Sitting down for lunch at Çukurcuma Köftecisi is something like being a part of the live studio audience of a TV sitcom – with meatballs.
Plotline: Three generations of an unusually tall family run a busy local restaurant with what seems like very little service industry experience but great intentions and strong will. Hilarity ensues.
Characters: Mom is the kitchen talent deserving of the poofy chef’s toque she sports. Dad is the enforcer in the tank top and apron, known to flare up like the charcoal fire he tends (yes, that is a dagger tattooed on his forearm). The two sons are more interested in rock n’ rolling around the neighborhood on the delivery scooter than waiting tables. And grandpa in the fedora, from his post at the door, just wants to know who the hell took his last cigarette. Add a cast of quirky regulars and you’ve got a picture of what lunch is like here.
But there is nothing funny about the food at this down-home neighborhood eatery. We often find ourselves drawn in for an unplanned lunch by the restaurant’s siren song. From mom’s side of the kitchen there is always a soup cooked from scratch, sautéed vegetables and a hearty stew. Her revani, a semolina cake soaked in a sugary syrup, is so light and delicate it nearly crumbles at the nudge of a fork. If you want lamb chops or köfte, you will have to speak with dad who mans the grill. The köfte are meaty and charred up just the way we like them and served with a small salad, Turkish pilav and french-fries.
Saturday is fry-day and we try to arrive just around noon for the first batch. Mom’s kadınbudu köfte, battered and fried patties made out of ground meat and rice, are excellent, but the mücver (pronounced mooj-ver), zucchini fritters, are truly outstanding. When plating these unusually fluffy, almost omelet-like beauties, dad carefully pats each one with a spoon of garlicky yogurt and over that drizzles a bit of tomato sauce.
Tucked into the heart of Beyoglu’s antiques district, lunch at Çukurcuma Köftecisi is a perfect midday show: good cast, good food, and a punch line that everyone gets – a great lunch for less than ten dollars.
Address: Hacıoğlu Sokak 1/A, Çukurcuma, Beyoğlu
(photo by Monique Jaques)