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Dec 29
Best Bites of 2011: Our Take, Pt. 1


This “Best Bite” is actually a “Best Sip.” For years, we’ve been frequenting the small alley off İstiklal where Cemil Pilik – Istanbul’s finest Turkish coffee maker, bar none – works his sludgy magic out of a hole in the wall barely big enough to hold him and his samovar of hot water. On a sunny afternoon this past September, Pilik’s almost chocolaty coffee was as superb as always, but the alley – usually crowded with chatty customers sitting on short stools – was unnaturally quiet, another victim of the Beyoğlu municipality’s recent decision to clamp down on outdoor seating. Lucky enough to snag one of the handful of stools that Pilik was now allowed to keep outside, we sipped our coffee slowly, cursing the boneheaded bureaucrats whose heavy-handed actions were now threatening the brewmaster’s livelihood. At the same time, we found ourselves forced to thank them. Over the years, we had gotten so used to popping into Pilik’s alley for a quick coffee that we forgot just how much craft there was in every cup of his coffee. Because of those hapless bureaucrats, we were reminded that we were in the hands of a real master and a true national treasure. Long may he prosper.

Ciğerci Lütfi
There was something extremely delicious, yet dusted with melancholy, about this very memorable liver sandwich spontaneously eaten in front of the İMC Çarşısı. The delicious part was the warm liver whose oil soaked the bread, transporting us back to previous years when we made regular stops at an itinerant liver man in Taksim Square. The aftertaste of melancholy set in as we tried to recall the last time we’d encountered one of these old street food staples. As far as Istanbul street food is concerned, the appearance of the ciğerci with his distinctive lantern-shaped case and a wicker basket of fresh bread was never as reliable as a simitçi rounding the corner or quite as common as the sandviççi (the kind you still find slinging cold sandwiches to the roustabouts on the Galata Bridge). But, though less common, the ciğerci’s fare is far more satisfying than both. We started the year 2011 with Lütfi’s liver sandwich and we’ve suffered occasional cravings since then that led us back to the İMC, on ultimately failed missions, never to find him again. Lütfi might be missing, for now, or working another beat, but he’s not forgotten. When 2012 comes around, we’re hoping to kick it off with one of his sandwiches.

Whenever we are feeling down on ourselves for eating so much fatty lamb kebab, frustrated by the crowds on İstiklal, defeated by the taxi drivers, angry at the world, we head to Mohti. Hüseyin Bey, the owner and patron saint of this “Laz meyhane,” has a twinkle in his eye that reminds us of how lucky we are to be alive and in Istanbul, particularly in the damp cold months of hamsi season. It was one such night that we found ourselves sulking at a corner table. Hüseyin, aided by few plates of plump, juicy hamsi, slowly brought us out of our funk. When the clouds in our heads cleared we looked around and joined the party that Hüseyin weaves between his guests every night. His hamsi is more than delicious and his restaurant is a living room in every sense.

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