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Istanbul Köfte Week: #5 – Köfteci Arnavut

(Editor’s note: Over here at Istanbul Eats, we like to think of ourselves as
köfte savants. While to the untrained eye köfte may look like nothing more than a grilled meatball, we like to discern differences in taste, texture and consistency in the different styles of this ubiquitous Turkish dish. As with coffee, tea and wine, we would argue that the concept of terroir be applied to köfte and its different regional interpretations. With that in mind, we invite you to join us this week for an exploration of the many faces of köfte, with a look at five favorite spots in Istanbul.)

Perhaps it’s the proximity of the waters of the Golden Horn or the weathered wood interior, but we get a distinctly maritime feeling at Köfteci Arnavut, a tiny köfte joint in the historic Balat neighborhood.

The members of the İştay family, who opened the place in 1947, seem to think the same thing, running the place with ship-shape efficiency. Seventy-six-year-old father Ali is constantly sweeping the floor and wiping down the Formica-topped tables, like a sailor dutifully swabbing the decks. Daughter Mine, meanwhile, stands by the front door, issuing clipped, urgent orders to the hustling grillmaster and waiters, as if she were the captain of a tanker navigating particularly treacherous waters.

Of course, we’re talking köfte here – and in Turkey, grilled meatballs are serious business. In Istanbul, like in other Turkish cities, every neighborhood has several small restaurants serving köfte, usually for a demanding lunch crowd that doesn’t forgive any missteps or badly prepared food. There really is little room for error. Of course, with so many köfte restaurants competing against each other, how does one place distinguish itself from the others? (Click here [2] for the full review.)

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