Mention the country turkey to any gastronomic connoisseur and three foods will instantly appear on the mental menu: Turkish delight (not that we’ll call the pink sweet a proper food), olives and figs.
Around every winding corner, on the edge of every olive plantation and in every backyard, there is a plentitude of blossoming fig trees just ripe for the picking. The fig is actually not a single fruit but 1,500 tiny fruits which are in fact the seeds. Each purple fruit with its delicious deep red fleshy centre, known as the black fig – or in Turkey, incir – is an ancient edible fruit whose roots are drenched in stories of ancient gods and goddesses. Greek royalty (who originally inhabited Turkey when it was known as Constantinople), used to feed figs to their geese to fatten them up for foie gras, before the French claimed the delish dish for themselves that is. But prior to that it was Adam and Eve who used fig leaves to, ahem, spare their blushes.
As autumn drifts across the European country, so too does black fig season, which lasts from August through to October. Follow the fig trail up the west coast of Turkey, starting in Izmir, known as “The Pearl of the Aegean Sea”. The seaside village, an hour’s plane flight south of Istanbul, is sprawling with cute cobblestone pathways that wind endlessly along the water’s edge and through the marketplace. Here you’ll find vendors who line the streets touting their handpicked treats. After a day sampling a fruit basket in the sun-kissed town, make your way back to the corniche and grab a table at Deniz for dinner. Turkey is also known for its fresh fish, and this restaurant has a menu bursting with the tastiest catch of the day.
After all the heady sea air, hire a car and make a beeline for the lush, green, leafy hillside where the trees that spawn the magical fruit litter the north-winding drive. Being the biggest producer of figs in the world, you’ll be hard-pressed not to find the sweet bites on your travels through Turkey.
Along the journey there are plenty of snap-worthy views, so keep your camera at the ready. As you hit the scenic coastal road, drive towards Pergamon. The ruins are said to once have been home to the gods, and where fig trees grew aplenty. After frolicking through the fields, head back down the winding mountain and just near the ancient site is the Carpet Weavers’ Association. With a treasure trove of handmade carpets inside – they make for a fabulous souvenir if your liras permit – and outside they also have the most impressive fig tree in town. If you’re lucky you’ll be able to sample the mouthwatering fruit as you stand underneath the shade of the beautiful big branches (but sssh… don’t tell everyone otherwise there’ll be none left).
After tasting Turkey’s finest fruit you’re probably wondering why, besides of their incredible taste, they’re so good for you? Figs – also aptly named the miracle fruit – are renowned for containing 83 per cent natural sugar and for being a rich source of vitamins A, B and C. What’s more impressive however, is that ounce-for-ounce, figs have more calcium than milk. And four figs contain more potassium than a cup of orange juice… just don’t gobble too many because they also work wonders for the efficiency of your digestive system.
After a day in Pergamon, continue north until you come across one of the many tiny towns tucked away in the lush green valleys. They’re not hard to miss and they all have breathtakingly gorgeous pebbled cottages ready to rent.
Finish your self-guided tour in Çanakkale. The area is riddled with relics and, of course, Turkish figs, which resemble the original cultivated fruit from Asia Minor. If you’re a history buff then be sure to stop at the ruins of Troy. Once in Çanakkale it’s just a hop, skip and jump over to Gallipoli. Here you can pay homage to the soldiers of the First World War. Soak up the scenery, revel in even more roadside fruit stalls and then head to the tiny one-building airport and jet back to Istanbul. Figs don’t travel well so enjoy your feast while you can find the juicy variety.
5 Fig facts
When choosing your figs, beware of the odour as they shouldn’t smell sour.
Store your fresh figs in a paper bag or shallow bowl lined with paper, not a plastic bag.
Don’t chill them because it will destroy the flavour.
You can eat the skin of the fruit but use your discretion because after they’ve been hauled halfway across the world, the outside can be a bit tough, compared to the just-picked variety.
Dry figs are a great way to enjoy the fruit, considering fresh figs can be hard to come by in some countries.
While you’re in Turkey
In Izmir book a stay at the grand Swissôtel. It has a see-through swimming pool and is located right in the middle of town. For reservations phone 00 800 6379 4771 or visit swissotel.com
Overlook Çanakkale at the Akol Hotel. The four-star resort has sweeping views of the harbour town where Europe meets Asia. For reservations phone 00 90 286 217 9456 or visit hotelakol.com
Turkish Airlines fly direct to Istanbul from Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and internally to Izmir and Çanakkale from Istanbul. Visit turkishairlines.com