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Jan 22
“No Reservations” in Istanbul: Our Take

Several readers have written in asking for our thoughts on the recently-aired episode 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 – one of our all-time favorites – and their stellar wraps and of Kızılkayalar, 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 (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, 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, 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 (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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13 Responses to “ “No Reservations” in Istanbul: Our Take ”
  1. I am so excited to see that Anthony Bourdain visited Istanbul and am really looking forward to seeing his take on the food here. I have been living here for a few years and agree with Istanbul eats that Ciya and Van Kavalti Evi are two of the best restaurants here. I have a couple of other favorites– one is Ficcin, which is located on Kalavi Sokagi in the Pera District (can be reached just off of Istiklal Caddesi). They serve Circassian food, and it is absolutely delicious– I have never eaten anything there that I didn’t love, and am especially a fan of the patatesli manti (similar to a potato ravioli). Another one of my favorites is Namli Kebap, which is near Levent Carsi. They have a little lahmacun place downstairs, and upstairs you can get full meals and zeytinyagla starters (vegetables cooked in olive oil). Their starters are fantastic, and I think they make the best ezo gelin soup (a kind of lentil soup) in Istanbul. Their bread is also baked fresh downstairs and is delicious. The prices there are kind of middling although certainly not expensive, and the quality is very good. Of course the best food in all of Turkey is cooked by my boyfriend’s mother :). Thanks Istanbul eats for all of the great articles!

  2. I thought somebody would have him try the tripe soup in Cumhuriyet İşkembecisi, I can say I’m disappointed for that particular reason but other than that, it was very entertaining. Especially the taxi driver 🙂

  3. @Hayley: Namli? Please… They are one of the most overrated joints in Istanbul.

    I liked the episode but the girl with terrible accent and her family were annoying. Also, he should have tried some baklava in Battaloglu, Sisli. A culinary visit to Turkey is never complete without baklava.

  4. I will be visiting Istanbul in a month and super excited to try all the foods i’ve been reading about. I am a food nut and love reading about all your recommendations. I am travelling alone so looking for good cheap food to try on this trip….any thoughts?

  5. Hayley…can I have dinner at your boyfriend’s mother’s house? lol

  6. Truth be told, I loved the places Bourdain has visited but he could do better with a better fixer.
    Kale has always been one of my favorite breakfast spots with lovely views of Bosphorus but I can’t say they serve the best breakfast in Istanbul. But they have an advantage over Van Kahvaltı Evi that Kale doesn’t smell of freshly cooked eggs and boiled milk, which kills my appetite (for some the smell may be appetizing, I don’t know). But if I can’t sit outside in Van Kahvaltı Evi, I don’t go there at all. Having said that, another smelly but amazing spot, that I’d wish Bourdain to visit is the tiny little bal-kaymak shop of a Bulgarian family in Beşiktaş. It is an amazing place at the center of Çarşı and even featured once on National Geographic channel. With lahmacun, I agree. Nişantaşı is not the best place to taste one but the rest of the places he visited seems OK to me.
    Yet I have some other problems. I know that Bourdain is a meat-lover but he should have tried some basic zeytinyağlı vegetable dishes like zucchinis, dolma, aubergines, weeds, celery roots, green beans and even leeks. He only had a couple of mezes and a single artichoke and I believe he missed a lot. He also missed the chance of eating a good fish with rakı by the Bosphorus. He instead settled with Beyoğlu.
    And, oh my God, what was wrong with that Turkish girl and her family? If any of us was his fixer in her stead the show would be much much better. And finally the music… I don’t know whether it was Egyptian, Tunisian or Iraqi but I’m 100 percent sure that it wasn’t Turkish.

  7. And sorry I forgot to add, he hasn’t eaten any desserts but a little bit of güllaç. That’s not fair! 🙂

  8. The problem with that Turkish girl and her family is their “Look at us, we are a modern, European family! We can speak ENGLISH!” attitude. Also, like all other hipsters in Istanbul, she thinks mezes of Çiçek Pasajı joints are good, which is completely stupid.

  9. wrong observation

    who said she thinks mezes of Çiçek Pasajı looks good?

  10. Gandharva Kumar

    May 2, 2011

    Can anyone please tell me exact address of all the places mentioned in this blog. I’m about to make a gastronomical trip to Istanbul. It will be helpful. Thank you

  11. All the places reviewed on the blog have addresses listed at the bottom of the individual posts. Enjoy your trip!

  12. Hi,

    Where is the open air area with the mix of restuarants depicted in the show? Would enjoy a nice outdoor meal while visiting Istanbul.


  13. Ok, I’m a little bit late to this party, but I thought the show was interesting and has been part of the inspiration for my trip to Istanbul this Spring. Criticizing the fixers has become a favorite pastime for Bourdain watchers around the globe. Everyone has their favorite places and favorite foods. I found out that the fixer’s mother was raised in the U.S. and the young woman herself went to university in the U.S. So if you detected a slightly Western slant to their view, you should. I think she was very informative and spoke perfect English. Accents make us who we are even if we speak English.

    The meze restaurant was on Nevizade Sokak not Çiçek Pasajı. I hear its not much better for food, but I am guessing the Bourdain team was looking for atmosphere as well as food. Kale Cafe on the Bosphorus also made a visual impression. Do you really think with all the info on the internet that Bourdain’s production relies totally on the one fixer’s advice? Look at all the other places he visited with others. By the way, I hear Sur Ocakbasi and Durumzade have raised their prices since the broadcast. Durumzade allegedly charges foreigners double what they charge natives. Isn’t that special?

    Asitane looks like a novelty and a place I probably will skip. It seems like people proclaim how the food and the ambiance is interesting, but no one seems to rave about how delicious the food was. Funny, Bourdain didn’t go to a fish restaurant in a city on the water. Why am I getting a suspicion that the fish restaurants in Istanbul might be overpriced and overrated?

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