When it comes to the first meal of the day in Beşiktaş, it’s hard to pass up the institution that Pando’s lovely old kaymak shop has become. Yet as much as Pando is the neighborhood’s culinary standard-bearer, there is another side of breakfast in Beşiktaş that feels more contemporary, more real and – somehow – even more “Beşiktaş.” After being tipped off long ago, we have finally come to appreciate the simple charms of Çakmak Kahvaltı Salonu and, by extension, more about this interesting neighborhood.
Beşiktaş is a large district in central Istanbul with an equally large and varied population, but at its commercial center, the çarşı (market), there is a coherent feeling of local identity. The neighborhood’s sometime champion soccer team is certainly a unifying force, as is the underdog political party (CHP) that remains popular, but the “Beşiktaş type” can’t be reduced to simple affiliations. Walking through the market, the vibe is young and very Turkish, secular and middle-class, busy but not at all fussy. Though the buildings may lack any architectural flair and the shops are nothing fancy, the neighborhood nonetheless feels friendly and well-kept, like a small Anatolian city, such as Eskişehir. And just like a small city, Beşiktaş seems to feel stable and comfortable with itself in a way that much of Istanbul does not.
On a recent Sunday morning, probably well before Pando and family had even left the house, and long before the oven at 7-8 Hasanpaşa Fırını was even warm, the windows at Çakmak were fogged up and the tables were in hot rotation. The venue reeked of Beşiktaş in such a good way. Duman, a Turkish Pearl Jam-like band, blasted from the radio in the kitchen as the young waitstaff politely distributed sizzling, sometimes frothing, fried eggs, menemen and plates of cucumbers, olives and cheese – a simple, honest breakfast for the neighborhood’s early birds and shopkeepers who were open on Sunday. A group of young Turkish students shuffled toward the back garden as two cops wiped their hands with wet wipes and got up to leave. As we looked around, it seemed that every table was either finishing up a big breakfast and paying, or just sitting down. The stage in between – the eating part – it would seem, lasts only minutes. This is not the sort of place where you laze around all morning reading your iPad; that would be very un-Beşiktaş.
We had a fine peynirli (cheese) menemen and a plate of kaymak, or clotted cream, drenched in honey that was quickly devoured without complaint, but the fried eggs with kavurma was the dish that really stood out. This straightforward combination of three eggs fried in butter and topped with small chunks of beef that had been cooked and then preserved in their own fat (in a rendering that reminded us of a hash) was simply exquisite. Fresh-squeezed orange juice, plenty of tea and fresh bread rounded out a meal in which nothing claimed to be artisanal, nor did it need to be. Just as at any good greasy-spoon diner, taste and good value trump all else at the breakfast table in Çakmak. As we paid the bill (just 15TL per person) and exchanged pleasantries on the way out, we realized the true source of Beşiktaş’s local pride: It’s not a soccer team, but a good, cheap breakfast.