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A taste of home: culinary heritage and ethnic cuisines in Istanbul

A taste of home: culinary heritage and ethnic cuisines in Istanbul

Photographs by Elif Savari Kızıl

In its countless labyrinth of winding streets, Istanbul presents a world of alternative, whether or not you favor to mix in or stand out. It has lengthy attracted migrants from around the globe, who come right here to hunt their fortune or escape their destiny. It’s these people who make Istanbul what it’s—a seething mass of lives entangled with each other, making an attempt to remain afloat in this bustling metropolis. Whereas meals is an important half of cultural historical past, a taste of one thing acquainted can transport us via time and area, and again into the arms of our household.

Once we assume of Istanbul’s heritage, our first ideas so typically go to the Ottomans. However what made the Ottoman Empire so profitable was the best way that it absorbed totally different cultures, permitting individuals to retain their very own traditions, whether or not in phrases of languages, customs, or meals. Lately the Ottoman Empire could also be a distant reminiscence, however the distinct meals cultures included inside it stay on, and many of them can nonetheless be discovered right here in trendy Istanbul.

Whereas European cuisines may need formed the swankiest restaurant openings in current years, some of one of the best meals is discovered in the extra low-key eateries that originate from nations to the east of Turkey and belong to the immigrants, each new and previous.

From Georgia: Café Niko

For a restaurant that has develop into a agency favourite of ours because the first time we discovered our method there(because of Istanbul Eats), this little eatery definitely doesn’t seem like a lot. In reality, it seems downright alarming, tucked above a ramshackle teashop inside a long-distance bus station. However it’s this bus station that’s the key to its authenticity. Elements (and patrons) arrive immediately from Georgia, bringing with them a breath of mountain air.

The primary time we entered, a chainsaw was resting casually underneath one desk, a muddy Georgian match was being proven on the telly, and a considerably merry group of Georgian males have been exchanging deafening insults in a good-natured slanging match. Directly, we have been transported to the wilds of the Caucusus, and a singular little nation with exceptionally hearty meals.

Café Niko’s cooks recreate these tastes over 1,000 kilometers from their homeland. The fist-sized khinkali (dumplings) must be eaten Georgian fashion, that arrive on the desk in a steaming portion of 10. Once they’ve cooled sufficient, maintain the nubbin together with your fingers or a fork and rigorously chew a small nook. Then drink the juices out of this gap earlier than chomping your method via the remaining. In Georgian tradition, the extra you’ll be able to eat, the extra macho you’re – demonstrated by the quantity of nubbins that stay in your plate.

Filling up on these, although, would imply lacking out on some of the opposite Georgian specialties, like khacapuri (crispy, flaky bread crammed and topped with melted Georgian cheese), ostri (a wealthy beef and tomato stew, topped with uncooked onions and recent coriander), and lobio (thick baked bean stew). To be really genuine, order a bottle of shiny inexperienced tarkhuna (glowing tarragon-flavored drink) to scrub it down. Or for one thing just a little more durable, attempt the colorless chacha(Georgian moonshine), which can seem like water however partly explains why all the opposite clients are so rowdy, so early! Küçük Langa Caddesi No.190, Aksaray

From Syria: Tarbuş

Like many different Syrian joints, this can be a restaurant so genuine that no Turkish is spoken right here. It caters to the various Syrian immigrants who’ve taken up residence in this very multicultural neighborhood. Situated on a busy street, there’s a bustling open kitchen, a handful of tables outdoors, and a scattering extra in a eating space on the primary flooring, the place framed photographs of Syrian cities try and set the scene, however all in all, it’s not a lot to take a look at.

Like so many of one of the best locations, it’s once more the meals that’s the star of the present. When you’re heading there early you may need to attempt the fatteh (a heat bowl of gentle chickpeas and crispy fried pita in yogurt, garlic, and tahini sauce) or the extremely mild, coriander seed-studded falafel with a tahini sauce served with entire spring onions and crunchy pickles.

Within the night, the place will get actually busy (with a principally Syrian clientele), and in the hotter months, it’s good to take a seat outdoors and watch the various individuals of Aksaray cross by. Attempt the kibbeh labanieh (heat yogurt soup with small bulgur-encased spicy meatballs floating on prime) or the hen shawarma on kabsa rice (crispy marinated strips of hen on a mattress of fragrant rice, tinted yellow with saffron). There are numerous similarities with Turkish meals of course, however the mixture of spices used make it into one thing completely totally different, which had our good friend reminiscing with the primary chew. Turgut Özal Millet Caddesi  No.24/B, Yusufpaşa; T: (0212) 568 81 16

From Iran: Asuman

Between 546 – 330BCE, Persian management prolonged proper throughout Anatolia, till Alexander the Nice got here together with different concepts. After the Ottomans had taken management many centuries later, quite a few wars erupted between the Persian and Ottoman empires, the final one ending with a stalemate in 1823. Fortunately, the cuisines are a bit extra harmonious.

