Wave after wave of migration from Anatolia has bestowed upon Istanbul a population of 15 million at bare minimum, with countless pockets of the city representing villages and districts from every last corner of the country.
In the neighborhood of Feriköy, those originally hailing from the eastern province of Erzincan have managed to consolidate their presence on an entire street. Lined with a number of restaurants and shops selling fresh goods typical of the province, and a row of village associations established for the purpose of maintaining cultural ties between those living in Istanbul and their relatives back home, Feriköy’s Gediz Sokak is all about Erzincan, a land of sheep and mountains famed for its dairy products.
Yılmaz Tandır Evi is the first shop one encounters when turning the corner, and it’s the one place not to be missed. With fresh, lengthy strips of flatbread coming directly out of the flame-bursting tandır oven and fresh cheese, butter, honey and other goods all carefully selected and brought in from Erzincan, Yılmaz Tandır Evi serves what must be the most traditional breakfast available outside of the province, a no-frills spread fit for a shepherd.
Hunks of tulum, a slightly pungent and salty sheep’s milk cheese that crumbles at the touch of a fork, are served alongside a mound of creamy butter, a wedge of raw honey and a small plate of peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and olives, as well as that flatbread, hot out of the oven. Fried eggs accompany the breakfast, a truly powerful combination that left us unable to remember when any kind of cheese had paired with an egg so well.
The man behind the operation is Yılmaz İngec, who came to Istanbul from the Erzincan district of İliç in the early 1980s at the age of 14. The now 50-year-old İngeç, who travels back to the province every two months, has a careful hand in the production and selection of all of his goods. His sheep graze on the finest highlands of the Munzur Mountains, where, he insists, the grass the animals feed on produces the best tulum.
İngeç offers tulum produced traditionally, aged in goatskin for several months, as well as a variation made with more up-to-date methods. Both are delicious, and we were surprised that the goatskin tulum had less of a pungent bite than its modern counterpart. Neighborhood dwellers, most of whom have Erzincan roots, frequently pop in and out of the shop, buying tulum and fresh butter that comes in once a week.
“We appeal to those from the region,” İngeç told us. He closes up shop during the months of July and August and heads back to İliç, attending to business and escaping Istanbul during the oppressive summer heat.
“I have work out there, and business here is a bit slow because my customers are generally from Erzincan and return to their villages or summer houses,” İngeç said.
Traditional items that likely made their way from the village adorn Yılmaz Tandır Evi’s walls next to photographs of Arabesque legend Orhan Gencebay and Mustafa Sarıgül – the slick former mayor of the Şişli district who himself hails from İliç – with flatbread in hand.
Being from Erzincan is not compulsory in order to enjoy a fine breakfast at İngeç’s establishment, though hearing him speak so lovingly about his homeland made us wish we had grown up there too, among the cascading mountains, scenic highland pastures and equally awe-inspiring breakfasts.