It is after 3 p.m. when Nannos leads us through the Kurdish neighborhood of Kandinlar Pazari, and we collapse into the outdoor seats at
Siirt Seref Buryan
, a restaurant where the regulars include the prime minister and the specialty is whole lamb suspended on hooks and cooked in a dome-topped oven that goes more than eight feet into the ground. Again, we see today blending with eons ago: Half the table is facing skyscrapers and half has a view of the nearby ancient Roman aqueducts. I’m a grazer by profession, but like my fellow travelers, I’m suffering from stimulus overload and taste-bud fatigue. For a moment, I consider flagging a taxi to return to our hotel. But soon the table is crowded with some of that lamb, a rippled dip of red peppers, onion and tomatoes, and a wedding dish called “rice in curtains” (steaming pilaf beneath a crisp cover of pastry made with yogurt). And so we feast again.
We’ve only strolled a little more than a mile in the past six hours, but it feels as if we’ve canvassed the whole of Turkey. We are exhausted and exhilarated. And very, very full.
I returned to Washington with notebooks filled with names of places I’d love to visit again. The best place for a cup of Turkish coffee? Possibly the slip of a stall called Mandabatmaz, tucked away in an alley near the St. Antoine Church off Istikal Caddesi. Mullins introduced me to the father-and-son stand, the faded sign for which translates into English as “The Buffalo Won’t Sink,” because of the thickness of the coffee; the beans for the shop are roasted and ground fresh each day. We sat on wooden stools on a sloped sidewalk comparing the different strengths and came to the conclusion that “orta,” coffee with “a medium” amount of sugar, was best.
Fish lovers should take the time to seek out the inviting Kahraman, which was recommended to me by the Turkish ambassador to the United States, Namik Tan. The signature of the restaurant, the route to which hugs the Bosporus, is simply grilled, ugly but delicious spotted turbot preceded by tasty seafood salads and accompanied by extraordinary warmth (and lots of pantomime).
Serious food connoisseurs need to make time for
, whose chef and owner, Musa Dagdeviren, has made it his mission to revive and reinvent Turkish cuisine. Aim for a perch outside, hopefully the yellow wooden table that is so close to the kitchen window that you might be greeted (as we were) with some charred bell pepper doled out by one of the smiling cooks. Some customers go inside to select their food, much of it on display in pots and platters; we let the servers make those decisions for us. What followed were a soft sail of sesame-seeded bread; exquisite kibbe fashioned from finely ground beef and pistachios; cigar-thin dolma filled with tart rice; tender meatballs the size of marbles; fish wrapped in grape leaves; a salad of figs and tomatoes; orbs of candied eggplant and a crescent of pumpkin draped with walnut sauce. There may be no finer food in the city. Part of the enchantment of dining at Ciya Sofrasi is reaching it via a short ferry ride to the Asian side of the Bosporus.
All those experiences made me grateful to have met Istanbul, yet the only place my friends and I sought out for a second meal was Bereket, that inexpensive doner kebab vendor in the Old City, which we returned to the very afternoon after our tour with Istanbul Eats.
This time, however, we took our guide’s initial advice: “Come with totally empty stomachs.”