TURKISH CHARM… A handsome Turkish waiter trying to woo Bernama journalist, S.Kisho Kumari (seated) over lunch at a restaurant in Akhisar, a county district in Manisa province, Turkey. Pic: Courtesy of Aminah Hj Jusoh (RTM).By Salbiah Said
First of a three-part feature on Turkish hospitality
ISTANBUL, Oct 3 (Bernama) — Every introduction in Turkey begins with a cup of tea or cay in Turkish, and on most occasions, its famed apple tea.
MAGICAL… Mohd Azahri Mohd Nor and his daughter, Nur Suhana, were treated to a “magical” show before getting a taste of Turkey’s traditional ice-cream from the vendor in Ephesus, Turkey recently. Pic: Hasnita Ibrahim.
The tangy, full flavoured apple tea is served hot or cold to visitors to the country, a junction between the West and the East.
Turkey is the world’s No. 1 tea-drinking nation, but the iconic brew has yet to be included on the United Nations Educational, Scientific, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage as Turkish coffee did last year.
Its tea exports almost match its imports, with 17.7 million tonnes exported last year.
TURKEY’S PRETZEL… A peculiar yet common site is Istanbul’s king of street foods, Simit, which is sold in little carts on almost every corner, and even in the middle of the heavily congested traffic of Istanbul. Pic: Sakini Mohd Said
Forty Malaysians on their first visit to Turkey recently, had their first taste of Turkish apple tea, which is commonly served in small tulip shaped clear glasses, after a sumptuous lunch of grilled marinated chicken cubes served with rice at the Kofteci Hunkar restaurant in Akhisar, a county district in Manisa province.
Perhaps the flavour of the day was S. Kisho Kumari, a Bernama journalist in the group, who was charmed by a handsome Turkish waiter at the restaurant, who kept the entire group entertained as he openly showered his affection towards her over lunch.
The visit, taglined ‘Istanbul Kami Datang’ (Istanbul Here We Come) was jointly organised by the Association of Women and Wives of Bernama Employees (Benita) and Vreka Travel and Tours Sdn Bhd from Sept 12 to Sept 21.
Yes, it was a great start to more pleasant Turkish charm and surprises for this group and their families, comprising a mix of young to 72-year old grandmother, Habsah Mohd Abas, the mother-in-law of Bernama Infolib manager, Hasnita Ibrahim and representatives of agencies under the Ministry of Communication and Multimedia.
The group, who boarded a direct flight via Turkish Airlines, a code-sharing partner of Malaysia Airlines (MAS), from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), arrived at the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul on Sept 13.
The first day was packed with visits to Turkey’s world renowned historical sites such as the spiralling Sultan Ahmed Mosque or popularly known as the Blue Mosque.
One of the most notable and visible features of the mosque is its six minarets. It is unique as most mosques have four, two or just one minaret.
The Blue Mosque is sited near the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya in Turkish), with both dominating Istanbul’s skyline.
Hagia Sophia, a former Byzantine church and former Ottoman mosque, is now a museum. The visit also covers the Hippodrome Square, the site of the ancient ‘Hippodrome’, one of the most famous areas in Byzantine Constantinople.
Another historical place visited on the first day was the Topkapi Palace, a large palace in Istanbul that was the primary residence of the Ottoman sultans for 400 years, which is now a museum and a major tourist attraction.
It also contains important holy relics of the Muslim world, including Prophet Muhammad’s beard, cloak, sword.
TURKISH AND MALAYSIAN CHARM
Like many visits, local tour guides bring out the best of a country.
The Turkish charm actually started with the group’s tour guide, Melih Tunali who provided insights into Turkish history from ancient to contemporary times.
To keep the group awake, Mel, as he was affectionately called (who compares himself to popular American star Mel Gibson), spiced up and injected humour in his stories when relating his own family history and Turkish tradition and culture.
It was his irresistible and pleasant laughter (to his jokes) that lingers and remains fresh in everyone’s memory.
It was a smart strategy used by Vreka, which used a blend of Malaysian and Turkish charm to flavour-up an otherwise long, tiring and exhausting bus trip to various sites in Turkey.
The Malaysian charmer was Vreka’s marketing executive and tour guide, Ahmad Shafiq Zulbakri who made the group comfortable during the journey.
Turkey may be known for its kebabs but it is also a haven for those who have a sweet tooth.
