Editor’s note: To give 2015 a proper send-off, we’re taking a look back at all our favorite eating experiences this year.
The nohut dürüm, a simple wrap of mashed chickpeas, peppers, parsley and spices, may be a popular breakfast choice in certain districts of the southeastern province of Gaziantep, but we’ll eat it anytime and are prepared to travel far and wide to do so, as this treat is by no means common in Istanbul. Hamo’nun Yeri is located in Güngören, a densely packed working-class district located well outside the radar of tourists and more affluent Istanbulites. Made with bread hot out of the oven from the family’s bakery down the block, the dürüm – and a chat with the friendly Gül brothers – is more than worth the trip.
Meşhur Öz Suruç
Grillhouses serving scrumptious skewers of kebab are found everywhere in Istanbul, but a cluster of restaurants in the Yenibosna quarter all serving the specialties of the southeastern province of Urfa offer perhaps the best bang for one’s buck in the city. At Meşhur Öz Suruç, the oldest and best of these establishments, two people can order an assortment of these skewers, served alongside numerous freebies, including yogurt soup, salad and smoked eggplant puree, and can still walk out the door paying less than TL 35. Get any combination you like, but do not leave without trying the liver. Using only the freshest lamb’s liver purchased that day, the grill masters at Öz Suruç fire up a sublime rendition of an Urfa staple that makes it worth braving the legendarily hectic Metrobüs.
Over the last couple of years, as war in Syria has pushed wave after wave of refugees through Istanbul, Syrian food has moved from a novelty to a staple in our diet. The first outposts of Syrian cuisine, the now ubiquitous shawarma and chicken “brosted” joints, are now competing with a few full-on restaurants that offer a wide choice of mezes, produce their own sweets and feature some more esoteric lunch specials. It was at the newly opened second branch of Salloura, whose roots go back four generations in the city of Hama, that we tasted kibbeh safarjaliyeh, one of the best dishes we can remember this year.
Before the Salloura family fled Syria as refugees, they were primarily in the trade of sweets specific to Hama, but as Istanbul has become a pan-Syrian destination, so has the kitchen of Salloura.
Kibbeh safarjaliyeh, a stew of meatballs and quince, hails from the Aleppo region. With its sweet/savory flavors from fruit and lamb, it’s the kind of dish that most Turkish diners would describe as “Osmanlı,” or Ottoman – a taste of the palace kitchens. Dishes in this category are recreated in a number of opulent “Palace” restaurants around town, and perhaps more authentically at Çiya. But kibbeh safarjaliyeh here at Salloura, stripped of any imperial pretentions and served as one of a few hot stewed dishes for lunch, felt much more like the real thing than we’ve ever had, an Ottoman missing link.
It was as typical as it was delicious. The roasted meatballs were firm and pleasantly grainy with fine bulgur, bobbing alongside quince cooked to a much softer point in thin gravy that smacked of pomegranate molasses and mint as a rich meaty flavor set in. There was a balance between the two that our waiter from Aleppo promised was “not easy” to achieve. Mopping up the remaining sauce with thin rounds of Syrian-style pita, we were struck by how unusual the dish – in fact, the whole lunch – was here in Istanbul. Whether this displaced community will set deeper roots here or move on, nobody knows. We do hope that Istanbul, a refuge for now, will take note of some of the Syrian contributions like this kibbeh safarjaliyeh. We certainly have.
Meşhur Tarihi Kalkanoğlu Pilavcısı
The creamy Black Sea-style beans at Kalkanoğlu have improved over the last year, reaching an ideal soft-but-not-mushy consistency nearly every time we’ve been recently. The pilav is as buttery as ever and the house-made kavurma (meat rendered in its own fat) beefiness ratchets that richness almost to the breaking point, at which time a cool, sour pickled leaf of cabbage or a hot little sport pepper brings you back from the ledge. The combo platter at Kalkanoğlu is best when half of the plate is filled with beans and the other half is pilav covered almost entirely by shreds of kavurma, and we’ve hit this jackpot several times this year. Our love affair with kuru fasulye, this one in particular, is more like a marriage well past the honeymoon stage. As much as we’ve come to rely on these beans, we try not to take them for granted. At lunchtime, at least, they still complete us.
(photos, from top, by Ansel Mullins, Paul Osterlund, Ansel Mullins and Rachel Davidson)
Fehmi Özsüt’s kaymak occupies the food fantasy part of our brain more often than is healthy. Luckily, come winter, you need high-grade fuel to power you through the blustery Istanbul streets, and kaymak is a luxurious solution. Duck into the century-old Karaköy shop for a hearty, silken portion of Fehmi’s famous clotted buffalo milk cream, draped with golden honey and served alongside crusty white bread. In true farm-to-table fashion, Fehmi raises his own herd of water buffaloes and transports fresh milk every few days from the countryside to the hungry metropolis. If you’re lucky, Fehmi will be around to offer you a dish of his mom’s homemade preserves – the glossy, perfumed rose petal is our favorite.