Istanbul’s T1 tramway is relatively pleasant if you can find a seat, but borders on unbearable if you are on your feet.
Back in 2015, we wrote about a trip we took from the line’s first stop all the way to one of its last, which lies way out in the district of Güngören. By the time the tram has made it to this point, it begins to perplexingly share a lane with traffic, voiding the whole point of this type of public transportation.
On one recent weekday evening, we found ourselves standing in a rather contorted position on the beyond-crammed train, a price we were willing to pay for a trip to one of our favorite culinary hotspots. The journey took over an hour. It was well worth it.
Up the hill from the stop is Güngören’s Köyiçi neighborhood, also known as “Little Antep” due to its concentration of restaurants and shops serving and selling the specialties and products from Turkey’s culinary capital, Gaziantep. Since discovering this gem in 2015, we’ve happily reported on the oven-baked kebab delicacies from Hizmet Kardeşler and Hamo’nun Yeri’s exquisite nohut dürümü, a perfect mélange of fresh, piping hot chickpeas, parsley, pepper and spices wrapped in the freshest, softest flatbread sourced from the same family’s bakery a few doors down.
Somehow Little Antep’s most famous outpost, Bağdat Ocakbaşı, managed to elude us on our initial visits – though there are a number of fantastic eateries in the area, this is by far the most popular spot. The iconic establishment attracts diners from throughout the city who come for the impeccable quality of the kebabs, the warm, attentive service and the wallet-friendly prices. We realized it was due time to step up to what acclaimed Turkish food critic Vedat Milor once christened the grill house of his dreams.
And thus we endured the painstaking commute in order to reach what is by no means an easily accessible area. Even after de-boarding the tram, one must ascend the hill on which Little Antep is perched by foot. Alas, this is not convenient dining. This is a pilgrimage, and we have paid our respects in advance.
It was so good that we didn’t feel the need to modify it with the impressive display of spices lying in front of us.
Bağdat Ocakbaşı was opened in 2001 by the Çetin brothers, who, of course, hail from Antep. Eventually Bekir Çetin left to open his own shop, Kebapçı Çetin Usta, another acclaimed Güngören grill house. Çetin’s older brother Cezayir still runs the show here, hence the full name: Bağdat Ocakbaşı Cezayir’in Yeri.
Setting foot into the crowded dining room, we saw a counter occupied by a regime of fresh çiğ köfte alongside a platter of içli köƒte straight out of the oven and flanked by a tray of refreshing, tangy tin cups of açık ayran. The place was packed with hungry kebab enthusiasts tucking into their dürüm. We knew we had arrived at the kind of place worth braving long commutes.
We began by sharing a bulging içli köfte and ordered a dalak and an Adana dürüm. Dalak is spleen and tasted exactly like one would expect grilled spleen would. We recommend this as an option to those not afraid to tangle with less-celebrated cuts. The Adana dürüm, on the other hand, was proclaimed by our dining buddy – no rookie to the kebab game – as the best he’s ever had. Served on a fresh slice of tırnaklı ekmek and dressed simply with chopped scallions and tomatoes, the meat was sublimely juicy with just the right levels of fat and spice. It was so good that we didn’t feel the need to modify it with the impressive display of spices lying in front of us in five rotund metal containers. (Salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes, cumin and sumac, for the record.)
Bağdat Oçakbaşı is so popular that they opened up another branch around the corner even though their main location can already seat dozens of hungry customers. For our two dürüm, içli köfte and four açık ayran plus a fantastic künefe that we split for dessert, our bill came to 40 lira ($10). The service, like that of our other area favorites, is impeccable and inviting.
On the return trip, we were able to snag seats on the T1, which had emptied out at the late evening hour. Our stomachs full and our taste buds still tingling from the Adana, we made the slow crawl back toward the city center, already anticipating our next visit to Little Antep.