I don’t know if words will ever do justice for the experience Kimia and her family gave us in Denizli, Turkey.
My one and only Kimia. We met in LA in 2018. Ever since we met, her and her family instantly treated me (and anyone that Kimia loves at that) as if we are one of theirs – including her family that lived in Turkey (they are originally from Iran). The Janesar family’s love emanates in a way that’s larger than life to everyone they encounter, that’s without a doubt. So, over the years of exchanging quick hello’s via FaceTime the hello’s only became bigger and bigger, and it was time to turn the telepathic hugs into the real deal.
A Warm Welcome:
We get in on a Thursday night and are greeted with the most comforting hugs. Not to mention the lingering scent of a home cooked meal prepared by Grandma herself. She made a delicious stew that hugged the soul in just the right way, and paired with the tahdig? (Tahdig is the crispy rice that was at the bottom of the pot) Ugh, it is delicious! Kimia’s aunt made homemade ayran (a carbonated yogurt drink), which was absolutely phenomenal compared to the ones Kimia has had us try in the states. And to wrap up dinner with chocolate and tea right before we all head off to work for the evening? It was perfect.
The next day we woke up early and caught a ride to a beautiful park about 30 minutes away. The weather was perfect – cool enough to not be sweaty and gross, but sunny enough to keep you slightly warm. The family kept consistent rounds of food and snacks throughout the day to make sure we were well fed, and not to mention the unlimited tea. Could it get any better? Yes. Throw in a deck or two of cards.
Kimia, her grandpa, and cousins taught us how to play a game called Hokm. There are 4 players and 2 teams of 2. You’re working blindly with the other person to hopefully play the highest card of the hand. It’s super fun, you can Google it. We took turns playing Hokm while some of us took turns getting massages from Kimia’s aunt, and some of us took turns tearing it up on the hypothetical dance floor that stayed in service all day.
It was a lovely day overall, despite us not being able to communicate. Heidy, Carson, and I don’t speak any Farsi or Turkish (though Carson catches on to other languages freakishly fast), and Kimia’s family doesn’t speak much English – so it was really a test of body language, eye contact, and overall energy. It’s amazing how much you can communicate without speaking, and I love that we all had the chance to connect by spending that first day together picnicking.
Once we realized we all had common knowledge of household names, we were quickly able to identify some personalities by labeling each other based off of celebrities. This park was poppin’ with people! We had Jim Carey, Jennifer Lopez, Kim Kardashian, Rihanna, and Beyonce. It was actually hilarious.
After a fulfilling day, we all got into our limousine (lol) and headed home to work for the night.
That night as we were working the fam brought us back some Pida, which was some sort of flatbread, pizza-like meal and it was RIDICULOUS. Heidy and I went in on that dish, and we tried to find one multiple times throughout the rest of the trip that compared to the one they brought us that night as we worked, and nothing compared. Sigh.
The next day was Saturday. No one had to work, and we are all out to play all day.
We start the day at brunch with a traditional Turkish breakfast at a restaurant called Fahham. Let me tell ya, the jams were jammin. There was specifically a fig one that sent all of our tastebuds through the roof. That with some perfectly fluffy, crispy toast? And the cheeses? Ugh. I really don’t need to be having fantasies over all of the good food we had in Turkey, it’s only going to torture me… but the people must know, so for you I will sacrifice.
We also had Turkish coffee, this was the first of many to be consumed on this trip.
Turkish coffee is served with water since the coffee grinds sit at the bottom of the cup while you drink it, creating a muddy texture that can really build up as you get towards the end. So if you need, you have the water to swish and wash it down with. I’m not the biggest coffee person, or at least I wasn’t until this move to Europe, but I have been LOVING the different ways I get to celebrate the lil bean. One of my favorite parts about coffee in Turkey was that they always came with a little snack cookie of some sort. Each one I got was different but usually always incorporated chocolate in some way. This one at Fahham’s was different, and definitely my favorite – it was chewy with some sort of jam and coconut flakes. Mmmmm. See, there I go daydreaming again.
