Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A foodie's Fantasy in Istanbul, Turkey, PART 1: Giritli, Sehzade Erzurum Cag Kebabi, Hafez Mustafa, Hatay Sofrasi, Yeni Lokanti, Kofteci Arnavut, Sur Ocakbasi, Asitane, Gulebru Kantin, Gorele Pide.

Before I begin this review, I can tell you that my best restaurant meal experience in Istanbul, was at Asitane. That is not to say that Beyti, our other favourite, was not as good....it was, and the service impeccable. But Asitane was unique. The menu consists of very well executed dishes served to various sultans in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries.

For the most part, this foodie's adventure in Istanbul consisted of visiting many small eateries (they can't be classed as restaurants) where the owner chef specialized in only one dish, occasionally 2, and when you might eat at this eatery, that is typically the only one that you would order. In many cases, these eateries had been making that one dish very well, for decades, sometimes, for generations, in a family. In some places, that one dish might be meatballs or kebabs, or a certain type of doner. This ubiquitous one dish specialized cuisine, offered in a very small eatery, is so much a unique aspect of Turkish culture.

An expression in Turkey, for things that are edible, is that if anything has a hole, stuff it. So, it is common to see, for example, mussels stuffed with rice. One of my favourite things to enjoy, was air dried eggplant, essentially, some of the guts are removed, leaving the flesh attached to the skin. When the eggplant dries, there is a large hole to fill. The eggplant is hydrated, stuffed and cooked in many ways. The most common stuffing is rice.

We used 2 trip guide services. Two days were organized by foodie Ansel mullins, author of Istanbul Eats, an essential, book/guide to small, family run, eateries and restaurants in local neighbourhoods. Ansel supplied 2 different experts (one for each day and neighbourhood), highly knowledgeable guides who walked with us, on one day, through Beyoglu, the former European quarter of the Belle Epoque and  on the other day, guided us on a walking tour through the European side's Karakoy and the Asian side's Kadikoy neighbourhoods. They picked us up at our hotel at 10am and guided us through the many small back streets, 
stopping to eat in local specialty eateries, escorting us to local markets, and proudly showed us unique aspects of the local architecture and history, dropping us back at our hotel at about 4pm.

Our second, and most helpful guide/organizer and Tour operator, was Murat Ozguc, owner of Mocha Tours. Murat, through emails, skype calls and lots of helpful interactions, helped me to organize 5 separate day tours that mixed visits to the most important historical sights, with lots of visits to small specialty eateries for interesting snacks and lunches throughout the day. Murat was completely hands on and available to us at any time of the day for questions or help. Murat also made all of our restaurant dinner reservations for the places that I chose and knowledgeably helped me to choose when I was not sure. Murat, a highly affable foodie and member of La Chaine des Rotisseurs in Istanbul, also joined us, at our insistent request, for dinner, all 8 nights in Istanbul, and was a Godsend in helping us with the language and the local traditions, at every step of this trip. 

Murat's tour company, Mocha Tours, supplied us with a Mercedes van, at very reasonable cost, to accommodate my 2 friends and me, and our guide, Yassin, a cultured, extremely well informed (about Turkish history, politics and traditions that we may have had questions about), passionate foodie. Between the always accessible van, a highly knowledgeable driver, and the expertise of Yasisn, they really smoothed the way for easy travel throughout this very congested city of about 17 million people. Yassin shared our food passions and indulged us in all of our food whims, even introducing us to his favourite place for pide, not in any guide, that was indeed, after visiting so many of "the best", our favourite pide resto as well. Murat also arranged for a very comfortable private boat at very reasonable cost, to take us on a 2 hour trip up and down the Bosphorus.

The expenses for this trip were extremely reasonable for us as Canadians, considering that the Turkish lire was about 54 cents to our dollar.


Giritli, a restaurant specializing in fish, was founded by a Cretan family. This resto provided what was one of the best meals we enjoyed in Istanbul, but not at the high level of sophistication of either Asitane or Beyti. This was very good rustic cuisine, the cuisine for locals.

 Bread simply toasted (properly.....BROWN!).

Seafood rice.

Nettles with fresh cheese and olive oil.

