Some Thoughts on Ankara Shopping and Eating

Ankara, Turkey’s capital and administrative centre, as well as a famous tourist attraction, is the second-largest city in Turkey (after Istanbul). Ulus Old Town, centred on a hilltop citadel and home to many historic sites, mosques, and buildings, is the city’s most interesting district. The rest of the city, however, is a mix of purpose-built, relatively recent developments and a few shanty towns thrown together by rural Turks migrating to the city in the last 50 years or so. Kizilay Square is the heart of the business centre, with the smaller squares of Ulus and Sihhiye not far away. Hotels in the heart of Ankara are easily accessible by taxis, as well as the metro, buses, and local suburban rail.

To many people in the West, doner kebabs are the pinnacle of Turkish food. Though kebab shops are plentiful, you should know that there is so much more to the cuisine of this country than just kebabs. Due to the significant number of economic migrants from the countryside, most of the individual meals are accessible here from restaurants catering to indigenous tastes, and each area and practically every city in Turkey has its own distinctive cuisine. Fish restaurants in Ankara make the most of their supply chains to offer year-round access to tasty, fresh fish. It’s not cheap, but the restaurants on Tunali and Olgunlar streets and in the Cancaya neighbourhood are some of the city’s best.

The “iskendar kebab,” consisting of sliced, rotary-cooked fresh lamb with tomatoes, yoghurt, and lashings of butter, is Ankara’s own traditional cuisine. Doner lovers are spoilt for choice, but the best advice is to go where the locals go. Keep in mind that true doner rounds should really be rectangular, and that the meat should be sliced thinly and flat. Traditional Turkish cuisine consists of an assortment of mezes, or small plates of grilled vegetables and other snacks, a main course of fish or meat, and a dessert of Turkish delight or lokma (fried sweet dough served with syrup). Small cups of the sweet and gritty Turkish coffee are offered. Many of the restaurants in Ulus Old Town are located in restored Ottoman-era homes, adding to the town’s already-vibrant atmosphere.

A vacation in Ankara may be a culinary adventure, with options ranging from inexpensive street food to five-star fine dining. You can trust the safety of most street food if you follow the same advice: eat where the locals eat. Ignore the seemingly deserted street booth if you’re in a rush and there are lines at the other stalls. There is a wide variety of high-end restaurants in the Cankaya, Kavaklidere, and Gaziosmnpassa neighbourhoods, while Sakaraya Street is well-known for its quick food joints and cheap rates, in addition to its abundance of fresh fish restaurants. The local drink of preference, Raki, comes in a wide range of quality and should be approached with caution by the uninitiated.

There is a wide variety of places to shop and eat in this area, from upscale shopping centres to traditional bazaars and markets to pedestrian alleys lined with boutiques and specialty shops. Department stores are a safe bet for buying gifts and mementos, but their selection tends to be boring. Haggling is expected and people-watching is enjoyable at the markets, making them the best places to visit if you want to save money without sacrificing experience. The most crowded shopping centre, Karum iz Merkezi, can be found next to the Hilton Hotel. The Castle district is where you want to be, as it is a centuries-old market hub where you can buy authentic Turkish rugs, leather products, and antiques from local vendors.

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