Fahham was also unique because it was a shisha lounge as well. I’m not an avid hookah smoker. I think the last time I smoked hookah and enjoyed it was at Puzzles in STL when we all turned 18 and could finally go. The hookah was terrible looking back, but the music was not and we all know if there’s music, I’m dancing. Anyway – I was game to try this hookah because I’m in Turkey, why would I not? They brought it out and the liquid inside that is usually water, was coffee!! I was like, “woah!” They said it makes the hookah a lot smoother when you smoke it, and they were right. That was by far the smoothest hookah I’ve ever smoked. We tried a few other places throughout the trip and they only took me back to a place of little to no desire to smoke it – but I’m glad I experienced the one at Fahham. I can say that will probably be the best hookah of my life.
After brunch and hookah we took off and walked around town for a bit. We checked out some stores and saw the lay of the land in Denizli before going home to get ready for dinner. This was our first time in the town and we were amazed at how many Turkish flags were hanging everywhere. We come to learn it’s completely normal for them to have their flags presented all of the time, but it was actually their Independence Day that weekend, which would explain the parade we saw while exploring town. They’re extremely proud of their country and respectful of their founder. There was an undeniable sense of community anywhere you went throughout Denizli. Though English was sparse, everyone we encountered was extremely friendly and made us feel so welcomed. Like there was no difference between he or she, or you and I, regardless of where we were from.
Persian Dinner Night:
The dinner plan that night was massive. We knew it had been planned out as they called in our orders before hand, but we didn’t realize how much of a show dinner was until we got there. We walked in and put our things at the table and all of the sudden there’s live music and all of the lights turn off. The middle of the dining room literally turned into a dance floor and the entire family danced in a circle while we all took turns dominating the center. It was an adrenaline rush, haha. That’s not what we were expecting.
When we all return to our seats they play the national anthem for Iran. It was emotional. There’s massive, justified uproar in Iran as people protest for their freedom and basic human rights. It’s not safe for women and children. Kimia’s family are refugees from Iran, living in Turkey waiting for their chance to get over to America. Thank the Lord they’re away from there now, but there is still plenty of family in Iran. There are still so many people that are at the forefront of all of the unconscious madness going on with the regime. Everyday there is a constant battle to simply be seen as a human being, and showing any sort of rebel against the regime equates to death. With no remorse to age. It’s sickening. The dining room at that moment was extremely heavy with sorrow, but beaming with love and hope that things will take a turn for the better.
You can’t fight hate with anything but love – and that’s exactly what the entire Janesar family represents. Love.
Right after the National Anthem of Iran we went straight into celebrating a birthday. It was a surprise to her, which was so sweet. The woman said her thanks and proceeded to passionately express a message with everyone in the restaurant. Though it was in Farsi, you could feel every word she was saying. It felt like a call for better, it felt like a hug, it felt like love. I feel blessed to have shared that moment with her.
After we celebrated her a bit longer, a woman beautifully sang a tribute for Iran’s freedom. Once again, we’re all emotional as her performance is so pure and heartfelt. She gives a little speech afterwards and to no surprise was a tear jerker. Like I’ve said before, there was no understanding of what was said – but there was a feeling, and it felt like a prayer for peace and love for all. For Iran, and for the whole world.
Considering the amount of dancing that occurred, the amount of tears that were attempting to burst out, and the amount of goosebumps that arose throughout the evening by this point, Kimia, Heidy and I step outside for a breath of fresh air. As we’re sitting there chatting about the whirlwind of emotions we’ve encountered so far, Kimia’s uncle comes out to tell us they are contributing a song for us.
We go inside and they play a lovely live rendition of Hotel California. It was sweet. And while it makes sense they would associate that song with us since we live in California, none of us really know the words or really ever choose to listen to that song. After they get done performing we’re touched. We’re like, “awe, they did that for us? Cute.”
Until they were INSISTENT on us singing karaoke to it. HA.
Suddenly, I didn’t want to be associated with Beyoncé anymore as one of Kimia’s uncles yells, “come on Beyoncé!” We unfortunately did not get ourselves out of this one, and yet again are induced into a whirlwind of emotions as Heidy and I completely butcher Hotel California in front of the entire restaurant. I’m not even going to go into depth with this because Heidy and I don’t deserve to relive this moment, haha. There is a snip bit in the movie memory though:
After that once in a lifetime performance, we sat down for dinner and began to chow down on the most delicious kebab I’ve had. It was so juicy, with a little bit of crispness on the edges. The tomato and the rice always hit the spot. It was a 10/10 meal. But of course it couldn’t be complete without a few embarrassing moments. First, I accidentally hit my plate too hard with my spoon and it literally cracks the plate. Second, Carson left his fly undone after the bathroom and Grandma was trying to tell him politely, but because we don’t understand each other it took Carson awhile to catch on, forcing Grandma to straight up direct him with her eyes. HAHAHA. If anyone knows Carson, you know he immediately turned into a tomato from blushing so hard.