Cibes......baby cabbage with olive oil.

Hardal otu.......wild mustard and olive oil.

Marinated sardines in olive oil (this is the season).

Fetta cheese, olive oil and green olives.

Fried eggplant with pureed tomato and garlic sauce and yogurt.

Purselane with young almond, dill and yogurt.

Potato salad with chopped parsley, diced scallion, pomegranate molasses, zatar and olive oil.

Yarma bugdayli karalahana.....black cabbage (cavalo nero) with wheat.

Armenian style giant beans with carrots and olive oil.

Arapsacli kuru borulce.........black eye peas with fennel.

Grilled eggplant on left and smoked fish "pastrami" on right.

An overview of the complete and final spread of mezzes on our table.

Fried calamari.

A fish kebab with roast peppers and a local green spicy pepper.

Fried sardines.

Grilled anchovies.

Grilled filet of sea bass.

The spread of mains. 

Finger "muffin", a light fried pastry coated with powdered sugar, served with a halva puree for dipping.....outstanding and addictive!

Baked grape pectin puree mixed with tahini, topped with julienned apple.


This is the one of the very best places for doner kebabs. One of the elements that sets this doner kebab place apart from the rest is that they use the old way of cooking the lamb with a hardwood fire rather than the new and much more typical gas flame found pretty well everywhere. The lamb is seasoned and layered on the spit (not ground, seasoned then molded on the spit). Incredible flavours of the wood fire and local seasoning with lamb that tastes like lamb rather than the milder flavour we experience in North America.

The fire is behind the lamb which is rotated ("doner") on the spit, cooked, then thinly sliced.

A finely diced, mildly spicy, sweet red pepper and tomato puree.

The typical salad served at doner and kebab places.

Yogurt is very much a part of the local cuisine and is offered at most places. The yogurt is spread on the flatbread with the onions, salad and lamb, rolled and eaten. 

Sliced onions mixed with chopped parsley, seasoned with sumac for topping the wrap.

Turkish flat bread which is very thin and soft but firm enough to be used for wraps.

A client preparing a doner wrap for himself.

Our dessert, kadayif dolma, consisting of a crispy shredded wheat like pastry, topped with crushed walnuts (used a lot in Turkish desserts) and drenched with a simple sugar syrup.

Below, I will show you examples of what the better "working man's" restaurants present in their warming counters, for one's personal selection....so mouth watering, you will feel like stopping and sampling at each one!


A visit to the well regarded Hafiz Mustafa (in business since 1864) for some desserts (who ever knew how many calories each one of these counted.....A LOT!!...learned what they were after I returned home).

A portion of the presentation of the many kinds of Turkish delight.

Turkish delights made from pomegranate and pistachios.

Various kinds of bakalava, and other sweet pastries.

Kadayif dolma filled with pistachios. 

Left to right: fistkili durum (phylo wrap filled with pistachios), fistikli dilber ("princess" filled with hazelnuts), fisikli kelebek (2) (butterfly filled with pistachios). Don't think of the calories......delicious!!

Akdeniz Hatay Sofrasi

This is a restaurant, one of our very favourites, specializes in south Turkish/Syrian cuisine. Here, I tasted "mountain thyme" for the first time, an intensely flavoured thyme that makes the taste of north american thyme a pale shadow. This thyme is so intense that when you taste it, you get a bit of heat along with the intense thyme flavours. All of the meats and herbs that are served, come from Hatay, the Syrian region of Turkey. Two of the well known dishes at this restaurant, that require pre-ordering, that we did not order, is the stuffed lamb or stuffed chicken that are baked in a salt crust in a wood fire.

The mountain thyme presented for us to taste.

Pita for dipping.

Green olives with chili pepper, chopped scallions, mountain thyme and chopped parsley, with pomegranate syrup. A lovely dish.

Barbecued eggplant puree with strained yogurt and garlic. 

Dried eggplant that has been stuffed with rice flavoured with tomato paste and Hatay spices.

Mashed chili peppers with walnuts (muhammara).

Cracked wheat with green onions, parsley and mint.

Lahmacun, Turkish style pizza, with chopped tomato, ground lamb, chopped walnuts, wild thyme and chopped parsley.

