The upper-middle class residential neighborhood of Dikilitaş in Istanbul’s Beşiktas district is certainly pleasant enough, but is not a place we pass through very often and has few culinary attractions that we know of. So when we encountered Bay Köfte, a food truck churning out sandwiches one cannot find elsewhere in the city (or the country for that matter) we were intrigued instantly, and have since been back to Dikilitaş twice – this new street food favorite is sure to take us to the neighborhood much more often.
Forty-five-year-old Ferdi Yavuz has been working in the food industry in Istanbul for decades, including operating a previous food truck. His current truck, Bay Köfte, has been up and running in Dikilitaş for the past eleven years, featuring a concept that Yavuz developed himself. It combines the street food staples of grilled köfte (meatballs) or sucuk (spicy garlic sausage) with the impossibly gooey cheese that is used in the iconic Black Sea dish kuymak, a decadent mixture of string cheese, butter and cornmeal that is served for breakfast and can keep one full all day long.
“If one loves to improve themselves in their field, a dream world is created automatically, and this dream world pushes you forward toward certain places,” Yavuz told us, somewhat cryptically, when asked to explain the genesis of his culinary creation. “That was our starting point; [Black Sea] kuymak is famous and I wanted to combine it with bread, but if it was just kuymak it might have been too rich, so I added nine different roasted vegetables.” The heady cornucopia consists of onion, garlic, kapya red pepper, eggplant, potato, tomato, çarliston green pepper and red carrot. (The ninth is a secret, as are some of the spices he uses). The cheese and vegetables are all cooked and mixed together on the griddle, then served inside a loaf of bread. The butter and cheese Yavuz uses come exclusively from the Black Sea coastal city of Trabzon, famed for the quality of its dairy.
Yavuz is no stranger to the street food game, having first opened a truck in Istanbul in the nineties before working various jobs at school cafeterias and cafés, ultimately returning to cook inside his white camper-esque van. Having moved to Istanbul from the Of district of Trabzon as an infant, Yavuz was raised on the same street in Dikilitaş on which his truck is now located, so setting up shop anywhere else would have been out of the question.
“Since I grew up here, I chose to stay here. Elsewhere it wouldn’t have been as comfortable. This is our neighborhood and these are our people,” Yavuz explained, and it’s clear that he is well-known in the area and that most of his customers are regulars. His inventive combination of street flood staples and rich-yet-balanced Black Sea flavors have proved successful, and he says that out of ten visitors who try his sandwiches for the first time, eight or nine are won over. Bay Köfte represents a type of fusion generally only found in Turkey’s largest cities of Istanbul, Izmir and Ankara, where waves of migration from rural parts of Anatolia brought specific regional flavors which were eventually adapted to an urban format and sold on the street, often producing inventive and creative results that have contributed to the country’s deep, complex food culture.
On our first visit, we ordered a double portion, a massive serving of köfte and the savory cheese and roasted veggie sandwich. What we were able to eat was delicious, and the combination of freshly-baked bread, grilled meat, dense cheese, butter and roasted vegetables filled us up in no time – we ended up taking more than half of this behemoth to go, popping it in the oven hours later in the evening for a perfect late-night snack. Yavuz’s signature köfte is made from a mix of beef with a small amount of lamb which makes it softer, black pepper, cumin, and a third spice that he declined to reveal. Köfte is often made with breadcrumbs in the mix, but Yavuz is a purist and opts to use only meat and spices.
While the köfte was delicious and perfectly cooked, we really savored Yavuz’s sucuk, also handmade with a beef and spice mixture. On a return visit, we ordered a half-loaf with sucuk, and the sandwich was loaded to the gills with the garlicky sausage in generously-sliced chunks amid a mound of the thick, stringy, cheesy-roasted vegetable combo. The moment we saw the sandwich it was clear that it was not going to be finished in one sitting, and again we took half to go. It was equally scrumptious a couple hours later at room temperature, as the cheese had pleasantly congealed with the potent sausage, managing to avoid rendering the bread soggy. It was a great moment in leftovers.
Yavuz is open from noon until midnight, six days a week, and provides an essential service to the neighborhood and those coming from elsewhere, which is evident from the range of people that can be found crouching around small tables tucking in. There are younger couples, families, retirees taking orders to go, and football hooligans coming for a bite before or after a match, the area being a Beşiktaş stronghold.
Dikilitaş is now served by a metro station (the recently-opened Fulya stop on the M7 line) and Bay Köfte is just a short walk down the hill. And while it is now easier for us to access this delicious street food specialty, Yavuz tells us that due to his active presence on social media, which includes upwards of 9,000 followers on Instagram, he is also known throughout the world, with visitors from Turkey to the United States and Germany coming to Istanbul with Bay Köfte on their bucket lists. Dikilitaş, it appears, is now on the map.
Published on October 18, 2023