Diverse, colorful and flavorful, Turkish cuisine — one of the world’s oldest — unquestionably caters to all tastes and palates. The country’s rich history, geography and favorable climatic conditions, among other factors, have contributed to the enormous variety of dishes that one finds in Turkey today; and while Istanbul is considered the gastronomy capital, culinary delights can be found in countless other cities and towns, notably in the north, along Turkey’s Black Sea.
Just over an hour’s flight from Istanbul, Kastamonu is a province that borders the Black Sea region of Turkey. Characterized by sweeping landscapes, it is home to a series of canyons, including Valla Canyon, the second deepest in the world.
The charming city of Kastamonu features traditional wooden houses and an authentic bazaar. Nestled in the souk is the renowned Tabakoglu Pastirma, makers of premium pastirma since 1880. This Turkish staple is air-dried cured beef seasoned with salt and spices. After the curing period, which often takes several weeks, the meat is thinly sliced and often served as an appetizer or used as an ingredient in various dishes, such as cheese and pastirma pastry rolls.
A local specialty is halvah, a traditional sweet made from sesame paste. Cut into small cubes, halvah can be enjoyed in a variety of flavors, including rose, coffee and pistachio.
The Cem Sultan covered bazaar is another highlight and foodie favorite. Built in 1469 by the Ottoman prince Cem Sultan, it features vaulted ceilings and traditional architecture, with a central fountain. The first-floor restaurant, considered the best in the city, serves a variety of local specialties, including: etli ekmek, meat with bread; yayla corbasi, a Turkish yogurt soup made of cooked rice, chickpeas and a variety of spices; and tirit, an Ottoman recipe prepared by soaking stale bread in a broth prepared from offal, which is then seasoned with ground pepper and onion.
Safranbolu, a UNESCO World Heritage Centre, is located in the Karabuk Province of the western Black Sea region. Its name derives from the saffron flower that grows abundantly in autumn. In fact, Safranbolu is a key producer of the precious spice, which is often used in local specialties and tea infusions.
Picturesque scenery, Ottoman houses and cobblestone lanes define this charming city. In the marketplace, visitors can explore the local crafts and taste Safranbolu’s famous lokum (Turkish delight). Among the most well-known, high-quality brands is Imren, a family business founded in 1942. Today, it is one of the largest producers with around 25 varieties, such as pomegranate, pistachio and rose.
Another of Safranbolu’s top sites is the Kahve Muzesi Coffee Museum, the only museum of its kind in Turkey. Housed inside the Cinci inn, which dates back to the 1600s, the museum celebrates the 500-year-old coffee heritage of Anatolia. Visitors can explore the exhibition area of hand grinders, roasting pans and old pots before enjoying a traditional cup of saffron coffee.
Located halfway between Istanbul and Ankara, Bolu is characterized by dense forests and hot springs. Its vast agricultural lands have also contributed to the region’s impressive culinary profile.
Mengen, a rural town in the province, is revered for its meat, with Mengen Ciftlik Et Mangal regarded as the best place to eat. The menu is rich in beef and lamb options, much of which is sourced from the restaurant’s farm. Visitors are invited to accompany their meal with a cold glass of ayran, a frothy yogurt-based drink mixed with water and salt.
Bolu’s chocolate-making prowess is also apparent, as a number of Turkey’s premium chocolate producers are located here. Among them is Rayess Chocolate, a boutique chocolate brand that fuses natural and fresh Turkish flavors with high-quality Belgian chocolate.