Chicken kebab.

Kagit kebap, medium fat ground beef, garlic, red pepper and parsley, baked in the wood fired oven.

Yeni Lokanta

Chef Civan Er is a member of a new group of Turkish chefs that is trend setting a new gastronomy within Turkish cuisine, stepping outside of the familiar with many of his dishes. I apologize for the photos, but had forgotten my camera and was obliged to use my cell phone.

Carrot spread with ginger and walnuts. 

Yogurt with baked beans.

Bulgar salad with sour cherries.

Artichoke salad with strawberries.

A very good Turkish chardonnay. 

Savory humous with zatar.

Yogurt and zucchini flower fritters.

Snow peas with capers and dried meat dressing (this was into eating).

Grilled meatballs with helloumi and warm potato salad.

Spicy "Antep" sausage with walnuts and lukewarm borlotti bean puree.

Lamb shank with yogurt and porcini mushroom "eriste" pasta.

Manti, dried eggplant filled turkish dumplings with Antiochian yogurt.

Lamb chops with risotto. Turkish lamb has an exceptional flavour.

Toasted bread topped with oven roasted beef rib with cumin and isot pepper.

Kadajifi wrapped custard fritters with smoked buffalo milk ice cream and honey.

Mosaic chocolate cake with banana and salted caramel sauce.

Hazelnut pudding with quince, topped with chopped pistachios.

Kofteci Arnavut

This is how small the neighbourhood eateries look, with micro kitchens and perhaps only 2 or 3 small tables.

Lentil soup.

What we came for and the one thing they make.....meatballs , here accompanied by white rice and julienned pickled carrots (meatballs are a very special tradition in Turkey, like hamburgers are in north America, except theirs are very long multi-generational family traditions in making this one thing really well).

Sisli Balikcisi

Sisli Balilcisi, a fish eatery that attracted us to stop as we were walking "along the way". We ate our selections at small tables in front of the restaurant.

The large selection of fish and shellfish from which we made our selections to give to the kitchen to prepare for us.

Rice stuffed mussels.

The kitchen.

Sur Ocakbasi

Sur Ocakbasi specializes in Buryan kebab and adana kebab. This resto is located in a "town square" square of a local neighbourhood which historically has been where many local butchers and spice purveyors were located.

The salad plate that will accompany the kebabs (arugula, pickled cabbage, lettuce, chopped tomato and sweet red pepper).

Adana kebab (lamb), with bulgar wheat, 2 mildly hot peppers and charred tomato.

Buryan kebab (lamb), made from the back meat along the spine, slow cooked over a wood fire.....this is the dish that this restaurant is know for.

The pictures below give you a flavour of this neighbourhood "town square" (referred to above).
Another small eatery that sells buryan kebab, as seen in the front window, on the right.

A local seller of cheeses.

Hanging dried vegetables, a frequent item seen in local markets. On the far left is my favourite, dried eggplants and immediately to the right, dried sweet red peppers.

More hanging dried veggies and fresh spices and veggies for sale.

A local butcher featuring lamb including his proud presentation of roasted sheep's heads, a favourite.

A local butcher, also a purveyor of nuts.

A purveyor of various colourful spices.

A local juice purveyor....they primarily sell pomegranate, grapefruit, orange and apple juice.


This was my most interesting and most favourite restaurant experience in Istanbul. It was not necessarily the best food, but, it was very good. The reason this experience was my favourite was that this restaurant represents, a 500 year history of Ottoman cuisine, a synthesis of Anatolian, Central Asian, Middle Eastern and Balkan flavours. Each dish was served to a certain sultan sometime in either the 15th, 16th, 17th or 18th centuries. The dishes were very well conceived and executed, in an attempt to do justice to the Imperial splendors of the palace kitchens and were indeed a pleasure. I apologize for the yellowish caste of the photos as the lighting was all shaded with ivory shades. A flash picture was less satisfactory. The dates in brackets represent the dates of the historical documentation of the dish.

The dip/snacks, oil with herbs and the Turkish version of salsa: finely diced mixed tomatoes, walnuts, sweet red peppers, garlic and herbs.

A very enjoyable turkish wine from one of the best vintages, 2008.

