A celebration of all things Turkish

A celebration of all things Turkish
The festival will be May 16-19. (Halit Omer Camci /

There they'll stand — the Roman amphitheater of Aspendos, the tomb of the Sufi poet Rumi, the ruins of the Assyrian city of Nimrud, the ancient Armenian church of Akdamar and a dozen other wonders, all splendid in the Southern California sun.

Of course, they won't be the real thing, just startlingly realistic sets covered with high-def photos of the original surfaces. But step back a few feet and you can think you're actually in Turkey — or Anatolia, to give the area its historical name.

They're among the chief attractions of the Anatolian Cultures & Food Festival, which returns to the Orange County Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa from May 16 to 19. As those who have been to earlier festivals know, it has the usual fair attractions, such as food and entertainment, but the most distinctive thing about it is these uncanny replicas.


Every year — this is the fourth — the festival adds a new city or two. This time it's Gaziantep in the country's southeast, known for having the world's largest collection of ancient mosaics, some of which will be on display, and for being the baklava capital of Turkey. (Conveniently, it's also the pistachio capital.)

One of the food booths will be run by Cagdas (pronounced chah-dahsh), Gaziantep's most revered restaurant. In addition to the usual kebabs, it will make cag (pronounced jah) kebab, which is something like a gyro or shawarma but cooked over a wood fire on a horizontal skewer that is often 3 feet long or longer. Cagdas is particularly renowned for its baklava and will demonstrate the technique on the cooking stage. Gulluoglu, its hometown rival, will sell its own baklava in another stall.

Other food stalls are run by local restaurants or home cooks. Some will have excellent vegetarian options: kisir (think of tabbouleh made with red pepper instead of parsley), lentil meatballs and above all vegetables stewed long and slow with olive oil. The translation of yagli sebzeler, "oily vegetables," doesn't begin to suggest how mellow and delicious they are.

If the festival has a star, it's the dondurma man in his 18th century costume, having the traditional fun afforded by this thickened version of ice cream: hauling a hank of the stuff out of the freezing compartment on an iron pike (in Turkey, dondurma is sometimes sold by the yard), filling an ice cream cone by using this pike as a spatula … and then sweeping the cone out of an astonished child's hand. Given the popularity of this show, there's good news: This year, the festival has two dondurma men.

There will be a great variety of exotic music: a traditional Armenian singer, the yearning flute of the whirling dervishes, the stately crash of an Ottoman military band, the haunting melodies of a Syriac girls' choir, the rousing roar of a zurna-davul group (imagine the skirl of a bagpipe accompanied by rock 'n' roll drumming).

And there's much else to see — educational exhibits about Anatolian history, talks by representatives of Turkey's ethnic and religious groups, demonstrations of traditional crafts such as stone cutting, rug weaving and ebru (water marbling), a mesmerizing technique of creating floral or abstract designs on the surface of a bowl of water and then picking up the image on a piece of paper. Only in Anatolia — or, this weekend, Costa Mesa.


Anatolian Cultures and Food Festival

Where: Orange County Fairgrounds, 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa

When: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Sunday

Cost: $12 adults, $9 military personnel and seniors, $6 children

Information: (310) 208-7290 or