This winter I am discovering the Gulf of Gökova region and Akyaka, a quaint town on the southern coast famed for its unique architecture and ideal kitesurfing conditions. In summer, it can get quite crowded as the town has become one of the hottest holiday destinations, however, in the winters Akyaka is extremely pleasant, equipped with creeks, empty sandy beaches and the Swiss chalet-like architecture the town is famed for. Up until just a few decades ago, Akyaka was considered part of Gökova, though it has made such a name for itself that it is now more well-known than the gulf it sits on.
The Gulf of Gökova is famed for its spectacular pristine sea and coves visited regularly on Blue Cruise trips and encompasses a number of villages of which Akyaka is just one, albeit special. The entire Gökova region is famed for its agriculture and for harboring once sleepy village towns, which now host boutique hotels and one of the most popular kite surfing beaches in the world. Little do people know that the region’s "golden sesame" is also famous worldwide. In fact, local lore has it that the region's sesame seeds are among the most sought-after by Japan for use in sushi and other culinary elements.
Nonetheless, in 2011, Akyaka joined the ranks of Citta Slow, which is a part of the Slow Food movement that promotes improving your quality of life by slowing down the pace, reducing your carbon footprint and consuming locally sourced farm-to-table food. There are 34 Slow Food organizations throughout Turkey, including in many Anatolian and Black Sea towns as well as a number situated along the western coast. Many of these Slow Food organizations hold regular local markets with Sığacık, Bademler, Foça, Tarsus and Gökova being just some of them. For those in Istanbul, the Şile Yeryüzü Pazarı, which is held on Fridays and Sundays is another special treat and well worth the effort to visit especially if the sun is shining.
The Slow Food community in Gökova I believe is special. Starting in December of 2021, with the aim of preserving the region’s biodiversity and introducing local farms and brands to the community, the Gökova Slow Food Community Market has taken off and is now held every third Sunday of the month. I happened to visit the most recent market held on Sunday, Feb. 20 and I must admit, the experience was so far more enthralling than I ever could have imagined.
The event kicked off at 11 a.m., with 60 artistically curated stalls selling a wide variety of unique products. The stunningly displayed products ranged from natural beauty creams to tinctures, special locally sourced fresh and dried herbs, teas and huge bulbous artichokes in addition to tables filled with mushrooms and snacks like hand-rolled pastries and gluten-free cakes. The elusive golden sesame can also be sourced at this market ground up as tahini, which is just one of the many sauces and syrups used in Turkish cuisine.
The market also offers many herbs that are sought-after by the expat community such as lemongrass. My friends who also came to the event passed around and shared their findings, which also included heritage seeds of corn, melon and gourd. Each brand and farm had its own story to tell and each was based in the Gulf of Gökova region.
During this particular Slow Food event, there was also live music being played on the sidelines. Well-known DJ and music therapist Dimitrios of The Music Medicine was joined by skilled local musicians giving the market the most enchanting and ethereal soundtrack to boot. The already healing energy reached a peak when special guest Atilla Manju, cousin of Turkish legend Barış Manço, took the stage playing guitar and singing the blues in a voice that could surpass Johnny Cash. At that point, nearly everyone was dancing from villagers to hipsters, children to the older crowd – even my dog joined in!
Many of us set up camp on the outskirts of the market with portable chairs and a somewhat picnic-like setup with, of course, Turkish tea and traditional treats such as keshkek, prepared by local villagers passed around. It was the local villagers who got up to slow dance to the medley of jazz and blues that capped off the event for me.
The Gökova Slow Food Market will continue to take place on the third Sunday of each month. Every year in October, the organization also hosts a nearly 10-day event with stalls, performances and activities, such as workshops on making sourdough bread. The Gökova Slow Food Market is just one of many events organized by Turkey’s Slow Food communities that you can follow on social media.
For example, every April Slow Food Bodrum hosts a multiple-day cheese festival held in the outdoor Oasis Shopping Center. And then, of course, there is Terra Madre Day, celebrated every year on Dec. 10, to commemorate the signing of the Slow Food Manifesto in Paris in 1989. Since then, the global movement is celebrated throughout the world on that date.