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Mar 19
Reviews (Eats)
Asuman: East of the Border

Considering the fact that Iran is a next door neighbor to Turkey and that so many Iranians call Istanbul home, we’ve always found it more than a bit baffling that there are hardly any Iranian restaurants in the city. Imagine New York with all but a handful of Mexican restaurants? The one Iranian restaurant in town that we did know about – a tourist-oriented place with an in-house musician who played “Hava Nagila” on his zither – mercifully closed down years ago.

Several months back, though, we caught sight of a sign by the side of the road in Persian script. Intrigued, we looked closer and realized that it belonged to a restaurant called Asuman, run by a nearby travel agency with the same name that specializes in trips to Iran.

Asuman’s location – just on the edge of the Laleli neighborhood, a wholesale clothing district where many Iranians come to shop, and of Aksaray, a district popular with migrants – seemed to indicate that this might be a place that serves homesick Iranians, rather than gawking tourists.

With visions of steaming, saffron-infused rice pilafs filling our heads, we recently returned to Asuman to try things out. After climbing a short set of stairs, we entered a small, fluorescent-lit dining room that overlooks Ataturk Boulevard, a busy thoroughfare that runs through the heart of the area. The room was decorated in a style that hovered somewhere between tacky and elegant, with light green tablecloths on the tables and chairs upholstered in brown fake leather. There was no zither player, although Persian music was playing in the background.

The one-year-old restaurant, we found out, has a chef from the northern Iranian city of Tabriz. Most of its business involves catering private functions for Istanbul’s Iranian expat community (the previous night, they prepared food for an engagement party with 200 people).

The menu, meanwhile, was short and to the point. A few soups, kebabs, pilafs and stews – a kind of Iranian greatest hits collection. We decided to skip the kebabs and go for some of the other dishes on the menu, starting off with a refreshing cold yogurt-cucumber soup that was topped with chopped walnuts and golden raisins. That was followed by khorost gheymeh, a tomato-based stew made with yellow split peas (and, somewhat incongruously, topped with crinkle cut French fries), and ghormeh sabzi, a stew made with chopped greens and kidney beans. Both dishes (15 lira each) had a dark orb swimming in the middle – a preserved lemon, it turned out – which gave the stews a funky, but pleasant musty hint.

Along with the rib-sticking stews, we also ordered two pilafs – one topped with chopped pistachios, barberries (red currant-like dried berries with a piquant taste) and a crown of vivid yellow saffron-colored rice, and another that was infused with dill and fava beans. Both were very tasty. Stuffed to the gills, we finished off our meal with a glass of strong tea.

The search for more Iranian spots will continue. For now – until we can find another one – we declare Asuman our favorite Iranian restaurant in Istanbul.

Address: Atatürk Bulvarı 158, Aksaray
Telephone: 212-511-2737

(photo by Yigal Schleifer)

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9 Responses to “ Asuman: East of the Border ”
  1. Nat in Bulgaria

    Mar 20, 2010

    It’s funny because there are only a handful of real mexican restaurants in NYC… mostly Dominican, Cuban and Central American, but besides a few neighborhoods NYC is low on real Mexican food.

    Love your blog! Coming to Istanbul in April, definitely plan on hitting up your finds.


  2. moe.hamadah

    Mar 21, 2010

    this is awesome
    i’ll be in istanboul in june home to see u there

  3. iran yemegi harikaa

  4. i am from berlin. thanks for the advice. i will check it out today. best persian resto i personally know is in NYC, 39th west, Colbeh. 🙂

  5. Great news! Been craving Persian food for a long time! It seems they have Baghali Polo (the rice with dill and fava beans)! Awesome! 🙂 by the way, the fries on top of the gheymeh is normal and traditional! And rare to have in restaurants! 🙂

  6. I am an Iranian student studying in Turkey and I was missing home food A LOT. Needless to say, I was very happy to learn about this place. Food tastes just like home (and a bit better) and the hosts are really kind. I think they felt bad for me being here all alone and they welcomed me, have me huge portion, and helped answer all my questions about where I can find some more Iranian things in istanbul! Thank god for this posts, god bless!

  7. Reza Moghadam

    Dec 9, 2013

    سلام وقت شما به خیر
    اسم من رضا است و در حال حاضر در تهران هستم.قصد دارم در ترکیه کار کنم .در رستوران قبلا 6 ماه کار کردم و کار رستوران و هتلداری و از این قبیل مشاغل رو دوست دارم.اذری رو که کامل بلدم و انگلیسی هم خوب بلدم .اما از شما درخواست دارم که اگر به نیروی کار نیاز دارین یا داشتین از من استفاده نمایید.راستی فوق دیپلم حسابداری دارم از دانشگاه معتبر.
    آدرس ایمیلم رو که بالا نوشتم .ممنون میشم اگه به من اطلاع دهید
    با تشکر

  8. salam man dar turkey istanbul hastam takhasosam tu iran resturandarie age ehtiaj be niru darin ta farda khabaram tashakor.00905427648158

  9. I arranged to have an event at this restaurant. I went twice to check it out. Each time, I had to wait until men who sat down after me were waited on before me. The waiters felt entitled to ask personal questions to me as a single woman they didn’t ask the male customers. “Where is your family?” I explained to the manager the inappropriateness of this, but I didn’t feel they cared.

    Nevertheless, because I needed a Persian-restaurant for a Persian themed-event, I made a reservation in person for two weeks hence. On that day, early arrivals were treated with disdain and told there was no reservation. We were told we weren’t allowed to sit unless we ordered food (why else would we come?). When we ordered food, they refused to clear our plates or offer tea. It put our Iranian friends in the awkward position of having to apologize for Iranian hospitality, normally world famous.

    As a woman, I would never go there again. There is a horrible double standard of service for men and women. The rest of my group was astonished at our treatment. Restaurants in Istanbul are happy to get nice groups who could publicize a terrific experience throughout the expat community. My Canadian friend said, “I have never seen anything like this [attitude].”

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