Located in Southern Turkey, Adana is one of the most agriculturally productive areas in the world. As such, history buffs can see remnants of ten ancient civilizations while visitors feast on fresh regional dishes. The city is situated on the beautiful Seyhan River, 30 kilometers (19 miles) inland from the Mediterranean and surrounded by Çukurova’s flat and fertile farmland.
The city’s food combines Mediterranean, Arabic and Anatolian inspiration with local ingredients. Meals often showcase local bulgur, a rough, cracked wheat with a dark color, apparently tanned by Çukurova’s sun. Red pepper, spices and tahini season local greens and peppers. Lamb and other meats are often featured in hot, spicy, fatty and traditional dishes, while thyme from the Taurus Mountains flavors the meat and thickens the milk. Many Turks instantly associate Adana with its kebap, but there’s more to eating in this city than just this famous, meaty, spicy dish.
1. Adana Kebap
Adana kebap is the city’s pride and joy and the quintessential kebap in Turkey. The dish has created a culture with specific ways to prepare, serve and eat the kebap. The meat comes from a young lamb — less than a year old — fed on the local fauna. The cleaned meat and fat are hand-kneaded with pepper and salt. After reaching a homogenous consistency, the meat is “impaled” on iron skewers and cooked over oak wood coals. Flatbread is often pressed on the meat to absorb melting fat, while warming the bread for serving.
This foot-long belt of meat can be served on a plate (porsiyn) or wrapped in flatbread (dürüm). Julienned onions, diced tomatoes, salt, cumin and sumac top the meat. The kebap comes with complimentary side dishes, such as grilled tomatoes and green peppers, pickled ornamental peppers and ezme salad (a paste-like mixture of tomatoes and hot peppers).
For the perfect beverage to go with your kebap, try Ayran, Turkey’s national beverage. The drink is made with yogurt, water and a little salt, and is served chilled, often with grilled meat or rice. This ancient beverage has existed since the Gokturks diluted yogurt with water to cut the bitter taste. Serve ayran in a copper bowl with a frothy foam for a classic take on the drink, although packaged versions are ubiquitous throughout the country. Even though ayran isn’t unique to Adana, the mild beverage tones down the city’s spicy food, making it the perfect place to indulge. Packed with electrolytes, aryan can help prevent dehydration after a day in the sun in Adana’s hot climate. Filled with probiotics, calcium and vitamin D, you may soon find this beverage in the West, where interest in its health benefits is growing.
A Turkish classic is lahmacun, a flatbread with meat and spices, sometimes misleadingly known as “Turkish pizza.” Although similar in appearance, lahmacun has no cheese, a spicy taste and features ground meat. The preparation of lahmacun varies widely all over the country but Adana serves a midsize, circular, spicy lahmacun. Thin bread is topped with spices, minced meat, onions and tomatoes then cooked in a stone oven. Often garnished with lemon and parsley, lahmacun is frequently rolled up and eaten by hand. A popular lunchtime snack and fast food, street stalls and restaurants serve lahmacun. At home, people prepare meat then bring it to the neighborhood oven where bakers would add dough and cook it for a minimal charge. Since a little meat goes a long way, it’s a relatively inexpensive party food.
4. Yüksük Çorbası
Yüksük çorbası, or “thimble soup,” is an Adana specialty and a popular wedding dish. In the villages, families prepare this soup the day before the wedding. During the ceremony, the soup boils in cauldrons over fire pits. Homemade Turkish ravioli and chickpeas in a spicy broth comprise this hearty, main-dish soup. The name (yüksük for thimble, çorba for soup) comes from the thimble shape of the dumplings, which look like manti but are prepared differently.
This dessert is found in the Adana and Mersin regions of Turkey. “Karakush” derives from the Arabic word “krekush”, which means crispy dough. Traditionally filled with seven spices, today, Adana pastry shops sometimes make this dish plain. Cinnamon serves as the main spice, accompanied by allspice, nutmeg, ginger and cloves. When spices were expensive, karakush was served for New Years and other special occasions, but today, Adana’s residents consume it daily.