Why council cafes are Bodrum's best kept secret
As I sipped at my steaming hot tea from my tulip-shaped glass, my mobile telephone rang and jolted me from my daydream. It was my brother in England. Sensing I was not at home he asked where I was.
“I'm at the Gumusluk Belediyesi Cay Bahcesi, otherwise known as the council cafe in Gumusluk”, I informed him. I sensed some hesitation as he took this in. “Really?”, he replied, sounding concerned. “Are things really that bad for you now, Sis?”
I spluttered into my tea, chuckling at the picture he had presumably drawn for himself of me sitting in a squalid canteen with time-damaged formica tables and cold metal utility chairs in a municipality office. A vision that could not have been further from reality.
“Actually, things couldn't be any better!” I informed him, giggling. “I'm sitting having breakfast at one of my favourite places on the Bodrum Peninsula.”
I was at one of Bodrum's best kept secrets: the much-loved, albeit slightly shabby, council cafe near my villa in Gumusluk, a place offering one of my favourite views on the peninsula right by the waterside. The Gumusluk Belediyesi Cay Bahcesi is one of many Council Cafes spread across the peninsula. As the local Belediye, or council, owns the premises, the cafes have no landlord to answer to, allowing them to offer low-cost food and drink prices to their customers. So each cafe offers good value food and drink in an exclusive seafront position.
I am always happy to while away a couple of hours sitting at the water's edge in view of the famous Tavsan Adasi (Rabbit Island), an island noted for its long-eared inhabitants, which are now safely removed to another area while archeological digs are underway. The island is a favourite destination for tourists to Gumusluk as there is a causeway that enables you to paddle through the sea to reach it, although tourists are dissuaded from visiting during the dig.
Flanked on either side by the world famous Gumusluk fish restaurants, my local council cafe is a haven for the 'yerli' (local) rather than the 'yabanci' (outsider) and on Sunday afternoons you are hard pressed to find a table. Other days tend to be quieter and I often treat myself to a kahvalti (breakfast) of sahanda sucuklu yumurta (eggs and Turkish sausage fried in a traditional pan), accompanied by an overflowing basket of bread, in sufficient quantity to last me the whole week, as is always the case when dining in Turkey!
Looking out over Rabbit Island, listening to the sound of the water lapping against the raised shoreline, I am entranced by the handicraft displayed by the local fishermen. They sit cross-legged, mending their nets on their small wooden boats which bob up and down in the water. My gaze shifts to the smart-looking woman, fishing for her lunch or supper. She goes quietly and efficiently about her business, oblivious to anything going on around her. I tell myself I must to learn to fish, as well.
The presence of these cafes ensures local people, and tourists, can enjoy good food and drink at prices much lower than those in neighbouring eateries in similar prime locations. Council cafes tend to be the cheapest place for a pint of Efes, and some of them also serve wine in convenient 187ml bottles. Most of the cafes are self-service and employ a system, like those found in banks, where the cashier issues you with a number to present to the counter staff when your food is ready.
Although these cafes tend to serve similar food at standard prices across the peninsula, not all cafes are equal. I recently visited the refurbished one at Bitez. New signs declare its promotion from a fledgling cafe to a fully grown up cafe and restaurant. This upgrade has not met with everyone's approval. One friend described it as having lost its former charm, and now more like a work canteen. However, when I visited, I saw the menu now runs to several pages, so it does offer a greater choice, and with its budget prices and lovely views of the boats moored alongside you cannot dispute its appeal.
Torba’s council cafe has recently been refurbished with the contemporary trend for steel and glass. It is another pleasant place to spend time, with beautiful views out over the bay. However, as a traditionalist, I prefer Gumusluk’s cafe, with its Bodrum-blue painted tables and chairs, and weather-worn wooden struts supporting its straw roof.
Yalikavak has a lovely council cafe with views equal to, if not better, than its posh Marina cousin next door. In Bodrum Centre, there are three to choose from, one on Bar Street, one further down on the beach in Kumbahce and one right next to the Castle.
It's easy to spot the Belediye Cafes in Bodrum – as a rule, they are the busiest and you have to be quick and alert to grab a table when one becomes free. Wherever you find yourself on the peninsula, in Gumbet, Ortakent, Turgutreis, Gundogan, or any of the others mentioned above, make sure you seek out one of Bodrum's best kept secrets and chill out with some of the locals at one of its many Belediye Cafes.