Editor’s note: This feature is the first piece in a series covering locally owned neighborhood eateries that offer an alternative to the food courts and chain restaurants in Istanbul’s most popular shopping malls. We’ll be digging into the streets around Cevahir and Akmerkez malls next. Please send us your tips, anti-mallrats!
With the brutally forceful clearing of Gezi Park of its temporary inhabitants by Turkish police, the recent protests in Istanbul have lost the imposing physical presence that, incredibly, lasted for two weeks. These days, protestors are tossing ideas onto social media walls to see what might stick. To keep the resistance alive, we’ve been urged, via Facebook, to take part in all sorts of acts, passive and active, madcap and practical. But the one that really struck a chord with us is a campaign not to spend any money in shopping malls, not to even enter shopping malls, and to spend only what we must at small, local shops. Boycott the mall? Now, that’s a battle we’ve been waging since the late 1980s.
We feel for the local tailors and small health food markets that are threatened by the Gap and GNC, but our cause is in the food court, where Colonel Sanders is rattling his saber at the local eateries that have been feeding Istanbul neighborhoods for generations. To assist readers in resisting the temptation to stop in for a quick bite of fast food, we’ve spent the past week grazing in the side streets around a few of the city’s largest malls. We have good news to share: there is much to eat beyond the food court. We start with a guide to supporting the small esnaf (tradespeople) in the shadows of Demirören, the goliath mall on İstiklal Caddesi.
Lades and Lades 2
We regularly head to this pair of restaurants – located on a side street just across İstiklal from Demirören – which are run by two generations of the Çelikkol family. İlker Çelikkol recently explained his family business to us in light of the struggle in Gezi Park: “We have a struggle of our own: to resist fast food and lay claim to the cultural heritage that is our cuisine.”
Lades 2 – where eggs served sunnyside up are covered with one of many toppings (we go for kavurma, chunks of preserved beef, or sucuk, a sausage made pungent with garlic, sumac and cumin) and arrive in a scalding metal skillet, right off of the fire – is one of our go-to breakfast spots in this neighborhood. Though doughy Turkish white loaves are not our favorite, a small plate of honey drizzled over kaymak (clotted cream) is perfect for spooning up with the crusty ridge across the top of the loaf. We like to head over to Lades 2 in the early morning, when bleary-eyed akşamcılar and workers on the early shift share tables in hungry harmony.
The original Lades, just across the street from Lades 2, has a slightly classier feel to it, while the menu reads like an all-time greatest hits list of the esnaf lokantası tradition. We go through phases of rapture with certain weekly offerings, obsessively showing up early for lunch to make sure they don’t run out before we can get our order in. The döner (served Monday and Thursday only) is top-notch, stacked fresh by the butcher next door. We keep the tender roasted lamb with mashed potatoes as a backup plan, but lately, our enthusiasm has been focused on the mercimek yemeği, a typical lentil stew with carrots and thick şehriye noodles that is shockingly tasty here.
Beyoğlu Reyhan Lokantası
[Editor’s note: We regret to report that Beyoğlu Reyhan Lokantası has closed.]
We can’t recall the last time someone at Arby’s leaned over the counter and said, “You like that? It’s my mother’s recipe!” But that’s a big part of the charm at the home-style restaurant Beyoğlu Reyhan Lokantası, located two streets back from Demirören Mall. Indeed, it feels as if owner Saadet Kalu has transplanted her mother’s kitchen intact from Dersim (aka Tünceli, in eastern Turkey) to Beyoğlu. Cool, casual and open in the way we find many people from Dersim to be, Saadet broke down her business for us like this: “I am just cooking what I know, in the neighborhood where my friends and I live. My whole life is right here.” Her down-home warmth is apparent in her menu stocked with comfort food. From the day’s offerings, which included mantı, mücver and sautéed vegetables, we chose the special of karnıyarık with pilaf and a bowl of cool cacık, yogurt with chopped cucumbers. The eggplant vessel of the karnıyarık bulged with a spicy filling of ground beef shot through with red and green bell peppers, giving it a bite that beckoned for the cooling effect of the cacık. A perfect combo meal, super-sized by nature, at just 10 TL – that’s extra value in our book.
Fıccın’s flagship on Kallavi Sokak near Galatasaray is, by now, a well-established neighborhood favorite. For a glimpse of its humbler beginnings, we like to frequent its lesser-known but nonetheless delicious sister venue, Erra Goppa. From a long counter at the entrance, two ladies hurriedly plate the day’s offerings, cafeteria-style. But what’s coming out of this Caucasian-influenced kitchen is far better than any buffet we’ve ever seen. The famous Circassian mantı are usually on offer, along with seasonal vegetables in olive oil and a few soups. We recently had a wonderful corn and nettle soup and a plate of köfte baked with wedges of potato in a thin tomato gravy that left little room for one of the house specialties, haşhaşlı revani, a syrupy semolina cake covered with poppy seeds.
[Editor’s note: We regret to report that Üçüncü Mevki has closed.]
In Istanbul, the plight of the öğrenci, or student, is understood by most vendors. “C’mon, we’re students,” is a familiar bargaining mantra that applies to the purchase of a jean jacket, bus tickets and just about everything in between. No need to pull that routine at Üçüncü Mevki, a homey restaurant on a Beyoğlu backstreet, where everyone benefits from generous portions and a built-in student discount. A meal at Üçüncü Mevki usually doesn’t last longer than 15 minutes or cost more than 15 TL.
Like Clark Kent hiding his Superman tights beneath a brown suit and glasses, Klemuri maintains the appearance of a predictable Beyoğlu café – wooden tables, shelves loaded with knickknacks, Buena Vista Social Club on the stereo, spinach crepes and a crispy chicken salad on the menu. But down in the kitchen, out of public view, Klemuri’s alter ego – a spry Laz cook – is waiting to save you from another boring “café” lunch.
We previously wrote about the demise of İnci Pastanesi and now we are happy to report on its resurrection. Though İnci’s old home in the Circle D’Orient building on İstiklal is currently being destroyed to make way for yet another shopping mall, İnci is still spooning out its famous profiteroles bathed in chocolate goop at its new location. But if you instead prefer to satisfy your sweet tooth on the go, swing by Beyoğlu Çikolatacısı on İstiklal for a chunk of dark chocolate loaded with hazelnuts.