By Laura McCabe
After overpaying for dinner on the Bosphorus once too often, I decided my next destination would be anywhere but the packed, noisy streets of the principal Taksim or Sultanahmet districts. I was ready to eat, and eat well. I wanted to find the best little hole-in-the wall restaurants, and dine with the locals.
I succeeded: I filled my belly with traditional dishes at Doyuran in the seaside neighborhood of Kumkapı; drank çay and devoured my meal at Pedaliza near the labyrinthine Grand Bazaar; and capped off a sunny day with more baklava than I thought I could ever eat at Karaköy Güllüoğlu.
With a local friend as translator and guide, I hopped off the tram at Sultanahmet and began to walk past the usual tourist haunts of the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, toward the waterside district of Kumkapı. Once we’d left the hordes behind, Istanbul began to look like a different city. The streets were narrow, and quiet. We saw laundry hanging out to dry, and children playing in the street. Old men ate honeydew melon on dusty street corners. I knew I was going the right way.
Doyuran is tucked into a wall, between shops. Little tables sat just outside of the open glass panels. I took a seat on the second floor, at a cozy table by an open window. I ordered a little bit of everything, or az, as they say in Turkish. I had heard good things from the locals about this joint, and it delivered.
Bowls began floating up the little stairwell in the arms of a young man, the son of the owner. Ayran, a yogurt drink, was handed out, and a a smorgasbord of delectable dishes followed. We were served traditional stuffed grape leaves, spinach and rice, and green beans with potatoes. My favorite dish was the fırında tavuk, a savory combination of baked chicken and potatoes — so tender, moist, and delicious that it was gone before I knew it.
After I had cleaned my plate I used the soft and flaky ekmek, bread, to soak up the red sauce the chicken had left behind. For desert the waiters brought out firinda sutlac, a cold rice pudding, and possibly one of the most delicious things I have ever dug a spoon into.
So why is this particular place so darn good?
“Whenever your mother cooks it…it’s always better,” said our waiter, smiling and taking a drag from his cigarette. “My mother prepares all the dishes.” His father, Musa Ergenc, is the only other person who knows the family recipes, and how to prepare them with the same amount of love as the master chef, his wife. The restaurant has been serving family favorites to locals here since 2003.
I wish we could experience such Turkish hospitality more often back in the states. We left with hugs, kisses, and very full bellies. Doyuran means “satisfied!”
Address: Ordekli Bakkal Sok. 10, Kumkapı
Telephone (90) 212-458-26-37
Next I headed for a place that seemed unlikely to attract locals: The Grand Bazaar. After several afternoons laughing and talking over çay within the velvet, bronze, and copper-covered walls of an antique shop, I had gained two new friends: the owner, Murat Silir, and his son Sayat. They were determined to take me to their favorite restaurant, buried within the tricky passages of the Bazaar.
“You will never find this place on your own,” Sayat warned. I followed him through twists and turns until we popped into a little outdoor area. There, just beyond reach of the craziness of all the wheeling and dealing at the shops, was a little restaurant with a red and white striped canvas awning, and plastic cherry red seats out front.
Pedaliza has been serving up piping-hot plates of traditional food to locals for more than 11 years. Again, I ordered a little bit of everything, and received two heaping plates of food: a giant fried meatball stuffed with rice called içli kofte; stuffed grape leaves with a hint of mint, turkey and rice that tasted of nutmeg; and beef steak with peppers and onions. My favorite dish was the kornıyarık, a whole eggplant cut in half, baked and stuffed with ground meat and spices. It melted in my mouth. For desert Sayat ordered us şekerpare , a kind of doughnut soaked in a hazelnut syrup. Mmmm.
“This is the one to go to!” Sayat advised us – singling it out from the other restaurants around the bazaar. We appreciated being let in on his secret.
Pedaliza Café Restaurant
Located in the Grand Bazaar’s Cebeci Han Courtyard
Yağlıkçılar Caddesi Cebeci Han No. 55
(0212) 527 45 82
Everyone has a passion for something. Mine is for sweets. If you’re like me, and will scour a new city to satisfy your sugar craving, go to Karaköy Güllüoğlu. When I asked the locals to name their favorite sweet shop, they all suggested this one.
The shop is located near the tram stop in Karaköy, and boasts the best baklava in town. Here they say that “well-cooked baklava shines like gold.” Karaköy Güllüoğlu has been baking the sticky sweet since 1949 — so you’d better believe they do it right.
We saw rows upon rows of the trays of baklava in brightly-lit cases. All I had to do was point to one and smile, and the servers would place the flaky finger food on my plate. After sampling seven different types, my mouth was parched, and my craving satisfied.
Address: Mumhane Street 171, Karaköy
Telephone: (90) 212-293-09-10