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Rengahenk Café: Welcome Home

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(Editor’s Note: This guest post was written by Asher Kohn, one of the creators of Istanbul Altı [2], a smart new blog that covers developments in Istanbul and Turkey.)

Istanbul has many restaurants promising home-cooked meals or something along the lines of what’s known as “ev yemekleri.” Specializing in various dolmas or pılavs, these places may offer decent food, but it is all too often served in a white, antiseptic-looking dining room. At Rengahenk, just off bustling Moda Caddesi on the Asian side, the mother-daughter team greets you from the kitchen. A real, live kitchen with a fridge, sink, wall clock and wooden paneling. This isn’t a home-style restaurant, but more like a home that serves food to the public.

As we took our seats in the living room on a blustery day, the mother in charge immediately started chatting us up. But upon her discovery that my friend was from Mexico, not Turkey, she smoothly shifted to English and apologized for not being comfortable in Spanish, leading into a few minutes of theatrical apologies as he tried out his Turkish and she refused to accept that he was, indeed, a fluent English speaker as well. After this, we settled down to a bowl of lentil soup. Though a restaurant standard, this version was a bit thicker and more toothsome than most. And the accompanying bread hinted strongly of sourdough, always a revelation.

After the soups were finished we were asked what we’d like for the main course. Every day she offers köfte, various cold zeytinyağlılar (vegetables stewed in olive oil) and mantı that is, in this reviewer’s mind, the finest out there. There’s also a rotating daily special. On the day we went it was ground beef and sautéed cauliflower, which she assured us was a specialty from her Çerkez (Circassian) roots.

The food is all good, and the zeytinyağlılar in particular taste like something stolen out of the family fridge for an afternoon snack. But the mantı. The mantı steals the show. Although she asks whether you’d prefer it with or without garlic, I’ve only once, at a previous visit, seen someone order it garlic-less.

“What’s wrong with garlic? It’s much better with garlic,” protested our matron and cook.

“I have a date tonight,” is the bravest response he mustered.

“Well, I’m going to use garlic. And if she has any problems take her back here for the second date, and she’ll understand.” And back to the kitchen our cook went to bring out plates of garlicky mantı.

Unlike much of the mantı posted here earlier, this mantı comes in triangles folded over a teaspoon-size ball of minced beef. The plate is then covered with garlicky yogurt and a deep, smoky, red chili sauce. It is mantı as mantı should be served.

Because of this mantı overload, we didn’t have dessert this time around. But during Ramazan they serve up a mean güllaç, the milk-and-rosewater tradition of the holiday. And yes, they do deliver. The son of our cook was in and out as he zipped along on his motorcycle bringing mantı to the hungry denizens of Moda. And though he doesn’t look it, he assures us he’s old enough to be driving the thing.

From the strewn magazines to the tiled kitchen, from the chatty mother to the daughter who may sit down and chat if it gets slow, Rengahenk is a home away from home for anyone who finds themselves in Moda. It is, for many expats, the home cooking that is currently thousands of miles away. Except never in my home have we seen mantı like this.

Address: Ressam Şeref Akdik Sokak 11/1, Moda
Telephone: 216-336-6687

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