Sparkly beaches, serene coves, a grand castle and jaw-dropping vistas: just a few of the reasons the one-time fishing village of Bodrum is a Turkish hotspot. A flurry of elegant hotels and boutique guesthouses may have established this Aegean coastal town as firmly en vogue, but it’s still possible to lap up a delicious array of food without fretting about extortionate prices. Tucked around the castle, cobbled alleys and shiny marina you’ll find markets, meyhanes and mezze aplenty in Bodrum town. Just follow the locals and you’re sure to dine well.
Markets and streets
Excellent-quality fresh produce is in abundance thanks to Bodrum’s mild Mediterranean climate and fertile land. The Friday market is the place to pack in the vitamin C; here, depending on the season, you’ll find fresh figs, pomegranates, peaches and oranges. It’s not all fruit and veg though: the outer ring of the market is lined with cheap stalls serving savoury Turkish snacks that are perfect for a quick bite or as part of an inexpensive picnic. Locals stop for sesame simit (a cross between a bagel and a pretzel) and peynirli borek (layers of flaky pastry, spinach and cheese) before finishing their daily shopping.
For a Turkish take on the humble jacket potato, try kumpir. Kumpir are served from mobile stalls around the city and come with a vast selection of toppings – everything from basics such as sweetcorn to saucier mixtures of olives with yoghurt. For a two-course lunch on the go, round it all off with a tub of lokmasi – deliciously sweet balls of deep-fried dough doused in syrup. You’ll find further stalls that sell snacks dotting the alleyways and squares around the castle.
Saunter the central alleys of Bodrum, and smiley restaurateurs will lure you to their menu with some witty chat. But for a truly local dining experience look out for canteen-style restaurants serving hot and cold daily specials from a front counter. Nazik Ana is one such place, and it represents one of Bodrum’s most authentic dining experiences; or try the no-nonsense Sakalli Restaurant (Çarşı Mh, Nazım Hikmet Sk, 48400), frequented by residents of all ages grabbing a speedy and inexpensive lunch. Diners are guided to the counter where all the dishes are displayed – from okra cooked with olive oil and tomatoes, to Turkish köfte (meatballs) or white beans with herbs and olive oil. Choose what you fancy, grab a wooden table among the black-and-white pictures, and your food soon arrives on small plates – the ideal way to try a few simple dishes of the region.
Mezze and seafood
The opulent yachts in the marina are backed with a similarly sumptuous selection of restaurants. Like most harbourside resorts, Bodrum’s waterfront has some pretty glitzy restaurants, not all of them worth the extra charge. Memedof (memedof.com/bodrum) is a good choice on the waterfront, offering a heavenly selection of mezze and fish at fair prices. Expect a few tourists, but you’ll also find well-heeled locals, donned in fedoras or wrapped in blankets.
Despite the setting, the restaurant shows no signs of pretention, and waiters slide between the white wooden tables, trays balanced above their head, serving dishes as they’re ready. Although it’s typical to follow your meze with a fish course, the extensive menu of hot and cold mezze choices means you could stop there. Generous plates of oily smoked mackerel fillets, artichokes and samphire will soon have you undoing a belt loop. Fish can be grilled or fried, but for something a little different go the local way and order a steamed bowl of the day’s catch.
Not to be dismissed as a snack for late-night revellers, kebabs are an important component of the locals’ diet in Bodrum. It’s not any old meat in a bun here – the sebzeli döner is a speciality of the town, involving meat cooked on a spinning skewer, lined with rows of potato and vegetables. It comes in various forms (a pitta, bread roll or wrap), but for something saucier try the iskender at Sirin (www.sirindoner.com; Cumhuriyet Cad. No 113): the sebzeli döner meat and veg is piled onto pitta croutons and soaked in a thick, rich tomato sauce. Any former lacklustre kebab memories will soon be demolished.
Meyhanes: Turkish tavernas
For an essential taste of local life be sure to wander through the meyhanes of the town. Traditional Turkish taverna, the meyhane originally catered for local merchants. There’s a dizzying selection in the covered sokak (street) near the bus station, where the loud and lively restaurants are separated according to the colourful cushions on the seats. Marmara (adjacent to the bus station) is a favourite: it’s heaving with Bodrum residents, and the welcoming staff charge around the tables delivering plate upon plate of mezze. All that choice can be bewildering, but don’t fret: they’ll guide you to the indoor fridge and explain each dish to you. Our picks included a mixed appetiser of fava (crushed white broad beans), şakşuka (aubergine with tomato and yoghurt) and beyaz peynir (local white cheese). Don’t leave without trying some fish – an essential part of the meyhane experience is choosing your catch from one of the seafood stalls for the restaurant to cook for you. If you really want to blend in, swap your Efes beer for some raki. Bottles of the clear aniseed liquor stand on each table – add a dash of water, and it turns into a milky white drink to accompany your meal. Go easy though, this is a feast you’ll want to remember.
Hannah Louise Summers is a freelance travel writer. She loves the towns and beaches of Portugal, Italy, Brazil and Argentina, but will head anywhere to discover delicious local food. As the author of the music, food and travel blog Burgers and Bruce, she often plans her trips around Bruce Springsteen’s touring schedule.