buryanBüryan kebab being served in SiirtThis article first appeared in Sunday's Zaman on 14 March 2010


Over the last twenty years İstanbul has grown enormously. A city that had at the time of the Ottoman Conquest in 1453 a population of around 60,000 is now bursting at the seams under the strain of perhaps 16 million residents, with its furthest reaches now sprawling almost all the way to Tekirdağ on the European side and Kocaeli (İzmit) on the Anatolian side. Flooding in the western suburbs in 2009 highlighted some of the problems this speedy growth has created, but there are also undoubted benefits, one of which is that now more than ever it’s possible to eat your way around Turkey without ever leaving the metropolis as more and more new restaurants open to dish up mother’s cooking to the homesick.

Some parts of the city have a particularly heavy local character reflected in their eateries. Typical examples include “Little Siirt” in the shadow of the Aqueduct of Valens, and “Little Urfa” around the Aksaray transport interchange. There’s also a strong Hatay presence around Aksaray, while Fener and Balat have many residents whose families originally hailed from Kastamonu and the Black Sea.

So here, without further ado, are just a few of the tasty regional treats awaiting you on a culinary tour of İstanbul. For more on all aspects of eating in İstanbul see the excellent istanbuleats.com website. 

Siirt - büryan kebab and perde pilav

Twenty years ago it was a grungy area known for a livestock market and some rather dicey butchers’ shops. Now the Kadınlar Pazarı, otherwise known as Little Siirt, immediately in front of the Aqueduct of Valens as you head up Atatürk Bulvarı from the Golden Horn, is the best place in town to eat büryan kebab, one of a set of pit-baked meats (think tandir kebab and kuyu kebab) that are always delectably tasty. In Little Siirt they fire up the ovens early, and you’re best advised to head there around lunch-time when the meat is at its best – avoid Fridays when so many people flock in after prayers that you’ll be pushed to find a table.

Büryan kebab is served on a bed of pide and washed down with foaming fresh ayran (yoghurt drink). The best accompaniment is a helping of crispy perde pilav (“veiled rice”), which is baked in a fez-shaped container and comes out shot through with shredded chicken, currants and almonds.

Incidentally, the Kadınlar Pazarı is also a great place to shop for such culinary curiosities as tandir ekmeği (doughnuts of dried bread that need rehydrating before eating), Van otlu peyniri, a white cheese speckled with herbs, and lots and lots of super-fresh honey.

Siirt Şeref, İtfaiye Caddesi No. 4, Tel: 0212-635 8085, www.serefburyan.com

Hatay - tuzda pilav and künefe

The cuisine of the Hatay corner of Turkey is influenced by Syria and the Middle East so if you visit the Hatay restaurants around Aksaray you’ll be in for some great surprises including warm humus topped with slithers of pastırma (pastrami). At the Hatay Akdeniz Sofrası the biggest treat has to be chicken or lamb cooked inside a case of salt which is sliced open at the table with great ceremony. Be warned that it’s a treat that must be ordered in advance – two hours ahead in the case of chicken, a day ahead in the case of lamb. You also need a group of three diners for chicken, even more for lamb.

The Hatay’s other great gift to Turkish cuisine is künefe, the mouth-watering dessert made up of crispy grilled shredded wheat wrapped round a melt-in-the-mouth helping of soft cheese, with copious quantities of syrup dribbled over the top. Eat it with cream at the Khorasani Restaurant in Sultanahmet and you’ll be in seventh heaven.

Hatay Akdeniz Sofrası, Ahmediye Caddesi No. 44/A, Vatan Hastanesi Karşısı, Aksaray, Tel: 0212-531 3333

Khorasani Restaurant, Ticarethane Sokak No. 39-41, Tel: 0212-519 5959,


biberŞanlıurfa and Diyarbakır - ciğer and mırra kahvesi

If Hatay food is not your scene, Aksaray is also a great place to dine Şanlıurfa and Diyarbakır style. On summer nights in Urfa the main drag is lined with low tables and tiny wooden stools on which sit local men tucking into generous helpings of freshly-grilled ciğer (lamb’s liver) served on skewers with lashings of greenery. There are plenty of places to emulate the experience in Aksaray, although Canım Ciğerim in Asmalımescit is also renowned for its liver – watch out for the skewers with neat lamb’s fat that come bundled up with it.

Afterwards you can round off the evening with a gulp of mırra kahvesi (mırra coffee), an Urfa and Mardin super-strong take on Turkish coffee that is brewed and rebrewed before being served with elaborate ceremony. Down it in three sips but don’t put the cup on the table afterwards or you might find yourself expected to pay a forfeit – a cup’s worth of gold, or the cost of the waiter’s wedding.

