Huseyin Boluk

Chef collects rosehips for his hotel restaurant

By Ashley Parsons and Quentin

A day of cycling the valleys of Cappadocia, Turkey, had wiped us out and we’d decided to make camp early in one of the region’s many caves. The region is renowned for its beautiful canyons and wonderful rock formations, known as fairy chimneys. Especially at sunrise and sunset, the natural colors and ambiance of the region is truly unbelievable. This cave stood out to us as a wonderful overture into the natural world.

Dusk had settled over the area, but outside the cave I heard a rustle. “Leave it,” said my partner Quentin. “It’s probably just a bird.” I crawled out of my sleeping bag, scrambled over my bike and bags that carried all my worldly belongings and made for the cave entrance. “Someone is definitely out there,” I whispered. I popped outside to investigate. We’d been traveling by bicycle since France, and so far, strangers in the night had only brought pleasant surprises.

A man was crawling around in the bushes. “What are you doing?” I called. I was sure he’d be surprised by a foreign girl in her pajamas popping out and addressing him in English. But to my own surprise, a friendly “Houp hey!” cried back to me. A tall, well-built man picked his way out of the bushes and unfurled his hand to show me a palm full of rosehips.

“I’m collecting rosehips for tea at my restaurant!”

Within seconds, I knew I liked Hüseyin; despite the sub-freezing temperatures we struck up a conversation about rosehips and different wild herbs as if we’d known each other for years. Shortly, he asked the question people always ask us when we’re camping somewhere rural and cold, “What are you doing here?”

Cycling from France to Indonesia was again proving to be a wonderful lens through which to meet people. Hüseyin invited us to pass by his restaurant the next day. It was on our way, so why not?

Riding down a hill past an incredibly fancy hotel the next day, a pair of parking guards hailed us down: “Hüseyin bey is waiting for you!” Confused, we checked the GPS; Hüseyin told us the hotel was just before the hamlet of Mustafapasa. We were just before the hamlet. The guards opened the gates and waved us in.

Pedaling into the Ajwa Cappadocia hotel premises we felt out of our element; it was clearly a very upscale hotel, and we were a pair of scraggly bike travelers. That didn’t matter. The man from the night before strode out in a suit, the same wide smile reaching up to his eyes.  “Ashley, Quentin, welcome!” said Hüseyin, sweeping us inside. “Let’s try those rosehips!”

The tangy taste of rosehip tea still in our mouths, and our stomachs filled with preserved fruits we struck out for our tour of the grounds. It was in these hills that he was putting his vision of Living Anatolian Cuisine into practice. “Every dish has a story, and the diner should be a part of that story,” he said, while carefully pointing out the different plantations around the hotel grounds that he uses for the Zeferan restaurant: vegetable gardens, fruit orchards, herbs, and even their own flock of sheep, before inviting us in to eat. I realized on this walk that we were in Hüseyin’s playground. To see such real enjoyment and passion radiating out of Hüseyin, I couldn’t help but catch his enthusiasm.

After a tour of the kitchens, of which there were three or maybe four, we found ourselves sitting for an amazing chef’s table experience. Simple dishes, done well, are an integral foundation of Hüseyin’s cuisine. In the dining room, pearl inlay tables were covered in fluffy bread from a fiery oven, and savory beans that had been baking in a clay pot all day. Our forks speared crispy winter salad drizzled with the last citrus of the season, the sweet flavor playfully enchanting us.

When we pedaled away the next day it was with heavy hearts but full stomachs. Our unexpected visit is a wonderful example of Turkish hospitality. Chef Bölük embodies that hospitality: deep knowledge of local cuisine and respect for traditions, attention to detail and a sense of humor and down-to-earth friendliness.

When we return to Cappadocia, we know where our home and our hearts are waiting: at a table in Zeferan restaurant at the Ajwa hotel.

About the journalist:
Ashley Parsons and Quentin are a writer/photographer duo traveling the world by bicycle and horseback. Their work focuses on adventure travel, sustainability, and grassroots environmental movements. Their bylines include Sidetracked Magazine, Fodors Travel, Atlas Obscura, Earth Island Journal and more. You can find them at @enselle.voyage or at www.enselle.voyage