(Editor’s Note: As 2011 heads to an end, we are looking back at our “Best Bites” of the year and are asking our readers to do the same and share their best Istanbul (or Turkey) eating moments with us. This submission comes from Robyn Eckhardt, author of the superlative EatingAsia  blog and an intrepid explorer of Turkey’s culinary backroads, with photos by David Hagerman.)
Eaten by a river outside of Tokat on sunny October afternoon, this humble cheese and rocket sandwich was one of our Best Bites of 2011.
We’ve come to love road tripping in Turkey, for the opportunity it affords for impromptu dining from a backseat larder of the regional ingredients we can never resist hoarding over the course of a journey. On this day we assembled sandwiches from roasted red pepper paste purchased from a villager at a weekly market in the pretty Black Sea hamlet of Erfelik; perky rocket, juicy tomatoes and a crusty multi-grain loaf bought at a corner shop in Amasya; and plain old creamy beyaz peynir sourced from a büfe somewhere outside of Tokat.
We drove slowly along the highway north of Tokat until we saw a narrow dirt track, then turned off and followed it to an apple orchard set beside a sluggish river. We were famished and clouds were beginning to close in on what, after a Black Sea sojourn, was our first clear day in almost two weeks. After parking the car we carried our ingredients, along with the plates and basic utensils we always road trip with, to a bridge whose wide hand rails served as prep counter.
Biber salçası isn’t meant to be eaten uncooked, but its salty bite is a brilliant counterpoint to milky cheese. The bread was dense and chewy, the rocket fresh as could be, the tomatoes juicy enough to destabilize our sandwiches and send rivulets running down our wrists by Bite Five. As we ate, we listened to the river burble and basked in the kind heat of an autumn sun. After a while the orchard’s owner, an elderly gentleman dressed in going-to-town trousers and suit coat, appeared and offered us a bag of yellow apples. It was time for tea, he said. Could he have a ride to his regular çay evi in Tokat? Of course, we answered. So we finished our sandwiches, packed up our supplies and headed into town.
We can’t tell you where to eat a rocket, tomato and beyaz peynir sandwich served in a setting as idyllic as this. But we can almost guarantee that if you fly almost anywhere in Turkey, rent a car and hit the road with open eyes, you’ll find something as memorable.