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Mezzaluna December 26, 2009

Posted by Steven Bartus in Foreign Cuisine.
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Living abroad can be at its most challenging during the holiday season. In addition to the separation from friends and family, the absence of certain culinary comforts often makes the distance from home seem all the farther. Twenty-five percent of me is Italian, and as such my Christmas meals have always been laden with the fare of the old country. Although there isn’t a true replacement in Ankara, I found Mezzaluna to be an acceptable alternative for grandma’s cooking this year.

Originating in New York City, Mezzaluna came to Turkey in 1995 and currently operates eleven branches across the country. The menu and quality are very similar to that of Paper Moon, the other upmarket Italian chain in Turkey. While I would say that Mezzaluna isn’t quite as good, I prefer it because of the (slightly) lower prices and they don’t gouge you for water.

The pizza is the star attraction at Mezzaluna. Sizable and tasty, they feature unique Italian ingredients that are a delight to the pork lover living in a Muslim country. The eponymously named Mezzaluna (topped with prosciutto, mushrooms, eggplant, mozzarella and tomato sauce) as well as the Rossa (sun-dried tomatoes, caramelized onions, black olives, capers, mozzarella and tomato sauce) are sure to please. The pasta dishes are also quite good, but I find the portions to be a bit too small for my appetite.

Mezzaluna has two locations in Ankara, one in Bilkent and another in Kavaklıdere (Google Maps). Entreés are priced between 20TL and 30TL ($13.20 and $19.80 at 1.51TL/$). Alcohol is served.

Gülsoy Fast Food December 11, 2009

Posted by Steven Bartus in Quick Eats, Turkish Cuisine.
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Sakarya Cad. is a mecca for fast food lovers in Ankara. This bustling pedestrianized boulevard in the heart of Kızılay contains a plethora of quick eats, offerings diverse Turkish favorites such as balık ekmek, lamacun and kumpir. The most popular, though, is without question the döner kebab, Turkey’s most famous contribution to world cuisine. Across the globe, the ubiquitous sight of meat cooking on a vertical spit is a fixture of city life.

It is only a minor exaggeration to suggest that there are approximately 2.56 döner shops per capita in Ankara. On Sakarya alone, there are dozens of establishments making this cheap and tasty kebab. The best is Gülsoy Fast Food, located at the intersection with Bayındır Sk. (Google Maps).

You might ask what separates one döner kebab from the next as it isn’t exactly a complicated dish to prepare. But in my experience (which after fourteen months in Turkey probably numbers over a hundred) there are clear differences. Freshness is chief among them. The rotating nature of döner lends itself to being overcooked; meat is allowed spin all day, becoming drier and drier with each turn. Many shops also buy sub-par meat in order to save on cost. Other places keep their bread or lavaş past its shelf life or use a lackluster garnish of old lettuce and onion.

Gülsoy tends to avoid these pitfalls and is noteworthy not only for its freshness, but also for its use of better ingredients. Soslu döner is a common variation of the dish in Ankara, where iskender tomato sauce is added to the kebab to tastefully increase moisture. But Gülsoy has something better: a herb-based version that adds flavor without excessive liquid. Together, these factors make for the best dürüm on Sakarya and have made me a regular customer whenever I’m in the area.

Like most fast food stops in Kızılay, Gülsoy is very cheap. A delicious tavuk döner costs a mere 3TL ($2 at 1.50TL/$), although this week for an unknown reason they were selling at the ludicrously low price of 2TL ($1.33). The kokoreç is noteworthy as well and is priced at 2.50TL ($1.67) for a çeyrek (quarter) serving.

Spice Curry House December 3, 2009

Posted by Steven Bartus in Desserts, Foreign Cuisine.
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For the curry-loving expat in Ankara, Spice is an indispensable resource. This Australian-Algerian-Turkish-run establishment offers excellent subcontinental cuisine to a dining scene sorely lacking in variety.

One should not go to Spice expecting a traditional Indian meal. As the diversity of the ownership would suggest, the cooks bring a number of distinct culinary influences to their food. And this is a very good thing. They manage to balance a healthy creative license with a strong appreciation for authenticity, delivering what I have found to be one of the most satisfying dining experiences in the city.

Vegetarians, often the victims of carnivorous onslaughts in Turkish restaurants, will be happy to know that Spice maintains meatless options for their respite. My partner and I were quite pleased with the mushroom curry, a rich blend with zucchini and paneer. The spicing stuck me as something decidedly different from what I have experienced in the US or UK, but it was an innovation that clearly reflected a sort of respectful irreverence for subcontinental style.

Spice also pleases those looking for the internationally beloved classics of Indian cooking. Chicken korma, lamb vindaloo and chicken tikka masala are all represented. I went with the korma and found it quite tasty, although the pieces of chicken were a bit too large for the amount curry sauce.

Possibly the highlight of the meal, though, was the dessert. The sticky toffee pudding is simply amazing. If you live in Ankara, you need to try it immediately. Enough said.

Spice Curry House is located on Çayhane Sk. in Gaziosmanpaşa (Google Maps). The pricing reflects its location in one of the wealthier neighborhoods of the city. Starters and desserts average about 8TL ($5.30 at 1.50TL/$), while meat and meatless entreés cost around 19TL and 12TL ($12.60 and $8), respectively.