Meals in Şanlıurfa are a different feast, because they are rich in ingredients, difficult to make, but uniquely delicious. Şanlıurfa has taken the best flavors of all civilizations and cultures that have dominated it over the years, combined these with the products of its fertile soil and carried it to our day with various recipes.
These lands, which are the origin of grains and legumes, also give life to many vegetables and fruits with their unique flavor. Perhaps that is why fruits such as plums, green almonds and apples are used in meat dishes as much as vegetables. Local cheese and yoghurt is made from the milk of animals fed in natural environments. The bees fed by the endemic flowers of the region produce both healing and high-quality honey.
Many agricultural products and local food of Şanlıurfa have been registered as geographically marked products of Şanlıurfa. Fortunately, there are restaurants where you can taste many of them during your visit in Şanlıurfa.
There are also many culinary museums in the city for you to get to know the local cuisine better. Thanks to the animated descriptions in these museums, you can see the place of gastronomy in the culture of Şanlıurfa and learn the local recipes from their masters in various workshops.
İsot pepper (Capsicum annuum), associatied with Şanlıurfa, is a kind of chili pepper with a name derived from the Turkish words “hot” and “herb”. İsot is the general name of green and red pepper in Şanlıurfa.
It is very difficult to prepare the red chili pepper called “dry isot”. The isot is homemade. 200 to 40 kilograms of fresh red pepper are carefully picked, dried in the sun, and then beaten in a cloth bag or a mortar and turned into “dry isot”.
İsot is used in most local dishes, especially çiğköfte. It is rich in vitamins and appetizing.
Without any doubt, Çiğköfte is one of Şanlıurfa’s most important dishes. Although vegetarian versions have been made in many cities in recent years, the original Çiğköfte is made with meat and plenty of isot pepper from Şanlıurfa. Çiğköfte is the essential dish of sıra nights, special meetings and entertainments in Şanlıurfa.
People of Şanlıurfa sometimes make this dish with eggs instead of meat. However, this version is called “yumurtalı köfte”.
According to the legend, Çiğköfte dates back to the time of Prophet Ibrahim. When King Nimrod gathered all the wood in and around the city center to set Abraham on fire, the people of Şanlıurfa had no wood left, even for cooking. In those days, a hunter came home with the gazelle he hunted. His wife, who had no wood, was worried and did not know how to cook the gazelle. But she immediately found a solution. She cut some lean meat from the leg of the gazelle, beat it with a stone and turned it into minced meat. Later, she started to knead it by mixing it with bulgur and isot (chili pepper). She added green onions and parsley. Thus, Şanlıurfa’s famous çiğköfte was created.
Lahmacun, one of Türkiye’s most loved dishis, is made with unfermented dough, onions and plenty of spices in Şanlıurfa. The spicy taste of lahmacun is comes from the unique isot pepper of Şanlıurfa. You can smell the delicious lahmacun from wood ovens in almost every street in Şanlıurfa. Ayran, made with sheep yoghurt, and fresh greens of Şanlıurfa accompany the lahmacun.
The main dish of Şanlıurfa is tirit, which is consumed during any meal. It is said that Abraham, who is very precious for the people of Şanlıurfa, did not sit on the dining table without guests, and often served tirit to his guests. Tirit is a type of meal consisting of a mixture of boiled meat and local thin (flat) bread. Tirit soup is widely consumed during the cool seasons and especially in the early morning hours in the restaurants around the Haşimiye Square and the marketplace in Şanlıurfa.
Especially on the first day of Eid al-Fitr (after the Eid prayer), tirit is served to guests in most homes. The feast is celebrated collectively. Those who are resentful to each other are reconciled at these tables called “Ibrahim’s Feast”. Locals of Şanlıurfa have been maintaining the hospitality they inherited from Abraham as a tradition for many centuries. The pot in which Prophet Abraham cooks the tirit, which is the subject of these feasts, is exhibited in the Sacred Relics Section in İstanbul Topkapı Palace.
Among the varieties of kebab, the most consumed one is liver kebab in Şanlıurfa.
Liver kebab is a type of kebab that is eaten during all meals. The difference from other places is that you have to wrap your own liver in Şanlıurfa. Liver shops where you sit on low stools have onion, parsley, mint and isot pepper on the table. Everybody gets a chopping board and a knife. While the liver you order is being prepared, you prepare the mixture you will put in your wrap. When the liver is ready, it is served to you with roasted isot pepper in flat bread. You add the mixture you have prepared to the liver and wrap it. This is the etiquette for eating liver in Şanlıurfa.
Liver kebab is eaten throughout the day, during breakfast, lunch and dinner, late at night or at Suhoor during Ramadan. There are countless liver restaurants with only liver kebab in their menu around Haşimiye Square and the new bazaar.
Mırra, frequently consumed in Türkiye’s southeast, is a strong coffee. The coffee becomes bitter as it is boiled for for a very long time and thus concentrated. It can be kept cold, and reheated before being served. Mırra is a special drink, becuase it is very difficult to make. Approximately 4 liters of Mırra coffee is obtained from 1 kilogram of coffee beans. Since Mırra is a type of coffee that requires skills to make, it has preserved its traditional features and rituals until our day.
The Mırra preparation ritual begins with roasting the coffee. No special beans are required for this; any quality coffee beans are suitable. Raw (green) coffee beans are roasted over the fire in a pot similar to a long handle pan. After roasting, it is beaten in large mortars made of wood. Ground coffee beans are foamed in water for a long time and boiled until its grounds are separated. A thick liquid form on the coffee grounds, called sorbet. This liquid is poured into a vessel called “Mutbak” and boiled again. Plenty of crushed coffee and water is added, and then boiled for a long time. The sorbet is drained again, and poured into another vessel. This process is repeated for 5 or 6 times. Preparation of the Mırra may take 6-7 hours. At the end, a bitter drink with a thick viscosity, leaving its color on the side of the cup is obtained.
Presentation of Mırra is another ritual. Before serving the coffee, it is heated in copper distillers and served in cups without handles. Mirra coffee does not contain sugar, but it can be sweetened with cardamom. A single cup is used when serving. It is served in order from the oldest to the youngest. The most important thing to be aware of while drinking Mırra is not to put the cup on the table after drinking Mırra, but to return it to the person who served it. Putting the cup on the table is perceived as disrespectful to the host. According to rumors, those who make this mistake had to marry the person who served the Mırra or fill the cup with gold in order to correct their mistake. If you make this mistake today, you are expected to tip the person who serves the Mırra, which is usually a young man.
Şanlıurfa’s steppes turn green with spring rains. Local people believe that a mushroom called Keme appears in places where lightning strikes during the spring rains. Keme, which generally likes sandy soils, is actually a type of truffle. Diderot makes the analogy of the “daughter of the earth” for this mushroom, known even in Roman period. The outer layer of Keme mushroom is cleaned with sandpaper without using a knife, and it is chopped to be added to fatty minced meat mixture of the Şanlıurfa Kebab, or rolled to mushroom balls after slicing similar to eggplant kebab. Keme Kebab is available in Şanlıurfa from March until the end of May.