A visit to a Turkish delight outlet, Mozaik Lokum, brought another pleasant and sweet surprise to the group.
Lokum is Turkish for Turkish delights – sweets made of starch and sugar, stuffed with pisctachios and nuts, flavoured with rose or lemon.
The shop offers Turkish delights in different flavours such as pistachio, dried fig, pomegranate and lemon.
TURKISH DELIGHTS, HOSPITALITY
It also has a complete range of local products, including olive oil skin care, apple and pomegranate tea, Turkish coffee, chocolates and traditional snacks such as figs, peanuts, hazelnuts and apricots.
The effervescent store owner had a foolproof sales tactic: the first taste is free. As a welcome drink, the Malaysian group was served with cold apple tea, a symbol of Turkish hospitality.
His sales antics had a positive result – each one took at least a pack of lokum home! Friends who have been to Turkey say, “Don t forget to have a taste of Turkish ice-cream!” True enough, sampling the traditional Turkish ice-cream, which is chewy, thick and with an elastic texture, is something that should not be missed.
Turks say the best ice-cream is ‘Maras Dondurma’, also known as Maras.
Particularly in Istanbul, the largest city with a population of 14 million, traditional Maras ice-cream is sold from street vendors carts.
The salesmen wear regional dress costumes from the Kahramanmaras area and it may be a while you can sample the chewy and tasty ice-cream.
At various stop-points, including after visiting the Hierapolis ancient city in Pamukkale, which is listed as a World Heritage, tourists were treated to a phenomenal magic show by the vendor, with his hilarious conjuring and juggling acts that had everyone fascinated within a few seconds.
REFRESHING, UNFORGETTABLE EXPERIENCE
Laughing and shrieking could be heard from his customers when the exquisite ice cream was handed round.
The refreshing and unforgettable performance drew applause from his audience.
Another refreshing experience is Turkey’s pomegranate and orange juice.
Freshly squeezed pomegranate juice or orange juice is widely available in Turkey.
It really quenched your thirst after a tour of its ancient ruins and caves under the scorching sun. A glass of fresh pomegranate or orange juice is sold for 3 Turkish liras (RM6).
Turkey’s sweet memories are still fresh in the minds of the Benita group led by its president, Rohana Mustaffa, who is also Bernama Editor.
Turkish cuisine, which is mostly the heritage of Ottoman cuisines, is a fushion and refinement of Central Asian, Caucasian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Balkan cuisines.
Due to its geographical location nestled between Asia and Europe, Turkish is unique and exotic fusion with influences from many countries.
The food is typically rich in vegetables, herbs and fish. Other commonly used ingredients include lamb, beef, chicken, eggplants, nuts, garlic and lentils.
Herbs and spices are generously used, with cumin, pepper, mint, oregano, parsley and paprika among the most popular.
Most restaurants serve lentil soup and a variety of salads as starters, with fresh juicy watermelons or baked rice pudding for desserts.
TURKEY, A FOOD HAVEN
Turkey, with a population of 75 million, has also given the world baklava, a dessert originating in the Middle East made of phyllo pastry filled with chopped nuts and soaked in honey.
A peculiar yet common site is Istanbul’s king of street foods, Simit, which is sold in little carts on almost every corner, and even in the middle of the heavily congested traffic of Istanbul! It is a ring-shaped Turkish bread like a soft pretzel, dipped in syrup and dotted with sesame seeds.
Turks say the tastiest ones are those baked in a traditional brick oven.
The first day was also a ferry ride to Bursa, located in northwestern Anatolia, within the Marmara Region and the fourth most populous city in Turkey.
As it took 1 hour and 45 minutes to the city, some members made their way to the cafe on the upper deck of the ferry for their cup of Turkish coffee.
At the four-star Almira Hotel in Bursa, breakfast was a real treat, with a variety of fresh herbs, local olives, eggs, cheese and honey.
Turkish cheese, which comes from all corners of the nation, offers a variety of tastes for cheese-lovers.
The most popular and widely-consumed cheese in Turkey is beyaz peynir (white cheese).
A sight to behold at the buffet table was a display of real honeycomb, next to an assortment of cheese to spice up or rather sweeten one’s breakfast.
Though tea is more popular than coffee during meals in Turkey, the thick Turkish coffee paired really well with honey.
To view the exciting video, click here youth.bernama.com