Let’s face it: lahmacun is easy to get excited about. It checks all of the boxes of a perfect savory snack – crispy-oven fired crust, light and spicy meat spread, with a fresh green topping and a tangy spray from a lemon. It’s like an artisanal pizza with a Middle Eastern topping wrapped around a side salad – for the cost of a shoeshine.
How anyone could not love lahmacun is beyond us. Still, we hear they are out there. The only explanation is that they never had a really good one. Meaning they never set foot in Fıstık Kebap, the be-all and end-all lahmacun of Istanbul.
Located on the Bosphorus in the upmarket district of Arnavutköy, Fıstık has no use for the pretensions that its address may indicate. This is a down and dirty neighborhood kebab joint with a small seating area and a bustling delivery business. According to the overworked man at the oven, İbrahim Usta, more than 500 lahmacun pass over his paddle everyday. Fıstık also serves the usual kebab selection – Adana, Urfa, chicken – but the main attraction is the lahmacun.
We challenge those not so hot on lahmacun to resist oohing and ahhing as Ibrahim usta slides his paddle into the oven and fetches out a fresh one. The brick oven’s rage renders the crust a bubbled, crispy fantasy – charred here, still soft and pulsing like a soufflé there.
He’ll roll it into a wrap if you like or quarter it before plating it with a small salad for dressing. With a cold glass of şalgam, or fermented turnip juice, this quick bite is the perfect segue from lunch to dinner, or dinner to breakfast. İbrahim mans the oven until midnight.
Address: 1. Cadde No.40, Arnavutköy
(photo by Ansel Mullins)