(Editor’s Note: This review of one of our favorite places in town originally appeared on May 4, 2009.)
One of the big downsides to Istanbul’s otherwise great food scene is the lack of a credible Mexican option. We’re not asking for anything special, just a place that serves simple, tasty tacos or burritos. But when the craving for Mexican gets strong, we don’t despair – we just head down to the waterside Karaköy area, home of Besaltı Kirvem Tantuni, a hole-in-the-wall (literally) spot whose food and atmosphere remind us of the tiny taquerias in Mexico and the United states that we miss so much.
As the name implies, Besaltı Kirvem serves up tantuni, one of Turkey’s classic – though shamefully lesser known – street foods. For the dish, thin strips of beef are grilled, somewhat like Mexican carne asada, and kept warm on the side of massive circular pan with a concave depression in the middle. When an order is made, the cook scoops some of the beef up and reheats it in the middle of the pan in a steamy combination of oil and water, creating a thin gravy. In the meantime, he starts warming up a long piece of lavash, a flatbread that is the Turkish equivalent of the tortilla, on the side of the pan, letting the lavash soak up some of the meat’s juices. Once the beef is warmed up, he piles it on top of the lavash – along with tomatoes, sumac-dusted onions, parsley and a combination of spices, including cumin and red pepper – and rolls it up into a long, thin torpedo that’s easy to gobble down in a few quick bites. It’s simple, but delicious, served along with nothing else but a side of hot peppers.
Tantuni originated in Mersin, a city on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast best known for, well, being the birthplace of Tantuni. From there, the dish has gone on to become a street food staple in other parts of the country. In Istanbul, the backstreets of Beyoglu have loads of tantuni shacks that do bustling business, particularly late at night. But we’ve found Besaltı Kirvem, which caters to a lunchtime crowd in the more commercial Karaköy neighborhood, to be in a league of its own. It’s a two for one deal: best tantuni – and, we like to pretend, Mexican – in town.
Address: 35b Mumhane Cad., Karaköy
(Photo by Ansel Mullins)