Mırra Urfa Sofrası, Muratpaşa Sokak No. 29, Yusufpaşa, Tel: 0212-532 7432

Canım Ciğerim,Minare Sokak No. 1, Asmalımescit, Tel: 0212-252 6060

Ehli Kebap ve Ciğer Diyarbakır, Simitçi Şakır Sokak No. 32, Aksaray, Tel: 0212-631 3700

Mersintantuni and şalgam

Everyone is familiar with döner kebab in all its assorted manifestations. Tantuni, however, tends to get less of a look in, although around Mersin and Adana it’s the snack food of choice. Finely-chopped snippets of beef are stir-fried with water, oil, onions, tomatoes and herbs, then stuffed into a half loaf of bread or wrapped in paper-thin lavaş bread. Ideally you down it with bitter şalgam, the turnip-and-black-carrot juice taste sensation that can be acquired from the pickle stalls down on the Eminönü waterfront.

Emine Ana Sofrası, Sıraselviler Caddesi , Billurcu Sokak No. 5/A, Beyoğlu, Tel: 0212-292 8430

Bursa – İskender kebab

It’s so ubiquitous that it’s easy to forget that İskender kebap was in origin a Bursa specialty, supposedly created when the eponymous İskender stabbed his sword into the ground, then loaded it with meat so that he could grill it while slowly revolving it and so reduce the risk of charring. After adding a dollop of yoghurt plus tomato sauce and a hot butter sauce, and laying slithers of the meat on pide bread, he had the makings of a dish that is now one of the greatest pleasures of Turkish cuisine. Try it at the Süslü Karakol in Beşiktaş for the authentic Bursa experience.

Kebapçı İskender, Süslü Karakol, Yıldız Yolu No. 6, Ihlamur, Beşiktaş, Tel: 0212-236 5571

Rize – karalahana çorbası and hamsi

Fewer places in İstanbul serve the cabbage-heavy cuisine of the eastern Black Sea region, but on Fevzi Paşa Caddesi, the main road through Fatih, Kömür Loantası dishes up hefty helpings of stuffed cabbage leaves and cabbage soup to appreciative diners. This is also a great place to come to eat crispy, crunchy hamsi tava (fried anchovies), a wonderful winter treat.

Kömür Lokantası, Fevzi Paşa Caddesi No. 18, Fatih, Tel: 0212-631 4004


If you want to make a lonely Kayserili’s eyes water, just mutter the word mantı to them. These tiny pasta packets enclosing minuscule morsels of meat are usually doused in a garlicky yoghurt sauce or a thick home-made tomato sauce. They’re often called the Turkish ravioli although you could as easily describe them as Turkish dumplings. Really they’re a dish unto themself.

Hala,İstiklal Caddesi No 137/A, Beyoğlu, Tel: 0212-292 7004

Gazianteppistachio baklava

Whatever your choice of starter and main course you’re bound to want to finish up your meal with a helping of baklava, the cigarette-paper-thin, multi-layered pastry that reaches its apotheosis when stuffed with some of the pistachios for which Antep in the south-east is famed. Most restaurants worth their salt serve baklava, but for the finest of all head straight for Güllüoğlu in Karaköy where they still use a recipe dating back to the 1870s.

Karaköy Güllüoğlu, Rıhtım Caddesi, Tel: 0212- 293 0910, www.karakoygulloglu.com

This article first appeared in tasteAnatolia in December 2007

The Istanbul Cake-walk

These days you can hardly move in Istanbul for branches of Starbucks and Caffe Nero where you can tuck into exactly the same cheesecakes and brownies as at home. But delve a little deeper and you can still find many one-off cake shops with a uniquely Turkish feel to them. Some have proud pedigrees dating back to the days when a true patisserie (pastane in Turkish) was still a novelty in a town dominated by puddings shops. Others are more contemporary. But all can be depended on to offer a choice of kuru pasta (biscuity cakes) and yaş pasta (gooey cakes) alongside a mouth-watering array of savoury pastries, milk puddings and exquisite hand-made chocolates to put Thorntons in the shade.


Recently relocated when its home in the Emek building was taken over, İnci (Pearl), which is famous for just one type of cake – profiteroles. All day long these are stacked up on the counter in ready-to-go bowls and in summer, eaters spill over onto the pavement outside.

