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Jul 05
Reviews (Eats)
Padişah Sofrasi: Roaster’s Delight

In an age where even Wal-Mart is selling ready-to-go rotisserie chicken, that simple but lovable version of roasted bird has become something of a laughable cliché, no longer seen as a cure for hunger but rather as a symptom of a society too busy to cook for itself.

Still, we remain big fans of spit-roasted chicken. There’s something captivating and utterly appetite-inducing about watching that row of trussed chickens turning on the rotisserie’s spit, like a line of self-basting chorus girls putting on their show. Let’s face it: done right, there are few things more satisfying than a golden roasted rotisserie chicken.

In Turkey, fortunately, the dish has yet to become supermarket food, for the most part still remaining the province of certain rotisserie specialists, one of the finest being Padişah Sofrasi, a roast emporium in Istanbul’s Şişli neighborhood. At any given hour (the restaurant is open until 3am), Padişah Sofrasi usually has a whole hen house’s worth of chickens slowly roasting away. For those looking for something a little more substantial, the restaurant also serves cuts from whole spit-roasted lambs, as well as kelle paça, sheep’s head that has also been given the rotisserie treatment.

Most rotisserie chicken around the world is cooked in the same way, usually left to its own devices inside a cramped, gas-fueled metal cabinet with grease-splattered glass doors. Padişah Sofrasi, on the other hand, uses something more like a free-range rotisserie: a long, horizontal bed that seems like it could have been a medieval torture device in a previous life. The meat is cooked not with gas, but with real hardwood coals that sit smoldering beneath the rotating chickens and sheep’s heads. A roastmaster, meanwhile, stands by at all times, carefully tending to his impaled flock.

The result, in the case of the lamb and chicken, is meat that is exceptionally moist with a very crispy skin. (That said, the chicken – like most roasted chickens in Turkey – is flavored with little more than salt. It’s still very good, but if we had our way, we would slip a few chickens marinated Peruvian style onto Padişah Sofrasi’s rotisserie and see what happens.) The kelle paça, served off the skull, is like a meat version of a chocolate sampler box, with the plate it’s served on holding some very tender cheek meat, slightly rubbery (in a good way) tongue, fatty eyeballs and the off-white brain. Every bite is a surprise, offering a different taste and texture, although it’s not for squeamish eaters.

As the restaurant’s name suggests, Padişah Sofrasi (“The Sultan’s Table,” roughly) is not a fast food joint but rather a place to sit down and give the roasted chicken (or sheep’s head) its due. Of course, this being the 21st century, the restaurant also understands the rotisserie chicken’s place in the pecking order: a fleet of mopeds sits outside, ready to deliver freshly roasted fowl to area residents too busy to cook for themselves.

Address: Abide-i Hurriyet Cad. No: 259, Şişli
Telephone: 212-233-1783

(photo by Yigal Schleifer)

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11 Responses to “ Padişah Sofrasi: Roaster’s Delight ”
  1. Reading this post has made my mouth water!!! I live in Izmir, where there are quite a few places to pick up a rotisserie chicken for dinner. I think the chicken in Turkey simply tastes better than where I am from (the US). I imagine it has something to do with the way the chickens are raised because, as you pointed out, most rotisserie chicken is flavored with little more than salt (and butter, of course). I am always amazed at how good the rotisserie chicken is and, like you, always wonder, what if they added some spice? Some flavored olive oil? How about just some onion and garlic? That could transform what is already a lovely chicken into something divine.

  2. Nosupermarkets?

    Jul 5, 2010

    Pretty much every supermarket I frequent in IStanbul has had rotisserie chicken for at least a decade/ Where do you shop?

  3. Sadly, it’s Dia in Galata. No rotisserie. Barely much of anything else.

  4. I shop at the Carrefour in Cihangir. No chickens there either, but they do sell Krispy Kreme doughnuts (yum!).

  5. Wow, Krispy Kreme donuts!?! Now I feel like an even bigger loser for shopping at Dia.

  6. Pokerci Hoca

    Jul 6, 2010

    Turkish supermarket chains don’t care about consistency. Not only do their different branches stock different products, but the same branch can have many products available some of the time and not available at other times. This is for cereals, pasta, canned goods etc.

    Rotisserie chicken and donuts are specialty products, which it would make sense to offer only in specific areas.

  7. I’m assuming they don’t serve beer at Padişah Sofrasi? I look forward to trying their rotisserie sheep’s head, but sounds like the kind of meal that should be paired with cold Efes.

  8. Correct. No beer. It’s a “family” place. On the other hand, they do deliver and sheep’s head travels well.

  9. I was there last week but was not blown away. The skin was good, the breast dry, and my favorite bits (thigh and drum) were good but not great. Best part of the dish, the iç pilav they serve with the chicken.

  10. Gozde Yavuz

    May 28, 2011

    when it comes to the rotisserie chicken, you should also visit Şehremini Mangal at Şehremini District of Fatih.
    I believe this place is a hidden gem for rotisserie chicken. It is a simple esnaf restaurant only serves and delivers chicken. They serve chicken regular or spicy and the spicy chicken is fantastic with its spicy skin and moistful meat inside.
    I found that place while I was living in Sehremini. Now I live in Kadikoy and I travel from Kadikoy to Fatih just to eat that chicken sometimes.
    I think it worths to explore.

  11. Great tip! The spicy chicken sounds really good…..

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