Turkey’s culinary scene is changing. People are leaving the cramped urban life of megacities such as Istanbul for smaller towns by the Aegean coast. They want to live more simply, honestly, and close to nature. Deeply rooted in the countryside, what ends up on the dining table is sourced directly from the olive trees and the sea, local farmers’ labor, and the vineyard grapes’ seasonal juices.
No place exhibits this nature-to-table movement more than Urla, a town in the Izmir province that’s endearingly referred to as the “Tuscany of Turkey.” In the past, the excellent meze (small plate appetizer) varieties at Yengeç Restaurant were among the only reasons to visit Urla, but not anymore. Nowadays, young chefs, olive oil producers, and winemakers have added even greater food diversity to the quiet and vast landscape of Urla’s farmlands, groves, and vineyards.
So, who are these people completely reimagining the concept of food and life in this Turkish town?
Teruar Urla: Chef Osman Serdaroğlu
A deep sense of dissatisfaction with his university studies in information systems led Osman Serdaroğlu back to where he felt most content: the kitchen. After advancing his skills at MSA, Istanbul’s well-known international culinary school, he traveled to Parma, Italy, to continue his studies at ALMA (the International School of Italian Cuisine). He soon found himself in the Michelin-starred kitchens of Chef Gennaro Esposito at the Ristorante Torre del Saracino in Naples and Chef Pino Cuttaia at the Sicilian Ristorante La Madia.
For Serdaroğlu, the Earth sustains any kitchen through dedicated and passionate individuals’ growth and harvest of local produce. He founded the Urla restaurant Teruar in 2020 as an ode to the terra (Earth) upon which his restaurant rests, the local farmlands where he carefully chooses his own seasonal ingredients.
In the restaurant’s own garden, inspiration constantly grows in the fragrant herbs thyme, basil, and sage, as well as orchards ripe with tangerines, bergamot, and Saturn peaches. What ends up on the plate is a confluence of the culinary influence of his family, his time in Italy, and the bountiful and fundamental food culture of the Aegean.
Down to the details of choosing a starkly minimal dining setting (including rooms for overnight stays), Serdaroğlu’s strategy is to simply allow the taste of his food to reign supreme. Most notably, visitors will enjoy the building block flavors of the Aegean palate: local olive oil, seafood, and herbs.
OD Urla: Chef Osman Sezener
The love story between Osman Sezener and the kitchen began at the age of three when he was behind the scenes at his father’s iconic Izmir pizza restaurant, Venedik. He grew up in the kitchen and had quite the education before later pursuing degrees at the International Culinary Center and the Institute of Culinary Education in New York.
Upon his return to Turkey, taking over the kitchen at Venedik and exploring his own style through catering events didn’t please him. Sezener went one step further and transformed part of his own summer home in an olive grove into a culinary experience: an Aegean chef restaurant based on the farm-to-table concept, a novel undertaking in Turkey back in 2018.
With an intimate view of the open kitchen, the OD Urla‘s namesake (which translates to ‘fire’ in Azerbaijani) is made apparent by preparing dishes on the wood-fired open grill and oven. The chef is always present to discuss his meals, which are composed of ingredients that come directly from the family plots and gardens or from some of Turkey’s most meticulous producers.
OD is a dream playground, a place for food lovers. Sezener’s mind is constantly sprouting new ideas for recipes. Visitors can also choose to linger longer among the Urla olive groves in the restaurant’s guesthouse.
Hiç: Duygu Özerson Elakdar
When Duygu Özerson Elakdar and her husband left Paris to form Hiç in 2011, it quickly became a force of its own. Based in an olive grove with 60,000 trees, Hiç is a restaurant, a workshop with tastings and cooking classes, and a store that sells and produces natural olive oils and handmade ceramics. It’s founded on the belief that less is more and that nothing can be achieved without a deep respect for nature. This self-sustaining business ecosystem was an instant success and inspired others to follow suit worldwide.
Of course, it wasn’t easy. A love for nature isn’t enough to produce quality olive oil, especially in a place where the history of this particular “liquid gold” goes back to 3,000 BC. Elakdar spent four years in Italy learning olive oil tasting and production technologies. She designed a slow method of harvesting her own olives, natural and pesticide-free, sustained by rainwater, and powered by the sun.
Located inside a 160-year-old renovated structure, it’s no surprise that Hiç’s restaurant prefers dishes stripped down to simple local ingredients. Its store line of ceramics does this, too, staying away from unnecessary details and basking in the endearingly imperfect details of hand craftsmanship.
Urla Winery: Can Ortabaş
The vineyard that Can Ortabaş established in the 1990s is a revival of a wine culture that goes back thousands of years. Ortabaş’s story began at age 20 with a sip of red wine at a small Italian restaurant in Germany. This glass led to many more drinks, lots of reading, and eventually a personal wine cellar of 3,000 bottles meant to educate the mind and palate. Later on, the Izmir native discovered ancient grape terraces on his family’s land—and a lucky opportunity to invest in something he was already passionate about emerged.
International grape varieties conducive to the climate, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah, were initially imported. Over time, however, Ortabaş’s interest in Urla’s own wine history fostered a dedication to local varieties. The Öküzgözü, Kalecik Karası, Boğazkere, Bornova Misketi, Papazkarası, and Adakarası grape varieties were revived. With experimentation, the Urla Karasi variety, which had gone nearly extinct, was rediscovered and poured back into a glass—where it always belonged!
Urla Winery‘s success is evident from years of awards as well as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certificate. The wine estate’s rooms and restaurant speak to the Tuscan-style wine-sipping vacation culture. Still, the experience is deeply steeped in the Turkish countryside, backed up by history and sustained by love.
Looking for another destination to add to your Aegean coast itinerary? Checkout How to Pass the Time in Bozcaada, a cozy little island loaded with Turkish and Greek heritage.