Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Istiklal Caddesi means Independence Avenue. It's jammed with shops--Abercrombie and Fitch, Benetton, Starbucks--and fed by side streets, like an artery is fed by capillaries. There's a constant flow of people. Tourists and the leeches that feed off them predominate. You can't walk five feet without someone giving you a ingratiating smile and saying, "Welcome my friend. Come to my restaurant?" And if you accept you'll be assaulted with all kinds of Disneyesque kitsch--surly waiters in fezzes, for example. Luckily, I date a leftist Kurd who studiously avoids this kind of buffoonery. She pulled me right at one of the mosques, led me right past the Authentic Ottoman Cuisine in five different languages, and turned me down a narrow cobblestone sidestreet where, on the left, we walked through a door that had no sign of any kind. I thought it was someone's apartment. Inside was a sparse room with flowered curtains and a man scribbling out copies of a menu. He handed us one.

Everything is very do it yourself. You write your order, take it downstairs, hand it to the cooks ( very tall, lithe, red headed woman who is also the owner) and when your food is ready it rides up a little elevator and a bell rings. You get the plates, put them on your tray, gather up your silverware, napkins, and drinks and repair to the table. It reminds me of a dream my father used to have, of opening his own restaurant for ham and navy bean soup--it would have been a simple place, no waiters, no menus, no fuss, just home-cooked meals every day. He wanted the menu to be simple--cook one thing but cook it perfectly. Maybe have a side of corn bread, collards, and pepper sauce.

Anyway, the food is astounding--simple, fresh, hot. We order something called Meksika usullu patates, "Mexican product potatoes" to translate literally, but it was a light egg souffle with Montezuma spices and cheese. We also had karalahana dolamsi "Black Cabbage Rolls", but of course black cabbage looks exactly like collards to me so I am going to say "Collard Rolls" which are cooked collard leaves wrapped around a meat pilav and draped with a light coating of garlic yogurt sauce and red pepper oil.

We sat in a little enclave near the window and watched the rain drizzle down the panes. Yum.

No comments: