The Black Sea area is Turkey’s culinary misfit; it’s not really about kebabs or mezes. If anything, the food—cornbread, collard greens, smoky bean stews—seems to have been mysteriously transplanted from the American Deep South. It’s simple, filling, down-home food, and Hayvore is a great—and affordable—spot to get acquainted with it.
Hayvore is the pride and joy of Hızır Bey, a shaggy-haired restaurateur who had previously been the driving force at another Black Sea restaurant but left after a disagreement with its owners, taking with him the kitchen’s A team, including the feisty old lady who prepares the Black Sea specialty dishes and the man working the pide oven. After Hızır’s departure, the quality at his previous restaurant took a turn for the worse and we were feeling a bit lost for a period.
Fittingly, in Laz, a language spoken only in the Black Sea highlands, “hayvore” means “I am here.” After a quick sampling of dishes we recognized from his old restaurant—chickpeas in a glowing red gravy, meaty stuffed chard leaves, large hunks of cornbread, Black Sea sardines lightly fried—we knew we’d be coming to Hayvore regularly. A rib-sticking stew made with kale, beans and hominy was earthy and smoky; if this weren’t Muslim Turkey, we’d swear someone had slipped a ham hock into the pot. Hayvore also serves up a fine version of kuru fasulye, creamy white beans cooked in a rich, buttery red sauce.
Free to run things as he sees fit, the friendly Hızır—usually found behind Hayvore’s steam table dressed in a white chef’s smock—has turned his small restaurant into a kind of shrine to the Black Sea region, with large photos on the walls of its rushing rivers and impossibly green mountains. On any given day, Hayvore has more than a dozen items bubbling away on the steam table, most of them typical regional dishes. A meal here is the easiest way to visit the Black Sea without leaving Istanbul.
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