A day of exploring in Ankara deserves a delicious ending. Here are some of the capital’s best and most colorful offerings, including sweet and savory dishes to try before you write it off as boring and dull
*The fearued photo: A chestnut stall with Tunalı Hilmi Street in the background (Photo by Argun Konuk)
With the new regulations implemented due to the steady rise in COVID-19 cases in Turkey, most restaurants have been limited to take-aways only. Although it comes as a major restriction to our social lives, I intend on proving to you that there is still a way for us to enjoy outdoor activities in accordance with the safety measures.
Last week, I set out one day to roam the streets of downtown Ankara. It’s funny to see how quickly my impulses kicked in and my walk turned into a gastro tour, resulting in me feeling bloated the next day having gained a kilo or two.
This week, allow me to introduce you to some great spots in the heart of the city, offering the finest savory dishes and sweet treats.
A good percentage of central Ankara consists of parks, which provide safe zones for those who are hesitant to go out due to the current global situation. Instead of looking for an uncrowded street corner to hastily devour your food, opt for the park where you can picnic on the socially distanced benches and safely enjoy your treats.
Join me on the streets of Ankara.
It is indisputable that döner is the most popular Turkish street food. As a quick introduction to döner for readers who may be unfamiliar with it, it includes thinly sliced scraps of well-cooked meat served either as a dürüm (a burrito-like roll), ekmek arası (as a sandwich) or with a side of bread or rice. With its history going as far back as the 19th century, döner has already made a name for itself in Europe and other far-flung parts of the world, where it has established itself in the local street food scene.
Today, most döner shops use vertical rotisseries that run on gas tanks, which do not exactly conform to the traditional method of using wooden coal heaters to cook the meat. Cici Döner is one of the rare places maintaining the traditional gastronomic methods, evident from the first bite.
Located on Ankara’s symbolic Kumrular street (at the heart of the central vicinity of Kızılay), this hole-in-the-wall shop serves the most authentic and delicious döner (according to my personal experience) in the city. It is very popular and, regardless of the time of the day, there is a good chance that you will have to wait in the queue with other hungry fans.
If you want to leave space in your stomach for the rest of our food journey, opt for a half or quarter portion.
Çiğ köfte, literally translating to “raw meatball” in Turkish, is an appetizer that is prepared by kneading bulgur, red pepper flakes, tomato paste, pepper paste, onion, parsley and various spices until they become a homogenous mixture.
Originating from Turkey’s southeastern provinces, çiğ köfte has gradually cemented its respected position in Turkish street food culture.
The traditional recipe includes raw minced meat but today, except for a few restaurants, the çiğ köfte you will come across on the streets will be meatless. Frankly, I find it quite ironic that a dish from one of the most carnivorous regions of the world has become a vegetarian appetizer in urban parts of the country. What a contrast!
Çiğ köfte can be eaten two different ways. Wrapped up in a dürüm or on their own, with a side of greens and lemon slices. The dürüm route is convenient but not the way first-timers should experience çiğ köfte. The fun is in eating them on their own with a side of lavaş (thin sheets of bread) and lettuce leaves used to spoon the çiğ köfte.
Kızılay has dozens of çiğ köfte sellers, but Apikoğlu Çiğ Köfte Shop has the most distinctive taste, located only a couple of meters away from Cici Döner.
Besi Fish Shop
Eating fish is not a very common tradition in Ankara due to the city being landlocked. Because of low demand, fish is either sold at exorbitant prices or isn’t the best quality – a problem that Sakarya Street solves.
In the midst of its bakeries, phone shops, flower stalls and cafes, there are many fish stores selling fresh, tasty, reasonably priced seafood. The most popular of these stores happens to be Besi Fish, which also acted as a restaurant prior to the new restrictions. Here, you can buy different types of fish, and even get them cooked before heading home if you wish.
Like many other parts of Turkey, the most common seafood you’ll see being sold on the street is ekmek arası balık (a fish sandwich generally prepared with anchovies). I recommend grabbing a balık ekmek on Sakarya Street, not only to satisfy your hunger but to experience Ankara’s colorful daily life. For me, the most entertaining thing to do is sit on a bench nearby and watch people go about their daily lives as I tuck into my hefty fish sandwich. Highly recommended!
Ali’s Historical Helva Shop
Located in a hole-in-the-wall, fitting in less than 5 square meters (53.82 square feet), this shop makes the most authentic irmik helvası (semolina helva), which comes served with plain ice cream and topped with crushed nuts and tahini sauce.
Apart from the semolina helva, you can also try chocolate semolina helva and cennet çamuru, which translates literally to “heaven mud,” and is a helva made out of the famous Gaziantep pistachio, served with a thick layer of pistachio powder on top.
The varieties on offer in the tiny shop can satisfy even the most severe sugar craving.
Although Kakule Bakery opened amid the pandemic only nine months ago, it has quickly become popular and earned the reputation of being one of the most authentic bakeries in the city. Run by chef couple Deniz and Hüma Bektaş, this small bakery has only a handful of tables but captures its customers with its interior design and wide range of sweet treats from New York-style desserts to French delicacies.
Kakule Bakery also stands out for its tasty coffees, freshly grinding coffee beans for each order.
My personal recommendation would be the cinnamon roll, which is my absolute favorite. Kakule also makes mouthwatering cheesecakes.
Bearing in mind that most desserts sell out by the end of the day, I would advise you visit Kakule in the earlier hours so as not to miss anything.
Street-style Roasted Chestnuts
What’s a good way to tell that winter is coming to Turkey? Besides the change in weather, for me, a reliable indicator is the emergence of roasted chestnut carts cropping up on cities’ busy streets. Seeing the chestnuts being freshly roasted on the carts fills me with a warmth that can only be compared to a Christmas morning.
Ankara’s liveliest street is Atatürk Boulevard, which cuts across Kızılay, and Tunalı Hilmi Street. On these streets, you’ll find the best roasted chestnuts the city has to offer. The way chestnuts are sold in Turkey is unique. Chestnut vendors put chestnuts into paper bags and weigh them using a traditional weighing scale with iron weights.
We are adding another thing to the list of Ankara “must-tries,” which is to eat warm chestnuts out in the open winter air. Since taking off your mask on the streets is prohibited and considered risky, I would recommend you take a seat on a bench in Kuğulu Park, located at the top of Tunalı Hilmi Street, and enjoy your snack there.
Natural Juice Kiosk
Some 100% natural juice for under TL 5? The Natural Juice Kiosk, operating on the corner of Güvenpark that abuts Atatürk Boulevard, under an initiative by the municipality of Ankara, is a great spot to stop and refuel with an organic orange juice. Considering we are living at a time when it would be wise to keep our immune systems up, I recommend grabbing your daily dosage of vitamins at the kiosk. It gave me a sense of relief to see the fruit being freshly squeezed and bottled in front of my eyes by employees strictly following hygiene measures.
The pandemic has undoubtedly affected everything in appalling ways; however, we have to keep in mind that life goes on and we should try our best to fill every moment with happiness and create positive memories. Unfortunately, we won’t get back the time lost to the COVID-19 pandemic, but we should not lose sight of the bigger picture. Regardless of your city or town, don’t forget to take a step outside into the open space, while strictly following safety measures, and enjoy the last days of autumn before winter sinks in.
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