As I make my way through Istanbul I’m entranced by the beauty of the mosques. Like a typical tourist I’m snapping away with my camera and one thing I notice through my viewfinder is how shiny the horns atop the buildings are. A question stays with me for some time; who polishes the horns?
The question is answered succinctly one morning by a nice, English speaking Turkish lady at Mandabatmaz. “Allah polishes the horns”. Of course, I don’t know why that didn’t dawn on me.
The following is the final installment of this initial series of Istanbul eating reports.
With great suffering comes great reward.
As I stroll to Suleymaniye mosque I’m salivating at the prospect of trying Uighur cuisine at Dogu Turkistan. I have my Istanbul Eats printout [ http://istanbuleats.com/2009/08/dogu-turkistan-vakfi-as-evi-east-meets-east ] with the address and I know it’s somewhere near the magnificent mosque but that’s about it.
I begin asking around for directions to Dedeefendi Cad #4 and two hours later I’m on the verge of a nervous collapse. I’ve pestered countless shopkeeps, badgered policeman, harangued cabbies. NOBODY can help me, though everyone tries.
One young cabbie actually takes me to Sultanahmet whereupon I lose my cool. He’s startled by my outburst but has a masterstroke and calls the restaurant on his cell phone, gets vectored in and a few minutes later we’re pulling up to the foundation headquarters where the restaurant is located.
I’m greeted in the courtyard by a teenage Uighur who seems surprised to hear I’m hungry and have come to eat. I’m famished, ask for lagman [a long, hand pulled noodle] and manti [which would remind you of a dumpling] and sit down in the tiny dining room to wait for my food. My waiter sits down with me and we have a halting conversation. Abdusalom migrated from Turkistan 2 months earlier and is studying English in hopes of entering University.
The food arrives and we break bread.
The lagman noodle is good. It’s clearly freshly made, perhaps just a few moments before in the tiny kitchen off to the side of the tiny dining room and is simply garnished with onions, green peppers, tomatoes and the odd tidbit of meat. The manti is better. The pastry shell moist and packed with minced lamb and onions. I douse everything with a bracing shot of vinegar, hit it with a ladle of lemony red chile paste and dig in.
Abdusalom explains that he’s excited to have a native speaker he can converse with in English [at this point I begin to seriously worry about his University prospects if they are to be influenced in any way by me]. We talk about the age old subjects that men of all stripes enjoy: food, women and music. I stroll to the tree shaded courtyard to take some pictures when Abdusalom comes outside and beckons to me.
Inside, he and the cook pull a couple big stringed instruments off the wall and proceed to have a Uighur hoedown!
I’m shaky at the audacious coolness of what I’m part of. Their music is pure melancholy, think if Hank Williams Sr. was born in Turkistan instead of Alabama and grew up eating manti instead of chicken and dumplings.
Like anything so intense you can’t believe it the hootenanny lasts just a few moments before the men finish with a crescendo and smile questioningly at me. I madly nod wishing I could issue a Lester Bangs oratory in Turkish but content myself with just dumbly grinning instead.
In a city filled with the most hospitable people you can imagine East Turkistan Foundation Food House still manages to stand out. The food is fine but the warmth of the workers and the genial vibe of the restaurant combine to make this the ultimate Uighur dining experience in Istanbul.
Address: Dedeefendi Cad. No: 4, Eminonu
About the Stars:
4 **** Extraordinary, life changing
3 *** Excellent
2 * Very good
1 * Good
0 * Mediocre
Quality, price, service and ambiance are all taken into account when rating.