Editor’s note: In the inaugural post of our new recurring feature, First Stop, we ask Chef Ana Sortun of the much-beloved restaurant Oleana and bakery Sofra in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she heads first for food when she arrives in Istanbul. Sortun received the James Beard Foundation’s award for “Best Chef Northeast” in 2005 and wrote the cookbook Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean. Her newest restaurant, Sarma, opened at the end of 2013 in Somerville, Massachusetts.
When I arrive in Istanbul, I usually arrive in the afternoon and try to stay awake through an early dinner. If I am by myself, I shoot for dinner at the bar at Yeni Lokanta, which Şemsa Denizsel [chef of Kantin] had told me about, and have [Civan Er’s] dried eggplant mantı and hummus with za’atar. When I was there last October, I fell in love with a stuffed grape leaf that was round and flat and crispy from the oven – it looked like a small grape leaf pie – and topped with labne. In fact, that last time I loved the experience so much, I visited two nights during my stay and brought some friends with me on the second visit so I could try more things! Everyone was so friendly and it was a nice relaxing spot to enjoy delicious food on my own.
When I arrive in Istanbul and am with a group, my first stop is Asmalı Cavit for the meyhane experience. I love going there because it’s lively and it keeps me awake. The food is classic and executed wonderfully. I always get fava and meat börek. It’s a great re-entry to all the things I love about eating in Istanbul. The quality of the food preparation and the lively atmosphere is timeless.
For quick eats, I run to Dürümzade for their dürüm. I’m in awe of how they “marinate” the bread, and they achieve the perfect proportions of bread to meat to onion and tomato.
My favorite restaurant (still after so many years) is Musa Dağdeviren’s Çiya Sofrası. I’ve never met anyone who cooks like him. He has a rich, soulful approach to cooking. There isn’t anyone I know who balances and builds flavors like Musa. And of course he sources the best ingredients. I had the best yogurt of my life there that he made, and I crave his muhammara and katmer.
(top photo by Monique Jaques; bottom photo by Susie Cushner)