An organic farm trip with Plus Kitchen

Now that I am trying my hand at writing on food sustainability issues here in Istanbul, a lot of awesome opportunities have fallen into my lap including an invitation to join an organic farm trip. The trip was organized by Plus Kitchen – a restaurant located in Trump Towers specializing in local, organic, and all around healthy foods. We departed from Plus Kitchen early Sunday morning and found ourselves on the road headed to Beykoz about a half an hour later. Somewhere along the Beykoz road, we stopped at Demircan Restaurant where we were welcomed by Derya of Plus Kitchen. We started off the day with a magnificent village-style breakfast – warm bread, butter, creamy yogurt, cheese, olives, tomatoes, cucumber, fried eggplant, mucver (zucchini pancakes), menemen, several rounds of tea, and of course, Turkish coffee. Everything was organic and fresh, fresh, fresh. 

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Our first stop: Demircan Restaurant

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Gurkan and I enjoying our breakfast

The organic farm was located down the road so after breakfast we gathered ourselves together and started off down the path. Before making it to the farm, we stopped at a roadside stand to admire the produce. Gurkan and I couldn’t help but bag a supply of beans and tomatoes for the week. Once we arrived at the farm, our guide Beytullah Bey took us under his wing and explained the crops one by one. We started in the greenhouse-like tent where the tomatoes and cucumbers were growing. We saw rows and rows of beautiful green – soon to be red – tomatoes and cucumber plants gently grazing the ground (the cucumbers were being grown upside down!). We also learned a few tricks: Beytullah Bey told us that the flowers on the tomato plants indicate how many tomatoes will grow, and if you want one gigantic tomato, you can simply take a few of the flowers of the plant leaving only one to blossom. Similarly, we were surprised to learn that the leaves of the green tomato plant give off a green color that cannot be removed with soap and water but only by rubbing the tomato itself on your hands. Seriously, these plants are pure magic.

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Buying vegetables on the roadside

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Our guide, Beytullah Bey, explaining the secrets of the trade

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Tomato close-up. See those red ones peeking through in the background?

Outside the tent, we checked out the zucchini, eggplant, and pepper plants. The last crop was a special type of tomato plant that cannot be grown inside the tent (which does a nice job of protecting the plants from bugs). It’s also  a late bloomer scheduled for harvest in early August, and as a result, we didn’t get a chance to marvel at its fruit. As Beytullah Bey gave us a quick lesson on the best time of the day to water plants (hint: you don’t want them to burn), Gurkan asked a good deal of questions about best practices for growing fruits and vegetables. His family grows a variety of fruits and vegetables as well as pine trees in Turkey’s Black Sea region so the organic farm trip hit close to home.

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A young zucchini plant

After the tour, we headed back to Demircan Restaurant where Derya was waiting for each of us with a bag of goods from Plus Kitchen! Each bag was filled with green peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, village eggs, yogurt, fresh milk, and honey packed in vintage-looking glass jars and wrapped in lovely green Plus Kitchen hankies. In addition to the tomatoes and peppers we had picked up at the roadside stand, we knew we would be eating well (and organic!) for at least a week. Indeed, that week our veggie dishes and salads were tastier, our milk and yogurt richer, and our egg yolks more deep in color. We are the newest fans of Plus Kitchen, and we can’t wait for their new location in Kanyon to open.

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Farm-to-table with Plus Kitchen!

Plus Kitchen has a great social media presence. Check them out on Instagram and Twitter @pluskitchentr.

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Thanks #pluskitchentr!

 

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The Turkish breakfast of champions

You know you’ve grown accustomed to life in Turkey when you can’t imagine starting your weekend without a large Turkish breakfast. You stock up on all the goods at your local bazaar and invite friends over so it can be enjoyed by all. Custom has it that your guests will reciprocate and host you for breakfast in the future.

One of my Turkish breakfast rules is that it should be enjoyed at home not at a restaurant. I refrain from eating breakfast out because 1) it’s almost never worth the price and 2) the taste and quality just isn’t as good as a breakfast prepared at home especially if you live with friends like I do whose parents are always sending goodies from their hometowns.

There is, however, one exception to the no-breakfast out rule, and that is breakfast under the historical Cinar Tree in Bursa’s Inkaya village. The Cinar Tree (English: Plane Tree) itself is a destination – the tree’s plaque says it’s 600 years old and it’s so large that it requires metal supports to hold up its branches in some places. Busloads of Turkish tourists and schoolchildren are always milling around, taking group pictures, and snacking on gozleme under the tree.

The breakfasts are large and one breakfast is plenty for two people (order one and ask for service for two). Each breakfast comes with a caydanlik of tea, a hardboiled egg, a variety of cheeses, butter, cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, kaymak with honey and walnuts, kahvalti saltca (a spread of tomato paste, walnuts, garlic and olive oil), jam, seasonal fruit, and of course, a basket of bread. With a group of people, I like to order the village-style eggs with sucuk (spicy pork-less sausage) as well. The eggs come runny and the sucuk is high quality.

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The breakfast spread at Cinar

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Village eggs with sucuk

After breakfast, I always end up in the restaurant’s kitchen where I like to fill up my jars from home with the restaurant’s kahvalti salca. Although it’s easy to find in Istanbul, I haven’t found anything comparable to the kahvalti saltca served at the Cinar Tree. You can also fill up on jam, and the restaurant’s quince jam is especially good.

Don’t forget to snap some pictures in front of the tree and check out the nearby stands selling fresh fruit and souvenirs including reasonably-priced Iznik dishes. If the day is young (and it should be if you are having breakfast!), you can continue up the mountain road for a day at Uludag Mountain. Skiing and sledding in the winter, picnics and hiking in the summer. Otherwise, head back downtown via Tophane and continue your village adventures at the historic Cumalikizik vilage.

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The 600 year old Cinar Tree

How to get to Cinar: It is possible to get there by bus from Altiparmak in the city center, but the bus runs infrequently (only once an hour) so you must rush through breakfast or plan on sticking around for a couple of hours. My recommendation is to take a car (we tend to rent a car for our weekends in Bursa). The morning will be much more relaxing and enjoyable and you can stick around for a cup of Turkish coffee.