You'll find a taste from different cultures on each plate in Izmir, the capital of Aegean cuisine.
Blended with herbs, olive oil dishes and seafood, and enriched with tastes of different cultures lived in the city for centuries, Aegean cuisine is among the hallmarks of a healthy life in Izmir.
In short, it is the cuisine of healthy and delicious food blended with the food and beverage culture of Cretan, Albanian, Thessaloniki and Bosnians who came to the city by exchange or migration, Sephardic Jews who have been living here for 500 years, Levantines whose roots reaches out to Europe, Greeks, Armenians, and, of course, the people who was born and raised in Izmir.
Fertile soils that grow thousands of different herbs, vegetables, and fruit whether it's spring or winter, pure seas inhabited by various kinds of fish and seafood, and olive, nature's biggest gift to Aegean, and its curative juice, olive oil, have been the main actors of Aegean cuisine for centuries.
Delicious, curative products that are grown in fertile plains getting sunlight 300 days a year are blended affectionately, deftly and expertly in the hands of the people of a happy city.
Olive oil, the main actor of the Aegean cuisine, has also traveled to distant lands in amphorae that are specially designed in ancient times, along with wines made out of grapes of Aegean plains. Back then, grape and wine were so blessed that the largest temple of the ancient world was built in Seferihisar Teos on behalf of Dionysus, the god of wine.
On the other hand, Urla, the ancient city of Klazomenai, hosted the world's oldest olive oil workshop in the 6th century BC. This is also an indication of the fact that the people of this region knew olive oil's benefits and discovered the secret of a healthy diet.
Olive, as well as olive oil, is among the indispensable products of the breakfast table. Especially the palm-fruit grown in Karaburun is consumed with olive oil and thyme and a very popular fruit.
Street food that you encounter frequently in Izmir should be kept in mind as well. "Kumru," "boyoz," "lokma," "midye," "kokoreç," and "söğüş" are the alternatives for those looking for a different taste.
Izmir, a member city of World Gourmet Cities Network (DELICE)
Izmir is a member of World Gourmet Cities Network (DELICE), a network with 22 cities from different parts of the world. Became a member in 2015, Izmir is the 23rd city in the network. A platform of communication and exchange for expert chefs and cities in terms of gastronomy, DELICE's operations consist of urban marketing, education and transfer, local products, health and nourishment, and chef training.
Izmir has become a member of the network in order to transfer its experiences with its multi-cultural Aegean cuisine that is a reflection of a history of thousands of years, having the characteristics of various cultures.
The members of World Gourmet Cities Network, a platform of communication among expert chefs and cities in terms of gastronomy, include Aarhus (Denmark), Barcelona (Spain), Birmingham (United Kingdom), Bordeaux (France), Brussels (Belgium), Cape Winelands (South Africa), Gothenburg (Sweden), Helsinki (Finland), Izmir (Turkey), Lozan (Switzerland), Leipzig (Germany), Lisbon (Portuguese), Lyon (France), Madrid (Spain), Montreal (Canada), Osaka (Japan), Puebla (Mexico), Rabat (Morocco), Riga (Latonia), Saint Louis (United States), Stavanger (Norway), Chicago (United Stated), and Torino (Italy).
Kemeraltı Bazaar, a rendezvous point with various tastes
Today, one of the places where you can find the unique tastes of the Izmir cuisine outside houses is the historic Kemeralti Bazaar. Inside the inns within the bazaar, the small restaurants that are hard to find in the narrow streets serve delicious Izmir dishes and salads to their customers, Here, the Eastern Anatolian dishes consisting of "lahmacun," kebab and spicy food give place to lighter dishes made with olive oil, meat and vegetables, plain herb roasting or boiled food made with lemon and olive oil.
Let us note that the spices has a special place in Izmir food culture. Thyme, the naturally-grown, handpicked, and dried spice that is irreplaceable in meat dishes, is also used frequently in breakfasts, along with olive oil and lemon. Mint, alongside thyme, is especially added to a traditional dish called "cacık," or served directly in yogurt with garlic along with appetizers and salads, soups, and stuffed vegetables made with olive oil.
TASTES UNIQUE TO IZMIR
If you happen to come to Izmir and say "What dishes should we eat that are unique to this region? Which desserts should we choose? Which syrups should we drink?", here are the options...
The most consumed foods along with bread in breakfasts in Izmir include "boyoz," "kumru" and "gevrek." Tomatoes, goat cheese, green pepper, olive oil seasoned with thyme, crushed olives of the season, palm-fruit olives, and jams made with seasonal fruits such as strawberry, cherry, quince, and -even though they have become unpopular slowly- citrus and fig are consumed fondly.
It is known that boyoz, a delicious pastry served with baked eggs and brewed tea, is a gift of Jews to Izmir and comes from the Sephardic cuisine. You can find different variations of boyoz, such as boyoz with artichoke, spinach, cheese, and tahini, in bakeries in Alsancak and places selling filled pastries in Mezarlıkbaşı.
Although it looks similar to the other bagels popular in other cities, gevrek is a pastry unique to Izmir. The "secret" of gevrek is that it is sunk in molasses before baking. This method is a tradition coming from the Caucasian Turks. Crispy, fragrant and hot gevreks with plenty of sesame makes a great breakfast when they are served with a slice of goat cheese, fresh tomatoes, green pepper and a glass of well-brewed tea. You can find gevreks every hour of the day in special glass-fronted cabinets that you can find almost anywhere as well as the bakeries in Alsancak.
Kumru, one of the pastries unique to Izmir, could be defined as "a sandwich with tomatoes, cheese and green pepper on sesame bread," as well as "a fast food snack that you could have on the run." It can be eaten hot or cold.
Kumru is served in Ceşme, a touristic district of Izmir, in a different fashion. Here, kumru is grilled and served fermented sausage and salami, as well as tomatoes and melted cheese, and pickled peppers.
Çi Börek is one of the pastries that has been consumed fondly in Izmir for about 150 years. Also known as Crimean Pastry or Tatar Pastry, Çi Börek is a popular option for breakfast with curd cheese or minced meat. There are businesses specifically making çi börek in Eşrefpaşa and Bostanlı.
Herbs, olive oil, meat and vegetable dishes
Izmir dishes made of different seasonal ingredients vary in spring. During March, April and May, when herbs grow frequently, herb dishes unique to Izmir are cooked almost in every home.
Especially for women in small towns and villages, it is a great pleasure to collect herbs turning green after rain, gather with neighbors and make herb pastries, dishes and salads. It is known that herbs are cure-all, and traditional recipes learned from family elders are passed down.
Usually, herbs are bought adequately from the bazaar, boiled long enough to preserve its vitamins, and served with olive oil and lemon juice.
In Izmir, the impact of Cretans on herb dishes is seen more, and lamb meat is used more frequently in meat dishes.
The most consumed herbs can be listed as vines, hibiscus, nettle, cibez, stifno, radish, poppy, curled dock, chickweed, samphire, tangle, blessed thistle, mustard greens, lamb's-ear, and shoots.
In fact, there are several festivals held for these herbs in Alaçatı and Urla.
The indispensable herbs of Mediterranean cuisine are also rich in vitamin A and C, and good antioxidants as they include calcium, phosphate and iron.
In addition to herb dishes, meat dishes, dishes made of offal and fish products are widely common in Izmir cuisine.