Sunday, October 28, 2012

Tandir Cafe

Evelien lives about half way down the side of the canyon in Ortahisar. There are two ways to get to the center of town from her house, the fastest, and believe it or not, the easiest way is to go to the bottom and take the staircase to the top on the other side. Or walk uphill to the Hezen Cave Hotel, and take streets from there to the plain above the town, walk around the edge of the canyon and eventually make your way into the center. For sheer exertion the staircase is the way to go. There are no gyms here in Cappadocia, the natural StairMaster is right outside the door.

The Tandir Cafe
Going uphill past Hezen Cave leads to a small park with a few trees, benches and some kid’s play equipment. A couple of small buildings and some tents for tables makes a nice concession stand. When Evelien asked if I’d been to Tandir Café in the park, I thought that’s what she meant. I discovered, walking home from the little grocery, there is another restaurant towards the lower end of the park. You don’t see it easily because it drops off the edge of the cliff down a set of stairs. All that is visible from the park is a wooden fence and a small sign.

Tandir Café is perched on the side of the cliff, the kitchen inside a hunk of rock that looks like a monstrous Hershey’s Kiss.  Below that, down several sets of stairs is the Lavobo, the WC, the restroom. There are rock stairs and pathways leading to tables here and there under café umbrellas, and a large wooden structure with roof and cushions around a low table. The owner is a plump woman with a sweet smiling face who works her buns off serving as well as cooking. More stairs lead further down the cliff to a flat garden area that may or may not be part of the restaurant. There are hidden gardens all over the place, used to grow fruits and vegetables, all are fallow this late in the year.

I ordered kofte, meatballs. I had no idea what the dish would look like, it could come with cream sauce, be just the balls and vegetables, or it could be soupy. Soup also came with it. I saw steam coming from under a vent in the rock and the lady showed me her Tandoor oven, hence the name of the café. She said she’s not cooking anything more today, the fire was going out already.

I chose the highest table not wanting to lug my groceries all the way down the hill and back up, since I still had quite a walk back to Evelien’s house. She brought up a large tray laden with small dishes and put them out in a neat order along with a plate and basket of fluffy white bread.  The dishes contained olive oil, some kind of dipping spice powder, cooked mild peppers in vinegar, crumbled cheese with herbs, and a dish of strong dill and garlic pickled vegetables. “Enjoy your meal” she said, and went back downhill to the kitchen.

Sometimes I am so clueless, I don’t even know I’m clueless. This was the meal? Surely not. This is just the start. Right? What was it that I ordered? I forgot after we chatted about the tandoor oven. But she never came back. I ate a piece of bread dipped in oil and powder, ate a few of the pickles, and enjoyed the crumbly cheese, took some photos of the view, washed my hands in the restroom, and eventually she came back with the soup. “Enjoy your meal” she said again.

Oh my. It was well worth the wait. Hard to find words to describe a good lentil soup. The spices, onion, garlic, the lentils, the broth, all blend so seamlessly there is only a new wonderfully complex flavor such that no single ingredient stands out. It was nirvana soup.

Open door to the WC, above is the kitchen

Slowly sipping and loving the soup, I finished and waited. More bread, a good sop of the bowl, a pickle or two, then she trudged up the hill with another large bowl, the kofte. Not like any I’ve ever had. The meatballs were perfectly round, the size of marbles, if that big, rolling around in a broth that used tomato for coloring, spices so subtle as to be indistinguishable, producing in concert a flavor I’ve never tasted before. Plenty of olive oil floated about in little red ponds between the mottled brown balls of beef and lamb with specs of rice and parsley. Nirvana kofte with a view, on a smooth autumn day when the sun was hot and the shade chilled.

I staggered home with my groceries, too full, ready for a nap, knowing the beasts would be waiting anxiously after 4 hours for their afternoon walk.  A little slice of heaven experienced, then, wham! Back to the real world.