After eating, we danced, and we danced some more. Then we danced some more. Then we had tea, and we made our way home. Saturday was an experience as a whole, but Persian dinner at Galaxy that night was like no other dinner I’ve ever attended before. It was fun, it was active, it was meaningful, and I know I keep saying it, but I’m not going to stop – it was full of love.
We walk our happy, full bellied-selves home and enjoy the comfort and warmth of the house. We all gather in one room and hangout, drink tea, and have cake before we head to bed. It was a wholesome day. Everything about the trip thus far had been top tier amazing.
THE LAST DAY:
We slept in later than anticipated, but considering we all had only slept about 2 hours every night, it was needed. We make our way out the door and head towards a restaurant called Donerci Yasar which was high on our radar as Kimia had been hyping it up (and if anyone knows good food, it’s Kimia). We get there and she immediately orders for us without giving us a say, we like when she takes control. We know our tastebuds will be in for a treat.
They bring out this garlic vinegar sauce and a bunch of lemons, as well as bread. Soon to follow was a brothy soup called Kalepache. This is hands down the best soup I’ve ever had. It had the cheek of the lamb marinated in it and it is so flavorful and comforting, while also still being light. When you add the garlic and lemon to it? Come on now. With the bread? I’m literally drooling. I need to find a place to get this soup in CA because there’s no way I’m going without this unless I’m in Turkey. There’s just absolutely no way.
After brunch we head towards Pamukkale, which at the time I know nothing about other than white hot springs being there. We arrive and its stunning. We take a slight hike up to Hierapolis, which is an ancient Hellenistic city that was destroyed by an earthquake and is now in ruins in Pamukkale. The hot springs here are unique because some of the old columns broke off and now live at the bottom of the spring. We didn’t realize this until we were in the spring, thinking we were walking on giant rocks until we took a closer look and realized they were columns. That was pretty cool.
We hung out closer towards Hierapolis and the first hot spring for awhile, enjoying some tea, and then we made our way down towards the white springs – which were breathtaking. At first we were disappointed in how late we slept in considering we wanted to get to Pamukkale earlier in the day, but our timing was actually perfect as we got to soak in the wildness of nature’s wonders while the sunset kissed us goodnight. I’ll let the pictures and videos do the talking. It was literally perfect.
We head back for our last supper in Denizli. Though we were starving and excited to eat, especially knowing it was all made with so much love, there was a lingering bitter-sweetness of the knowing this was our last dinner with everyone. We sit in Grandma and Grandpa’s living room watching a game show in Farsi, snacking on chocolate, and drinking tea while we wait for Kimia’s aunts to get back. (Turns out they were late because they were out shopping for gifts for us. Can you believe that? They had the audacity to go out and by US gifts after they just welcomed us into their home for the past few days?! Ugh, these people. My heart.) We enjoy our last dinner together – another amazing stew, rice and salad conquered by Grandma. We ate until we couldn’t anymore. We savored every last bite.
We relaxed and all hung out for a bit, just soaking in our last little bit of time with each other since our flight left relatively early the next day. Grandma brought out some pomegranate, mint, and salt – a combination I have never thought about before. It was SO refreshing and tasty, my mouth is watering just thinking about it. I highly recommend trying this as a snack guys, it was delicious.
And that was that. We said our goodbyes that night, though many came up in the morning as we left and hugged us goodbye again. This experience will never compare to anything else, and will be one I cherish and hold deeply to my heart forever. I am bursting with gratitude to know I have a family within the Janesars, who love me and everyone around them for who we are. Who welcome anyone and everyone with open arms and an abundance of love, and who move in life with pure, loving intention.
I couldn’t be more blessed.
For being somewhere I initially had little to no desire to go to, I’m thankful this trip came along my path.
It showed me a whole new world. It inspired me with passion and love.
Life always gives you what you need.
To the Janesar family, thank you for your hospitality, your unconditional love, and for introducing us to a plethora of perspectives, foods, and traditions we have never known. You’ve opened our eyes to see more clearly. You’ve opened our hearts to love harder. I can’t wait to reunite – hopefully sooner than later.
Thank you for reading and sharing this experience with me.
xx, Mallory ❤