It’s one of those brisk winter days in Istanbul, when the weather is just warm enough for a walk outside but cold enough that you’ll eventually want to cozy up in a café. So we set out for a stroll in Kuzguncuk, a laid-back neighborhood on the Asian side with plenty of inviting spots.
After a walk through the bostan (urban gardens), we head back to the main drag in search of a warm place to rest and refuel. Opposite a large Orthodox church, its bell tower piercing the cloudy sky, we catch sight of Pulat Çiftliği (Pulat Farm) housed in a beautifully restored three-story building. The name suggests some kind of organic grocery store, but as we step inside it quickly becomes clear that Pulat Çiftliği is much more than that.
A farm shop, café and restaurant all in one, Pulat Çiftliği has a homey and warm interior – just what we need to unwind and recharge. Across from the door, Yusuf is busy preparing espressos at the bar. He welcomes us with a bright smile while a young duo – a guitarist and a singer – play Turkish songs, making the atmosphere even more intimate. The soft lights and no-frills décor give us the impression that we have stumbled into someone’s personal dining room.
At the center of everything, chatting with the guitarist and smiling at customers, is Zeynep, the energetic, green-eyed mastermind behind this project. While she seems perfectly at ease in this role, Zeynep took a circuitous route to get here.
“I studied economics and used to work in the banking sector, but left that career when I had my kids,” she says. “Later on, I was desperate to find a job, something that I enjoyed doing and was passionate about.”
“My father,” continues Zeynep, pointing at a stencil portrait on the wall above her, “had this farm in Silivri. It was just a family farm, a small plot of land where I used to go as a kid. I started thinking of ways to operate it like a real farm, in a systematic way.”
With this goal in mind, Zeynep oversaw a more organized and planned cultivation of vegetables and legumes at the farm, along with the small-scale production of a few food products like preserves, erişte (a broad flat noodle made from wheat flour) and tomato paste. Not long after, she hired an agricultural engineer to expand production and take the business to the next level.
“We were selling our produce through the Internet at first, but as business picked up I began to feel the need to have a brick-and-mortar outlet to sell our products and interact with our customers. I wanted a place where anyone who comes to shop can also stay for a cup of tea or coffee,” explains Zeynep. “Kuzguncuk, one of my husband’s favorite places, seemed like the best area to open our store. It has the mahalle [neighborhood] vibe that makes you feel at home.”
She’s right about Kuzguncuk: the people are friendly, the small-scale buildings are colorful and charming, and the lush park surrounding the urban gardens is always teeming with old ladies chatting and kids playing. In fact, it was during a visit to this park that Zeynep happened to find her dream venue. “One day we were here with our kids and spotted this ancient house,” she says. “We peeked in the front door and met its former owner. He liked our project and after a while we convinced him to sell it. We got lucky.”
“This place is interconnected with our farm and our family.”
After opening as a store a little over two years ago, Pulat Çiftliği is now also a café and a restaurant, serving all kinds of delicacies from morning to night. “Most of the dishes we serve are made with our products, so you can try them and taste all the different ways to use them in your kitchen,” Zeynep says.
Not only is the menu a reflection of her family’s farm, but it also reveals the love of food passed down by her father. “This place is interconnected with our farm and our family,” she says. “I even called one of the dishes babamın köfte piyazi [“my dad’s köfte piyaz”] because we make this classic Turkish dish – meatballs with white bean salad – according to my dad’s special recipe, with a tahini twist.”
In fact, even without knowing this backstory, it’s clear that Pulat Çiftliği is all about family: the staff, most of whom have been here since day one, operates like one. Everyone we encounter has a warm and helpful demeanor, and they seem to take pride in working closely together to ensure excellent service.
Everything on the menu, from the rich, hearty breakfast items to the main courses, is made with love, with flavors that are simple yet surprisingly complex. A creative approach to the organic produce from the farm in Silviri results in unique and original dishes, like the pairing of pumpkin and küflü peynir (a Turkish version of blue cheese) on a pizza.
“The menu changes according to the season: you won’t find any eggplants or figs in winter,” says Zeynep. “Most dishes have been created by chef Burak Zafer Sırmaçekici, but we also take a lot of inspiration from our family trips abroad. Our signature pişi [a Turkish breakfast staple made of fried dough, sometimes stuffed with cheese or meat] are actually inspired by the panzerotti we tried in Milan at the famous Panificio Luini.”
Charmed by this interesting mix of influences, we decide to order the Pulat kebab. While it reminds us of hünkar beğendi – another classic Turkish-Ottoman dish in which stewed lamb is placed over a rich purée of eggplant – this Pulat Çiftliği specialty has a seasonal touch. The purée is made with the slightly tangy celery root, a winter vegetable that makes the final dish lighter.
We also get a plate of the erişte with sautéed seasonal vegetables, curious as we are to try some of the products made on the farm. What comes out is the ultimate comfort food. Plus, it’s something we could even recreate at home – close to the entrance, there’s a wall covered with goods from the farm, including erişte, lentils, beans and seasonal jams, all of it organic.
On our way out the door, we read a quote from Zeynep that’s been framed and hung on the wall: “Working on our farm and seeing its fruits helps me remember my father and feel closer to him. Sharing them makes everything much better.” The sentiment sums up our experience at Pulat Çiftliği – by sharing her fresh, organic bounty, Zeynep has effectively given us seats at her family’s table, even if just for one meal.
Join our “Born on the Bosphorus” walk to explore the small restaurants, artisanal food shops and local food makers in the fairytale neighborhood of Kuzguncuk.