Iranian meals has many similarities with Turkish meals, however might be rather more fragrant, with the use of cinnamon, rose petals, dried lime, and dried fruit giving it a extra delicate taste (not too dissimilar from what we expect of as ‘imperial Ottoman cuisine.’) Asuman shines in the truth that it’s each a comfortable, pleasant restaurant, and a store stacked excessive with Iranian goodies.

Apart from the juicy kebabs and braised meats, attempt the tebriz köftesi(a big meatball constructed from minced beef and cut up peas, with a boiled egg, caramelized onions, walnuts, and dried fruits inside) ormast khiyar (a yoghurt, cucumber, and dill combine, prettily adorned with walnuts and raisins, or rice coloured with saffron and studded with tart little barberries, fava beans, and currents, topped with rose petals.

When you’ve came upon what you want, you’ll be able to then pop subsequent door to the store and discover every thing you want (together with an electrical Persian rice maker) to recreate the dishes at residence. Atatürk Bulvarı No.158, Aksaray; T: (0212) 511 27 37

From Uzbekistan: Mantık Mantı

The central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan share a standard background with at present’s Turkey – populated by the nomadic tribes that travelled west throughout the Nice Steppe, earlier than settling in Anatolia. The merchants and vacationers that handed by way of these nations utilizing the previous Silk Street introduced with them concepts, cultures, and delicacies from West to East, and again once more. In the present day, Central Asia is probably not recognized for its meals, however it nonetheless has a couple of good specialties value in search of out. One such dish needs to be itsmantı (dumplings). Some type of dumplings could be discovered in virtually each culinary tradition, and the event and unfold of them is an interesting story in itself (one thing Çiya’s MusaDağdeverin has written about), however some argue that Central Asia is the place they first originated.

Mantık Mantı in Kadıköy serves up conventional Uzbek manti(full of minced meat), in addition to extra uncommon varieties, resembling purslane and walnut or potatoes and chickpeas – appropriate for vegetarians. The massive dumplings come served with separate pots of spicy tomato sauce, garlic yogurt, and a carrot salad. Our Türkmen waiter additionally informed us that in the event you name in on Fridays, you possibly can taste their Türkmen rice and vegetable pilaf. Lastly, be sure that to avoid wasting room for his or her desserts, just like the honey cake with chocolate sauce.Mühürdar Caddesi Misbah Muayyeş Sokak 6/four, Kadıköy; T: (0216) 418 15 75

Culinary schooling at Yesam

The Culinary Arts Middle operates out of the Armaggan constructing in Nuruosmaniye. It organizes lectures, workshops, and demonstrations that discover an entire method of topics, with specialists in their fields.

There are additionally a couple of smarter eating places serving totally different ethnic cuisines, extra suited to a night out than the above recommendations:


Fıccın is one of the few eating places in the town specializing in meals from Circassia, a area of the Caucasus mountains sandwiched between Russia and Turkey, and an space well-known in Ottoman occasions for the sweetness of its ladies. As we speak there’s a giant Circassian group dwelling in Turkey, many of whom retain a robust sense of ethnic id and nonetheless put together many of their conventional meals. Attempt the çerkez tavuğu (Circassian hen), a creamy dish made with shredded hen, puréed walnuts, and garlic, and drizzled with chilli-flecked melted butter and their namesake ficcın, a sort of flat, baked minced-meat pie. İstiklal Caddesi Kallavi Sokak Beyoğlu; T: (0212) 293 37 86


Zinnet Restaurant

Situated in the novel, if barely weird Türk Dunyası Kültür Parkı(Turkish World Tradition Park), this restaurant serves Uyghur delicacies, native to the ethnically Turkic Uyghur those that reside in Central and Japanese Asia. It’s an actual mix of Turkish and Chinese language meals, with some acquainted tastes and some startling ones. The restaurant itself is sort of giant and has reside music on particular nights. Sit on the picket patio and look out throughout the park, far sufficient away from any busy roads to have the ability to benefit from the peace and quiet; take heed to the birds sing and step into a unique world. Topkapı Kültür Parkı, Türk Dünyası Kültür Evleri No.6, Topkapı; T: (0212) 567 10 77

Galata Evi

The Galata Evi has been open as a restaurant since 1999, in a stone constructing recognized beforehand to have been used as a British jail. The menu consists of dishes from Russian, Tartar, and Georgian delicacies with classics like borscht, stews, dumplings, and blini. On the second flooring is a small music room the place you possibly can take heed to stay music (from the Crimean proprietor) after 8pm, in addition to one other bigger eating area. There’s a terrace in the inside courtyard for open-air eating. Galatakulesi Sokak No. 15, Galata; T: (0212) 245 18 61

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