and sweets.



Kabak (Zucchini)
  • 2 medium sized onions, chopped
  • 4 zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced
  • 2 TBS tomato paste
  • olive oil
  • ½ cup water
Generous pinches of
  • Turkish saffron (or a small pinch of regular saffron)
  • dried mint
  • cumin
  • coriander
  • salt
 red pepper flakes
 In a pan, heat a small amount of olive oil and sauté the onion until translucent. Add the zucchini and spices and cook for a few minutes. Add the tomato paste and water, stir to combine. Cook until zucchini is soft, season to taste. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with more red pepper flakes.
 


Yaourtlu Havuç (carrots with yogurt)
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 5 large carrots, sliced thin
  • ½ cup thick yogurt
  • Olive oil
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Dried mint
  • salt 
In a pan, heat a small amount of olive oil and sauté the garlic for a couple of minutes. Add the carrots and sauté until soft. Remove from heat and add yogurt. Salt to taste. Stir to combine and place in a serving dish. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle the top with red pepper flakes and dried mint. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Capadoccia Days



Every friend I have who has been to Turkey has told me I must visit Capadoccia. “It’s magical!” they all say. “One of the most amazing places I’ve ever been in my life!”


So we went, and it was.

Capadoccia is a region in central Turkey that is well known for several interesting features. Everywhere you look are rock formations called fairy chimneys. Carved out of soft volcanic rock millions of years ago by erosion, these naturally formed spires have been further sculpted by human hands in the past 4 millennia to house the ancient populations of the areas. Caves and apartments complete with hand carved shelves, beds, kitchens, stables and churches abound. Most are abandoned, but some have been modified into small hotels. Others were early Christian churches, and have remnants of frescos on the walls. Many have been designated as open air museums, charging money to enter.



Another incredible feature of this area are underground cities, of which there are thought to be around 150. Not all have been explored or even discovered, and only a few are open to the public, but these strongholds for early Christians are truly mind-blowing in both scale and design. Imagine a place that thousands of people would flee to via passages in the basements of their above-ground houses in times of trouble, places that are built to allow an entire population to hide and defend themselves for months at a time.

underground cities

This place is a must-go for any voyager to Turkey, veggie or not. Capadoccia is rife with history and culture, going all the way back to the time of the Hittite nation, a good 4,000 years ago.


I think that most people don’t go to Turkey in the dead of winter, but rather in the spring or summer when the weather is hot, the landscape dry, brown, and green. The Capadoccia we visited was blanketed in white snow, the air bitterly cold with snowflakes falling from the sky. My Ugg boots, while warm and dry, offered no traction on the slippery ice and I must have fallen on my ass four times in the first day. Luckily Ryan had an extra pair of shoes for me to wear on subsequent outings.


Back in Istanbul, we were convinced by a travel agent that the best possible thing for us to do was to book a couple of tours to see the highlights of the region: one day for the northern sights and one day for the southern sights. He said it was more like a transportation share than anything else, not a typical, cliché tour. After quite a bit of hesitation, we finally gave in and did so, along with booking hotels and transportation in a package that theoretically saved us money in the end. The base price included lunches while on the tours, as well as breakfasts in our cave-hotel (which was pretty cool, I must say). I have mixed feelings about our choice. The first day was fun enough, with a young guide who was flexible and interesting. The sights were fascinating and I enjoyed myself enough to overlook the sensation of being herded like sheep on and off the van at each destination. Having a warm place to sit between attractions, free from worrying about where we were or where we were going was also nice. The second day was a total bummer. Our new guide had all the charm of a slug, the was weather prohibitive and the activities seemed to mainly revolve around herding us into expensive jewelry and rug shops where we were mildly but persistently pressured to purchase things that we would never be able to afford. I was only too happy to be finished with my southern tour of Capadoccia, and I would not recommend this way of seeing the region. In retrospect, I recommend that you rent a car, buy a good guide book (or history book), and see the region for yourself. This place is not to be missed.

arts of capadoccia
Our final day was spent on our own terms, and it more than made up for the disappointments of day two. Driving about in a rental car, stopping off here and there to check things out, and discovering places with not another soul in sight, we had a magical day. While driving south toward a valley called Soğanli, we stopped by a brown sign that said “KERAKLI MONASTERY, WELCOME”. A short trek up a footpath brought us to an abandoned rock-side monastery with churches, storage rooms, vandalized frescos and ancient graffiti. Rock spires with what must have been monks quarters were everywhere you looked. I must say, it was one of the neatest places I have ever been, and the fact that we were totally alone save a handful of rabbit hunting Turkish men (and a multitude of rabbit and canine footprints going into each and every cave) made it all the more special.


We finished the day (and our visit to Capadoccia) off with a visit to Derinkuyu: an amazing, ancient underground city that was used as a stronghold for early Christians protecting themselves from attacks by Hittites, Romans and other invaders. Imagine seven levels of rooms, passageways and corridors, all deep underground, able to house up to 10,000 people for six months at a time. Just walking through the empty rooms and caves brought my imagination to life.


It was cold, like 0 degrees cold the whole 4 days we were there. The snow was knee to chest deep and falling for the better part of our stay. I imagine that Capadoccia is a magical place any time of the year, but I feel very lucky to have been able to see it this way. The only drawback to the weather was the fact that many of the hiking attractions were off-limits, including many of the roads getting to these places. This made it impossible for us to go into the valleys and other natural places, many of which are major destinations for hikers and backpackers in the hotter months.


I am not writing much about food right now because I can’t say we had our culinary minds blown while in Capadoccia. Limited to restaurant food the entire time, we were fed by our hotel in the mornings, and by a touristy restaurant the two afternoons we were on the tours. Evenings found us craving lighter fare, usually resulting in soup, or çorba. Capadoccia is known for their Çorbasis, or soup kitchens. I was most taken with the ubiquitious lentil soup of Turkey, a naturally vegetarian offering. (This is one dish I will be learning and sharing the recipe for when I get back to the states.) Most Turkish meals begin with a first course of a light lentil or yogurt soup, to whet the appetite. I found that, because of the richness of each meal, that just a bowl or two of Mercimek Çorba (lentil soup) really hit the spot, filling our bellies while not weighing us down. All this soup needs to be perfect is a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkling of hot Turkish pepper. It is typically eaten with crusty bread, and as I have temporarily suspended my no-gluten rule, and am “in Rome”, this is also how I enjoyed my Mercimek Çorba. It was delicious.


We did have one tasty meal while in Capadoccia, with two likeminded Turkish couples we befriended on the bus into town. One evening, we all met at a restaurant and enjoyed a variety of mezes (small dishes). Top it off with Capadoccian wine (this area is like the Napa valley of Turkey) and lively conversation; the evening ended up being quite memorable. The best part would have to be the making of new friends, ones that we have every intention of keeping. And the food was actually pretty good…