Kicked back in Austin Texas with an ice cold can of Pearl beer and Lefty Frizzell playing on the hi fi is as good setting as any for reflecting back on my two week run-up through Istanbul’s dining scene a year or so ago.
I could spill 1500 words about Istanbul without thinking twice but right now all I can think about is a plate of chicken wings and ram testicles I supped on at Zubeyir earlier this year.
It’s a busy Friday night and the house has run low on balls and only has two in the fridge. While that’s not enough for an order the waiter is a quick thinker and offers to make up the difference with a handful of chicken wings.
Sitting back with a tumbler of Raki on the rocks, warming myself by the nearby fire and taking in some serious Kurdish hospitality, it’s no matter that they’re a ball or two short of a combo.
This is some seriously delicious chow.
Two days later:
Snaking our way through Sunday morning traffic, my Turkish lover and I are champing at the bit to get to Adem Baba, the Arnavutkoy fish house. Their Sunday-only seafood chowder is definitely a winner but I still can’t get over the perfectly cooked, tiny fried red mullets, 7 or 8 to a platter.
Served with a salad of torn greens tossed with salty Turkish cheese and lemon juice this is the one meal I had in Istanbul that carried me back to New Orleans.
Dessert on a park bench along the Bosporus courtesy of Meshur Bebek Badem Ezmesi finishes off one of the great afternoons of my life.
Doyuran Lokanta being the reason I spent 6 months mapping out the food scene in Istanbul, it’s only fitting that it’s the first restaurant I visit in the city. Chef Musa does things with eggplant that are so insanely good it makes me wonder why more people aren’t buzzing about this tiny little diner in Kumkapi.
Pera Sisore has more of a cumulative effect on me. Not one dish is otherworldly but everything on the menu is so good that, taken as a whole, the restaurant exceeds the sum of its’ parts. Walk in the front door and pivot to the left. Ask for an “az” platter then just start pointing toward what looks good on the steamline.
You’ll be fed and treated well and on a good day your food induced reverie might just carry you all the way to Tuscaloosa Alabama.
Boris in Yeri over in Kumkapi inspired the following from me: “Boris’ In Yeri’s kaymak is splendid. Smothered in and balanced by honey that doubtlessly came from hardworking Turkish honeybees, my first bite reminds me of the first time I ever tried crema Salvadorena. It’s rich yet airy, sweet without being cloying. I take a few bites from my little tub and carefully wrap up the rest for later in the room and make my way onto the glorious streets of Kumkapi”
Indeed. My next trip to Istanbul, I’ve already penned in the back streets of Kumkapi as needing some serious attention as my hike through the famous quarter’s byways found numerous little diners and what have you, filled with locals and putting out some seriously delicious smelling aromas.
Any trip to Istanbul demands a visit to Sehzade Erzurum Cag Kebabi, while the gaucho kebabs are first rate it’s the lentil soup that gave me fever dreams for a solid month.
Me: “I ask for red lentil soup and am bequeathed with one of the top 5 soups I’ve ever eaten. It’s a puree’ of lentils creamed in broth and seasoned with little more than salt and paprika. A squeeze of lemon and a teaspoon of dried red pepper flakes takes it to the stratosphere.”
How far under the radar do you like to get?
If you want to tumble down a friendly little rabbit hole in Sultanahmet please get thee to Emin’s Place. He doesn’t always have the grill fired up but when he does:
“Occasionally Emin builds a fire in his streetside grill and sets to cooking his version of Istanbul street food. I sample one of his offerings; a Turkish po boy I reckon with grilled lamb stuffed into a loaf of bread then topped with tomato and onion dusted with sumac. Simple and delicious, the smoky meat and fresh,bright tomato complement each other nicely.”
Every now and again you have a meal that recalibrates your take on a certain cuisine. Kara Mehmet Kebab Salonu does just that. Words from the past:
“Then it happens. The first bite of my kebab proves that all kebabs I’ve had in the past have been little more than pale impostors. If a lifetime of kebab eating has been rendered naught by my first bite then the second morsel reveals a long, difficult road ahead as I navigate a life 1000s of miles away from Kara’s deliciousness.”
Growing up in Eastern Kentucky meant eating lots of hillbilly cuisine. Foraged greens from the Appalachians and game from the vast wooded forests on our farm kept our family’s supper table groaning with food year round.
So I have a pretty good base for the foods of Ciya over on Istanbul’s Asian side. Chef Musa Dagdeviren would’ve gotten along just fine with my grandmother Nellie Sullivan as one of her favorite activities was to gather roots, berries and greens from the woods and cook them into a state of deliciousness.
Once again, I didn’t have one dish that blew me away but the cumulative effect of chef Musa’s food was sublime. Ciya is “salad bar” style, you’re sold your food by weight, pointing and hoping that some wild tangled greens or odd looking nuts and berries whipped into a salad are going to be money.
They invariably are.
I could go on and on [and probably have] but off the top of my head these were a few of my favorite bites in Istanbul this year.
I’m planning out a return trip to Istanbul in March and could not be more excited to knock back a few shots of raki and quaff a few pints of Efes at Araf Cafe.