Welcome to Urla
Urla is located in the Izmir Province, home to the city of Izmir which is the third largest city in Turkey, as well as villages that produce some of the country’s best products. Urla is a 20-minute drive from Çeşme, a popular summertime destination in the west that is often called the Turkish St Tropez. My family and I have been in the restaurant business for 43 years and have always dreamt about opening a restaurant with a zero-kilometre cooking philosophy. We imagined that it would be in a town that felt very local, almost like a village, and one that already has all the products needed to do fine cooking. We looked at every little town in Turkey and finally, Urla was our answer.
From The Land and From The Sea
Urla overlooks the Aegean Sea, which is a very salty and cold sea, so its fish are fatty and very tasty. We can call our local fishermen and in a matter of hours we get the best fresh fish delivered to us. Urla is also surrounded by small hills and a green landscape where the best sheep, lamb and goat graze. The old Aegean women are known to walk these hills and forage all of the food they need along the way. Everything you can imagine is there. There’s more than a dozen types of greens unique to this place, all of which are used in local cooking. While trekking through these hills, you can find everything from wild herbs to mushrooms. There’s a saying in Turkey that our women are like goats: they can never go hungry because they’ll always find greens to eat. Urla is also known as Turkey’s best place for artichokes. These will be the most flavourful artichokes you’ll ever taste. Every April the town throws a crazy artichoke festival and busloads of people arrive to take part. Stands are set up with piles and piles of the flower. The whole town turns green and you start to see it in every shape and form.
Understanding Urla’s Local Restaurants and Wineries
Some restaurateurs and I created the Urla Gastronomy Route to help promote Urla’s best and make it irresistible for travellers. This route consists of seven different types of restaurants to give you a well-rounded experience of what the town has to offer. Since we started to promote Urla this way, it’s become crazy busy in the summer, so you have to book in advance. Visitors can come to Urla, even for just two days, stay in a boutique hotel and spend their time eating and visiting wineries. We are surrounded by at least 13 vineyards, so we have a real wine route. All of these wineries and winemakers have become friends so I’d prefer not to leave anyone out. It’s worth exploring them all as a full tour offered by Urla Vines. There’s an indigineous grape called Urla Karasi which Urla Winery works with a lot. As is the case with many establishments in Urla, the winery also has a few rooms to host guests.
Local Ingredients and Open-Fire Cooking
Another reason we were drawn to this place was its incredible olive oil. Our two restaurants are on olive groves and we have our own press and the necessary equipment to produce enough for our consumption at the restaurants. OD Urla is our fine-casual restaurant that has become an attraction after just three years of operation. People fly to Izmir and drive from all over the country just to eat there. It has paved the way for real gastronomic tourism. The restaurant has an open kitchen and a 25-seat chef’s table which I think is one of the biggest in the world. The dining room has 60 seats, but in the summertime guests are served outside under the olive trees. It’s a very calming atmosphere. “Od” is Turkish for fire and we generally cook what we forage and find in the villages around us. We change our menu with the change of crops, every 20 to 30 days, so our guests always get to experience different plates. The products around us are perfect and in order not to destroy them, we cook the old-school way over a wood fire. We have sourced every possible type of wood fire oven and grill to stay true to our original idea. We always have between 30 and 40 young cooks on our team that we train with a zero-kilometre cooking mentality that they bring with them on their cooking journey around the world. This is very important to us.
Eat the Best Seafood and Sleep Like a Baby
We don’t travel much to get the variety of ingredients that we need. There is a 1500m-tall mountain that’s an hour’s drive from us. We find anything from broccoli to asparagus there. Then we drive half an hour and we’re at the sea where we find a rich array of seafood. In the same olive grove is our second restaurant Ma Urla. “Ma” is Turkish for water and this restaurant focuses only on seafood, again in a fine-casual setting. We mainly serve raw dishes using the best fish, octopus, shrimp, sea urchin and mussels from our local fishermen. As I mentioned, we believe in a complete cycle. We worked with local ceramic artists to make all of our tableware and we built a seven-room guesthouse on the premises. We serve an organic breakfast in the morning and provide free transportation to and from the airport to every guest that stays with us.
Sunshine, Swimming in the Aegean Sea, and Drinking Raki
When the weather is warm, visitors can enjoy a swim in the Aegean Sea and a day at the beach drinking local raki. The biggest raki factories in all of Turkey are around Izmir. You can have some really good raki at Yengec and some of the best seafood in the area. It’s one of the best places to eat seafood in all of Turkey actually. It’s basically a fish tavern typical of the Turkish or Greek coasts, where you get very good meze and different kinds of grilled fish. It’s lovely because you’re in the harbour so you’re surrounded by fishing boats. I’m always very happy to go there because it’s the owner serving the guests.
A Cosy Restaurant Reminiscent of Tuscany
Vino Locale is an eight-table restaurant with a very cosy atmosphere, reminiscent of Tuscany. It’s set in a countryside stone house and when the weather permits, you get to dine in a lovely front garden. It’s a husband-and-wife team: he cooks and she takes care of the service. The menu puts a Mediterranean touch on local ingredients. When the place first opened, it only served wines from the Urla region, but the list expanded to include wines from all around Turkey.
A Butcher Turned Restaurant
Seyhan Et was a butcher shop before becoming a restaurant. It’s exactly the type of place you’re imagining that serves the finest cuts of meat, cooked perfectly on a grill, with a nice, big salad on the side. That’s pretty much all that’s served there. You can enjoy it with a bold glass of red wine.
A Pastry Shop with a Delicate Touch
Lief is a pastry shop run by two women with a flour production background. They make a variety of pastries and cakes. You can sense the delicate touch in the decor of the place and everything that they do. Visit them in the morning or in the afternoon for a cup of coffee and a croissant.
Aegean Home Cooking
Beğendik Abi is a really nice lady and the oldest cook in the region. She makes traditional Aegean cuisine and only opens for lunch. People go there to eat a meal that feels like your mother cooked it for you. She doesn’t serve alcohol so don’t go there expecting any.
A Wonderful New Addition
Finding products is easy in Urla. Some of the best bazaars aren’t too far away and in season you can find the best tomatoes, fennels: you name it. Teruar is a beautiful, fine-casual restaurant with a few rooms to host guests. It opened across from a winery and cooks local ingredients with a Mediterranean touch, using simple, high-quality cooking, that’s just on-point. It also sells its own line of products that you can take home.
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