I'd arrived in Mardin from Sanliurfa in the evening, watching through the window of my bus as Mesopotamia turned from green to gold in the setting sun, before fading into the twilight as darkness fell.
Mardin is a small town in the southeast of Turkey, golden stone house rising in chaotic rows up the side of a rocky escarpment. To the south the land falls away to a vast plain that stretches away into Syria. Tiny rivers incise the heavily irrigated fields and it feels like the view continues on into infinity. However, I was staying in the far less glamorous, but far more affordable new town at the foot of the escarpment, and so for me the view would have to wait until the following day.
After checking in, I set off into the town in search of something to eat. No golden stone houses here, just the usual mess of concrete and brick and nowhere looked promising. Turning down a side street I saw one restaurant, but with no-one sat outside I walked on, hoping to find somewhere better frequented. After a few more minutes I turned back and took a closer look at the first restaurant; the Karburger Kino. Inside it was all fluorescent lighting and Formica tables, but it was also very busy; the locals clearly felt differently to me about what constituted suitable weather for dining al fresco. I walked in and a waist coated waiter handed me a menu and sat me at a table next to an old local man who was also eating alone.
Western pop music was pumping out of restaurants speaker system, but as Christina Aguilera gave way to Carlos Santana I conceded that someone had pretty decent taste. Around me local families were talking and laughing, and the old man at the next table was industriously demolishing a delicious looking combination of meat and rice. After several solid days of grilled meat and flat bread, it looked like heaven. The waiter came back over and I enthusiastically pointed at my neighbour’s dish. He flipped open the menu and pointed at the first item on there; Karburger. It seemed I had ordered the house special.
A few minutes later the waiter returned with my drink and a small plate of mysterious looking starters. I gingerly started eating, and found myself tucking into a selection of local specials, ranging from delicious meatballs fried in bread crumbs to a far less inviting suet based concoction.
Next came the Karburger main; a huge plate of shredded lamb on a bed of rice, with a side bowl of chilli and tomato sauce for pouring over the dish. It was fabulous, and I wolfed it down, but my waiter wasn’t done with me. My sun-chapped lips still stinging from the hot sauce, I was presented with a small Noah’s Pudding, which I finished off with the last bit of space in my stomach filled.
The meal done with and the waiter thanked profusely for the excellent meal, there was only the bill to come. It was 13 Lira, about £5. I paid with a hefty tip and left happy. Staggering back to my hotel, I realised how lucky I had been to stumble onto such a marvellous, local, authentic place. It may not have looked like a great restaurant, but that’s what makes such places such a great surprise!
Turn left from the Hotel Bilem in the new town.
Mardin Merkez, Vali Ozan Cad., Mardin, Turkey
+90 482 212 5568
Google map: bit.ly/GTRlDa
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