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“No Reservations” in Istanbul: Our Take

Several readers have written in asking for our thoughts on the recently-aired episode [1] of Anthony Bourdain’s show “No Reservations,” which was devoted to the food of Istanbul. After working our way around Turkey’s ban on YouTube, we finally were able to watch the very fun episode.

So what about the spots that Bourdain visited? Of course, we heartily agreed with his ringing endorsement of Dürümzade [2] – one of our all-time favorites – and their stellar wraps and of Kızılkayalar [3], home of the mesmerizingly delicious “wet burgers.” We have never been to Kale Café, the Bosphorus-side breakfast spot that Bourdain visited, but it doesn’t take a fool to realize that any place that serves kaymak with steaming fresh lavaş is doing van_kahvalti_evisomething really right. Of course, when it comes to the morning repast, we are still firm believers in the glory of the breakfast spread laid out at Cihangir’s Van Kahvaltı Evi [4] (on left).

We enjoyed seeing Bourdain go to upscale Nişantaşı to eat lahmacun served by men in tuxedo vests. He obviously loved what he ate, but next time we suggest Bourdain try the lahmacun at İsmail Kebapçısı [5], a more humble spot in the slightly scruffy Tophane neighborhood that serves the genuine article. And we were very happy to see Bourdain make it to Fatih’s Kadınlar Pazarı for a taste of büryan kebab, lamb slow-cooked in a pit. Sur Ocakbaşı, the spot he went to, is very good, but we are also big fans of Siirt Şeref Büryan Kebab [6], a place across the way that serves superb büryan and exquisite perde pilavı, a dish made out of chicken and fragrant rice baked inside a pastry shell.

We weren’t sure what to make of Bourdain’s visit to Asitane, an elegant restaurant near Istanbul’s old city walls that serves recreations of Ottoman court dishes. Actually, we’ve never been sure what to make of Asitane: it has a beautiful dining room and garden, a great location next door to what is Istanbul’s finest Byzantine church and what looks like, at least on paper, a fantastic menu. The problem is that, as much as we’ve wanted to like the place, we’ve never had a great meal there. On our most recent visit there we even tried the same dish Bourdain ate, aromatic minced meat served inside a hollowed out melon (the menu promised it would be served inside a kind of squash). The idea of the meat and fruit working together ciyaseemed intriguing, but in practice the dish was more evocative of the health plate at an American diner than the Ottoman court. Perhaps we should give Asitane another try. For our money, the food at the Asian side’s Çiya [7] (left), which frequently serves superb dishes that feature the interplay between meat and fruit, can’t be beat.

Ultimately, the strongest impression that we took away from the show was that Bourdain clearly caught the same food bug (in the most positive sense of the word) that gripped us several years back. To paraphrase what the globetrotting celebrity chef said at end of the show, the monuments and historical sites of Istanbul are wonderful, but the best way to discover the city is through its food – which happens to be the message that we try to send with Istanbul Eats.

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