I remember when I first moved to Ankara in August 2010, I was completely baffled by the menus. The vegetarian in me was faced with a bunch of non-vegetarian food, and the chocolate-lover in me was bombadred with a bunch of desserts that I could only describe in two adjectives – sticky and syrupy. It didn’t help matters that because of the lack of Indian immigrants in the country (especially Ankara), I was facing the prospect of not having a restaurant that I could go off to everytime I needed comfort food. A year later, I was a much happier person (in terms of food). Some of the restaurants managed to convert me to being a non-vegetarian, and I started appreciating other kinds of desserts. So I’ve decided to write this post for expats who might face similar conundrums when they first move to Ankara, or for tourists, who based on misleading information, might end up visiting Ankara thinking that it’s a tourist destination. Here’s a list of my top 5 restaurants in the city:
Kale Kapisi Sokak 19, Dishisar Kale
Situated in Ulus, this restaurant in housed inside the kalesi (castle) area. Take the bus or the metro to the Sihhiye area, and then just walk up to the foot of the Ulus open-air market. Once there, it’s an uphill climb. Enter the castle area, and this will be your second-turn to the left. Renovated by Recep Deniz in 2003, this is cozy restaurant situated in a two-storey home with the most comfortable cushioned seating areas. The owner’s especially friendly, and knows some English, for those who have just moved to Ankara and still are stuttering their way through Turkish. The women in the family can always be spotted in their open kitchen downstairs, cooking.
My favorite dish here was mantı, which is the Turkish version of dumplings, served in a yogurt sauce with garlic, oil and other seasonings such as paprika and parsley. Traditionally, the mantı is filled with meat, but for vegetarians, this place also makes some excellent potato dumplings served in the same sauce.
Their Patatesli Gözleme, or bread stuff with potatoes, onions and cilantro (similar to Aloo ka Parantha in Indian cuisine, only thinner) is another one of my favorites, and the Gözleme stuffed with honey and walnuts is definitely a must-try for those who are up for an interesting mix of sweet and salty.
I’ve never tried their desserts here, but I’ve heard (and experienced) that the desserts in the market below are amazing – there is a particularly nice bakery whose name I unfortunately don’t remember that sells the lightest, tastiest baklava and a helva that tastes like someone put in a dollop of peanut butter.
Emek Bosna Hersek Cd. No:22/C Cankaya, Ankara
Situated just outside Bahçelievler in the Çankaya District of Ankara, this is my favorite place to go in a large group. The menu is limited but special – serving standard dishes, except that they clearly taste much better than other generic Turkish food offerings. However, the other thing that is special about this restaurant is that it gives its patrons free appetizers, followed by a free dessert and tea after the meal. Considering that main dishes cost somewhere between 10-15 TL, one can easily have a 4 course meal in just 10 TL.
The appetizers or meze include ezme (which is a tomato-based sauce meant to be eaten with bread), roasted garlic, salad, a soup, and meatballs. With the main course, I’m partial towards the ali nazık kebabs, which is lamb served with with a tomato-garlic sauce. The Tavuk Şiş (chicken kebabs) are also quite good, though are a huge helping and for light-eaters, meant to be shared with someone. The Patlıcan (eggplant) kebab however, leaves much to be desired and therefore, for someone who is a completely vegetarian – they might have to find solace in everything else besides the main course. The dessert is dondurma (ice cream) served on top of helva. For those who like ayran(a drink made with yogurt), or those who like lassi, the ayran is a must-try. I personalize am not a big fan of ayran since it’s much too salty for my Indian tastebuds, who are accustomed to the sugary drink version of yogurt, lassi.
The flavored fruit tea at the end is the perfect finish. So go out and enjoy, and marvel at the pace at which these people just churn out their dishes, always ready to fill your plate with seconds. For those who decide to go here for dinner during Ramazan, you will be faced with an even better and increased fare, and will be served with enough food to last you for 2 days.
Paris Cadesi. No. 49- E Sille Meydan Cankaya
Situated in the embassy district, this restaurant is on Paris, a street off of Ataturk Caddesi. A Pakistani restaurant, it mainly caters to the embassy crowd and homesick expats like me. For those who are sick and tired of Turkish food, I feel like this is the perfect break, plus the menu’s in English 🙂
The samosas are pretty average (I might be unfortunately holding them to a higher standard given my familiarity with the cuisine), but their curries are mouth-wateringly amazing. Served with naan, basmati rice and an aloo-jeera salad, their chicken jalfrezi, makhani ghost and dal makhani won my heart over. My only warning, especially for large groups would be: book in advance. It’s a small restaurant, with a seating space of around 20, and it’s always packed, especially at lunch.
Mado Cafe, Tunalı
Though this cafe sells normal food as well, I especially love their desserts. It’s a chain restaurant, but I’m particularly fond of the one on Tunalı Caddesi, as it’s the perfect people-watching and chilling spot on a winter afternoon. Their flavors of Maraş dondurma are many and excellent, but it’s their drinks that win me over – Sıcak Çikolatalı Doğal Salep (salep with hot chocolate) and the Dondurmalı Doğal Salep (salep with ice-cream). For those who aren’t sure what quite salep is, it is a flour made from orchid that is then mixed with hot milk, served with cinnamom (though Mado also serves a version sold with pistachio or fistik). Incidentally, salep flour is also used in making maraş dondurma. As I mentioned in an earlier post, given declining quantities of salep, it is now illegal to export true salep out of Turkey.
Ankuva, Bilkent, Ankara
I am ABSOLUTELY biased in putting this on my list. The food is nothing special, but who doesn’t want the most amazing waffle ever for brunch on weekends? It doesn’t help that it was a 10 minute walk from where we lived, making it impossible to succumb to the temptation on hangover-induced mornings. Their waffle is topped with everything you’ve dreamt off – chocolate, coffee and vanilla ice-cream, chocolate syrup, white chocolate chips, bananas, kiwis, oranges and raspberry sauce. I would be impressed if an ordinary person could finish it one sitting (I clearly have an extra-ordinary ability to consume desserts) and is therefore, perfect to share with someone at the end of a meal.
What’s your favorite Turkish food?