Badem corbasi (1539)...a delicious almond soup, a light grated almond soup flavoured with grated nutmeg and pomegranate seeds. 

Hums Lokmasi (1469), crushed chick peas, lightly pureed with currents, pine nuts and cinnamon. 

Ciger koftesi (1695), fried liver patties flavoured with cinnamon and cloves on top of red onions that had been sauteed in pomegranate molasses.

Gomlek Kababi (1764), "fatty apron" kebabs, minced lamb and beef with coriander seeds, cumin, pine nuts and mint, all wrapped in caul fat and roasted, sided with roasted onions with pomegranate molasses. A terrific dish and highlight of the meal.

Perhaps my 3 favourite dishes, has pacasi, tiritli (1471), stewed lamb's foot with vinegar and garlic, served on crispy rye bread. Truly delicious.

Dane-i bulgar-i hassa (1469) bulgar rice cooked with chestnuts, currents and various spices.

Pekmezli ayva dolmasi (1539), baked quince stuffed with a blend of minced lamb and beef, rice, pine nuts, currents and aromatic herbs, all flavoured with grape molasses. Another favourite. 

Mutancana (Mutanjene) (1539), a great dish of braised leg of lamb stewed with figs, apricots, almonds and "Rezaki" raisons. The broth was remarkably tasty. The remarkable flavours made this one of my top dishes. 

Kaz kebabi (1539), slow roasted "Cankiri" goose and almond pilaf, in a crunchy Turkish yufka. .  

Levzine (1539), pounded almond halva.

Sembuse (1650), walnut and almond dessert flavoured with musk. 

Rice pudding flavoured with saffron and honey.

Gulebru Kantin

Gulebru Kantin, one of the very best doner eateries in Istanbul, located in the Grand Bazaar where the gold vendors cluster, by the Zincircli Han. The owner has been at this for 18 years and his partner for 28 years.

One of the elements that makes an eatery standout is the traditional charcoal fire rather than a gas grill seen the vast majority of the time. Fresh slices of beef are seasoned and assembled on the spit, each morning, making for better quality and taste. The turning beef on the spit is called a doner. As the beef chars, it is sliced off and weighed for the sandwiches, using very thin Turkish flatbread..

The lamb doner wrapped with paper thin flat bread.


 The lamb, sliced from the spit, with lavash flat bread and pickles. Delicious!

The spice market. Various dried peppers.
Colourful bulk spices.

Dried eggplants and peppers.

Another lamb doner eatery that attracted us because ther were using charcoal. however, that taste was nowhere as good as at Gulebru Kantin. 

Various portions of chicken cooked over hardwood coals. This was good.


The artisan. 

Rolling out the dough. 

Each pide has a layer of seasoned ground meat on the bottom. An open pide was made as well. 

The closed pide are sliced hoizontally to open the top and the pide makers puts dabs of his local farmed butter that he has brought from his native region.

A very light and flakey, layered phylo pastry for dessert.

Neiis Kayseri Mantisi

Our day with our Istanbul Eats organized guide. Benoit, picked us up at our hotel at 10am and escorted us to begin our first walking tour of the local area.

Breakfast: bread, kaymak with olive oil, olives, fresh cheese and cucumber and tomatoes.

Another traditional breakfast dish, topik. The crust is made from ground chick peas and potatoes and is filled with a delicious mix of ground onion, tahini, currants, pine nuts and cinnamon.

Menemen: very lightly scrambled eggs, lighly cooked, with peppers and onions. A very tasty, very typical, traditional breakfast dish. This was the best verion of the menemen I tried in Istanbul.

Mercimek kofte, made of ground lentils, onions, parsley and bulgar.

We were then taken back to see the kitchen:

One of my faves, eggplant stuffed with ground lamb (imam beyildi).

On the way we stopped at a small eatery that specialized in only one dish, suborek, consisting of boiled phylo dough filled with cheese.

Our Istanbul Eats guide then brought us to a very longstanding purveyor of their own pickled vegetables, a Turkish speciality.
Vegetables are picked in season and preserved. We tasted these pickles and they tasted very much of good flavours of the vegetable as one might expect in season. But, quite salty.

No comments:

Post a Comment