You haven’t tasted authentic Turkish cuisine until you have delighted in the bountiful flavors that every different Kayseri dish has to offer.
By Joshua Bruce Allen
In the Turkish mind, you cannot think of pastırma, sucuk, or mantı without thinking of Kayseri. But as well as being a must-visit for gastronomes, the city is also a feast for the eyes, with Seljuk and Ottoman mosques, historic churches, and the snow-capped peak of Mount Erciyes dazzling from on high. Kayseri’s archaeological record dates back to 4,000 BCE, changing hands among the Assyrians, Phrygians, Hittites, Greeks, and Persians before coming under Roman control. Emperor Augustus named the city Caesarea, and after St. Paul converted the Caesareans to Christianity, it became a base for monks, missionaries, and theologians. When the Seljuks arrived in the eleventh century, the name Caesarea evolved into Kayseri.
A large castle dominates the city center, and most sites of interest are located within a short walk from this point. The flat landscape means that Kayseri is very easy to explore on foot. One of the city’s few Ottoman structures is Kurşunlu Mosque, which master architect Mimar Sinan designed in the sixteenth century. The name means “leaded mosque,” in reference to the lead-covered dome. Sinan was born in Ağırnas, a town 25 kilometers east of the city center, but this is his only surviving work in Kayseri. The mosque’s portico features striped arches and small domes painted with intricate arabesques. Delicately colored windows illuminate the interior. Park Bulvarı No.2
The Islamic world was experiencing what historians call its “golden age” when the Seljuks arrived in Kayseri. One aspect of this cultural flowering was a medical approach that outstripped European medicine at the time, including in psychiatric treatment. Located next to Mimar Sinan Park, the thirteenth century Gevher Nesibe Sultan Madrasa and Hospital is one of these institutions for mental health. In contrast to the prison-like hospitals in Europe, the Seljuks used treatments based on music, baths, and talking therapies that anticipated modern psychoanalysis. Today, the building holds the Seljuk Civilization Museum, displaying bronze and ceramic items from the period. With a flat-roofed, rectangular structure, the connected madrasa and hospital are typical of Seljuk architecture. On one corner of the building is a short tower topped with a polyhedral cone, marking the tomb of hospital founder Gevher Nasibe Sultan. This type of tomb is called kümbet, derived from the Persian word for “dome”, although the shape is reminiscent of a Central Asian tent. Open Tues–Sun, 9am–7pm (9am–5pm in October to May); Tekin Sokak No.1; T: (0352) 221 11 50; www.selcuklumuzesi.com
You can see many kümbets while walking the streets of Kayseri, but the most beautiful is Döner Kümbet. The word döner means “turning”, probably because the beautiful carvings on this tomb make you walk around it again and again. Classic Seljuk motifs such as lions, double-headed eagles, and the tree of life stand alongside geometric and floral patterns, as well as niches with muqarnas details. Erciyes Bulvarı and Seyyid Burhanettin Bulvarı
Before World War I, the population of Kayseri was around 20 percent Armenian and 10 percent Greek. Many prominent Ottoman Armenian families, such as the Balyan dynasty of imperial architects, had their origins in Kayseri. Although there are now only a few non-Muslim families left, traces of their influence are still visible. Dating back to 1191, Surp Krikor Lusavoriç is the oldest Armenian church in Kayseri. It is now the last active Armenian church in Central Anatolia. Services are only held on religious holidays, but the church guardian will open the doors for visitors. One notable feature is the highly baroque iconostasis covered in gold leaf. Topaç Sokak No.5; T: (0352) 330 26 08
Stars of the table
The dried, seasoned beef called pastırma came to Anatolia from Central Asia, carried in the saddles of Turkic warriors and nomads. When Ottoman influence brought pastırma into Europe, it later became known as pastrami. The highest-quality meat comes from beef sirloin or tenderloin cuts. Production begins in September when the weather in Kayseri is sunny, low in moisture, and with a light wind. The meat is left in salt for up to a week and then hung up to dry in the wind for another week. Pastırma’s distinctive flavor comes from the coating of cumin, garlic, and red pepper, which also helps preserve the meat.
One of the finest pastırma shops in Kayseri is Tarihi Göncüler Pastırmacısı, a family business dating from 1938. Their sucuk, a seasoned sausage that is typically cut into slices and fried, is also excellent. For those with Kayseri cravings in Istanbul, this shop also delivers to Kayserili Pastırmacı in Bakırköy. Cumhuriyet Meydanı Gökdelen İş Merkezi No.19/A; T: (0352) 222 20 78
To try the full range of Kayseri cuisine in one sitting, the Elmacıoğlu restaurant is a good option. The local dish yağlama is similar to lahmacun, except the pastry and mince are stacked in layers with plenty of yogurt and tomato sauce. Of course there is mantı, of which there are over 30 varieties in Kayseri. The classic Kayseri mantı is a coin-sized bundle of thinly rolled pastry filled with mince, spices, and onions. After boiling, the mantı is served in hot water with oil, tomato sauce, garlic yogurt, and sumac poured over the top. There is kağıtta pastırma, oven-cooked pastırma with tomato and pepper, and Kayseri-style katmer, a flatbread filled with tahini. Also try the tangy gilaburu (guelder rose) juice. Mustafa Kemal Paşa Bulvarı No.56; T: (0352) 223 99 99
Kayseri’s Pınarbaşı district is home to a large number of Circassians, an ethnic group that migrated from the Caucasus. Their cuisine is not widely known in Turkey, but is well worth discovering. Close to the Erciyes University campus, Gubate Restaurant ve Kahvaltı Evi specializes in Circassian dishes and breakfast. The menu features potato mantı, flaky gubate pastry with potato filling, and velibah, which is like a thinner version of Turkish gözleme. Mehmet Akif Ersoy Caddesi No.22/C; T: (0352) 290 9349
How to get there
There are direct flights to Kayseri airport from Istanbul and other Turkish cities. All foreign flights to Kayseri change in Istanbul. If you are already planning a trip to Cappadocia, it is only a one-hour drive or bus ride from Nevşehir to Kayseri.
Where to stay
Hilton Kayseri is located next to the central Cumhuriyet Square, with splendid views of the castle and Mount Erciyes. The nearby Radisson Blu Kayseri is conveniently located beside the Finspor Forum Kayseri shopping center.