Exploring Çanakkale…

The next stop on our expedition was Çanakkale, a seaport town just a short ferry ride across the Dardanelles from where we had spent our first night near Eceabat. The population of the town is a bit over 100,000 and it was a nice place to spend a couple of days.

Çanakkale is an important tourist destination for Australians and New Zealanders coming to commemorate their countrymen who fought and died in the Gallipoli campaign during World War I. In 1915 the British and French were trying to take over Constantinople/Istanbul and secure passage to the Black Sea. Turkish forces defeated the invaders, and many on both sides died during the fighting. Apparently this campaign is especially important in both Australia and New Zealand, as it is considered to be the beginning of both countries’ sense of national distinctiveness and identity. Anzac Day, which commemorates the soldiers who died at Gallipoli, is one of the most important holidays in both countries. The Gallipoli campaign was also extremely important for Turkey, and sort of defines the time when the old Ottoman Empire was coming to an end and set the stage for the Turkish War of Independence a few years later.

However, we mainly stopped in Çanakkale to break up all of our travels, and because it would be a handy place from which to take a day trip to Troy, one of the main objects of our wanderings. We were pleasantly surprised by the town and enjoyed our stay there. There were a number of nice pedestrian streets to stroll along, some tasty and cheap food to enjoy, and the place had a generally good vibe. The highlights were a lovely little café where we stopped every day for Turkish coffee and a new Turkish food experience- peynir helva.

The café was run by a friendly German woman who we chatted with a bit. We learned that she’s married to a Turkish man (there are quite a few Turks living in Germany), and a couple of years ago the two of them along with their two children moved to her husband’s home town, Çanakkale. So, she’d been completely immersed in Turkish, which meant that she was having trouble recalling the English she knew (she still did better than I could do in either Turkish or German, so I’m certainly not criticising!). Anyway, her café was gorgeous, on a lovely pedestrian street with flowering trees growing nearby, just across from a mosque. We enjoyed the cosy inside a couple times, and others we sat out at tables on the street enjoying the sunshine and the beautiful surroundings. And the coffee was delicious!

In terms of food, we’d read that peynir helva was a speciality in the region, so we ate it every chance we got! We’d had ordinary helva before, which is a sweet thing made from seasame paste. It’s kind of hard to describe, but maybe it’s like a dry, slightly crumbly nougat. Whatever it’s like, it’s good, particularly with some strong coffee! Yum. Anyway, this Çanakkale variation seems like something else altogether and involves cheese, which sounds rather strange, but it is now definitely one of my favourite desserts here (especially when served with a dollop of ice cream on top), and that’s saying something!

Our first evening in the town, we went into this dull and rather bare looking helva shop, with a sort of nerdy looking man in glasses being basically the only person working there. The place had the look of the 1970s; the colours, old tables and chairs, minimal decoration. On the walls there were a few black-and-white photos, one of a man with a very strong family resemblance to the chap currently working there, probably his father or grandfather. Apparently the shop was founded in the 1920s, and the only thing on the menu is peynir helva. That’s it. No fancy décor,  no gimmicks, no witty chitchat with the proprietor to bring folks into the shop. Just a really freakin’ amazing recipe for peynir helva perfected over the last 90 years. And the place certainly seemed to have a reputation; one of the evenings we were there, there was a queue of people ordering boxes and boxes of the stuff! Oh, my mouth waters just thinking about it!

Well, there’s more to tell, but it’s late and my pillow is beckoning….

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