Mis Sokak No. 18, off İstiklal Caddesi, Tel: 0212-293 9224

Divan Pastanesi

The undisputed queen of the İstanbul patisserie scene has to be the Divan Pastanesi attached to the Divan Hotel on Cumhuriyet Caddesi. Here the cakes come covered in hand-made chocolate so dark and shiny that it glimmers like steel, and finished off with frills and furbelows spun out of yet more chocolate. Should that be too much for you, you could try a mekik, a sponge-like cake dotted with cherries, or an ayçöreği, a crescent-shaped pastry studded with almonds. Alternatively there are sampler plates of petit-fours or sweet and savoury biscuits to give you a taste of what else is on offer.

Cumhuriyet Caddesi No. 2, Elmadağ, Tel: 0212-315 5500

Gezi İstanbul Patisserie

A short walk away from the Divan, the Gezi Patisserie has a great location  with an outside deck right beside the old Atatürk Cultural Centre at the Taksim end of İnönü (Gümüşsuyu) Caddesi. Its cheesecakes layer sponge and cream to produce something much less heavy than you might expect, and its fruit tartlets are a delight. Other treats on offer include crunchy macaroons, home-made chocolate, and silver and gold-coloured sugared almonds.

İnönü Caddesi No. 5, Taksim, Tel: 0212-292 5353

Bahar Pastanesi

One of the prime places to shop on the European side of Istanbul is Teşvikiye, where the windows of the quaint little Bahar patisserie show off trays of home-made chocolates wrapped in brightly-coloured silver foil and draped with artificial flowers. Unfortunately the cakes must all be taken home to savour. Those that walk most quickly off the shelf include Marrons Glacés, which are chestnuts wrapped in chocolate and dipped into ground pistachios. The chocolate-flavoured macaroons don't sit around for long either.

Teşvikiye Caddesi No, 65, Teşvikiye, Tel: 0212-240 5770

griyeBaylan Pastanesi

Of course cake-eating is hardly a pastime confined to the European side of the city, and what the late lamented Markiz was to Beyoğlu in the 1940s, the Baylan was to Kadıköy – a place where the left-wing intelligentsia hung out to discuss the burning issues of the day over a cup of tea and a pastry. The Baylan still hangs onto its original façade and a leafy courtyard at the back, but today people pour through its doors to sample a more recent invention, the Kup Griye, a delectable ice-cream sundae made from vanilla ice cream, caramel sauce, toasted almonds, pistachios and crème chantilly.

Muvakkıthane Caddesi No. 19, Kadıköy, Tel: 0216-346 6350


On the Asian side of town the main shopping centre is Bağdat Caddesi which is liberally sprinkled with cake shops. Here you'll find a branch of Pelit, a small chain of patisseries that has been in business for more than 50 years. The Caddebostan branch specialises in ekpas, cakes that look like giant chocolate éclairs for between four and ten people, and wonderful gingerbread biscuits that come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, such as bibs, prams, crocodiles and footballs.

Bağdat Caddesi No. 185/A, Göztepe, Tel: 0216-358 2024

Savoy Patisserie and Çiğdem Pastanesi

Apart from the big-name cake shops, Istanbul also harbours plenty of local patisseries. Everyone will have their own favourite but two especially popular choices are the Savoy in Cihangir and the Çiğdem (Crocus) in Sultanahmet. The Savoy has a mouth-watering array of mini eclairs and tiny fruit tarts alongside a choice of designer birthday cakes and all sorts of stuffed pastries. The Çiğdem has an even better choice of cakes, including jam-filled confections reminiscent of the traffic-light cakes of my childhood, and tarts piled so high with strawberries and cream that it's hard to cut into them without risking a sticky accident.

Sıraselviler Caddesi No. 181-83, Cihangir, Tel: 0212-249 1818

Ciğdem Patisserie, Divanyolu No. 62/A, Sultanahmet, Tel: 0212-526 8859

Café Wien

There are also a couple of patisseries which play on nostalgia for Europe. Should you fancy a genuine Austrian sacher torte, for example, then Café Wien can deliver the goods, albeit in disappointingly utilitarian surroundings. Prefer something French-flavoured? Then the assorted branches of Paul dotted about the city can be relied on to deliver truly Parisian gateaux and éclairs always assuming that you can drag your eyes away from the delectable loaves of bread on display in the windows.

Reasürans Pasaj No. 62, off Abdi İpekçi Caddesi, Teşvikiye, Tel: 0212-233 7860

Paul - Etiler, Bebek, Nişantaşı, Kemerburgaz, Büyükada

Café Değirmen

At the end of all this cake-sampling, which was the patisserie that most won the heart of this long-suffering writer? Well, the prize has to go to Café Değirmen, a small chain of cake shops which, with remarkably little fanfare, serves up the most scrumptious, delectable, moreish cheesecake in town. There are branches in several of the big shopping malls. 

Bağdat Caddesi No. 223, Çiftehavuzlar, Tel: 0216-369 5069



















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