Written by Barbara J. Isenberg
Every city in southeastern Turkey is known for its particular dishes – Hatay for hummus; Diyarbak?r for its liver; Gaziantep for baklava; Mardin for its Arabic-style coffee; and so on. But you don’t have to travel the country to sample the best of southeastern Anatolian cooking.
Istanbul’s diverse population means that cuisine from nearly every corner of Turkey may be savoured without ever leaving this sprawling city of 15 million people. Immigrants to the metropolis have opened restaurants, cafés, and coffee houses that specialise in dishes from their individual regions.
Hatay is one such city whose cuisine is well represented in Istanbul, and you can find some of the best at Akdeniz Hatay Sofras? in Aksaray. On Turkey’s southern coast near Syria, Hatay is known for dishes including ek?i a??, a soup of cracked wheat, boiled chickpeas, and pomegranate syrup; warm hummus; k?s?r, a salad made of bulgur, parsley, and pomegranate syrup; and its take on the Turkish classic, künefe, a dessert created from goat’s cheese, shredded pastry, and syrup.
But Hatay’s most spectacular fare – and the restaurant’s – is a whole chicken covered with rock salt and baked in a wood oven for two hours. The dish is presented at table with much fanfare: a waiter lights the salt dome on fire, then cracks open the shell with an industrial mallet to reveal a perfectly cooked chicken stuffed with cinnamon-infused pilaf (rice) and raisins.
But chicken isn’t the only thing on the menu at many southeastern restaurants. The area’s hot climate and rocky soil mean that meat is a staple of its cuisine; and Diyarbak?r, Turkey’s largest southeastern city, is no different. The city is famous for its Çi?er (liver), and the best place to sample it is at Can?m Çi?erim in Beyo?lu. Set amid some of Istanbul’s hippest bars and clubs, this restaurant serves up tiny cubes of lamb’s liver that have been grilled on long skewers over coal. For something sweet, look no farther than Gaziantep, the Turkish city that lays claim to the country’s best baklava. Although this pistachio-stuffed, syrup-drizzled sweet is served at nearly every restaurant in town, the best place to try it in Istanbul is Karaköy Güllüo?lu, which has been making the city’s best baklava at the same location near the Bosphorus since 1949. Ask for a portion of Antepli baklava and eat it outside while catching the breeze over the water.
Though Turkish coffee is renowned worldwide, m?rra, a more traditional Arabic-style coffee, has not been forgotten, especially in Urfa and Mardin where it is still made in small copper pots over hot coals for several hours. Tradition dictates that when you’re finished with this bitter, grainy coffee, you must hand the tiny cup back to the person serving – do not set it on the table! – or else marry him or her (or help pay for his/her wedding). Try m?rra at Cercis Murat Kona??, which specialises in Mardin cuisine.
With so many places to sample the best of the southeast in Istanbul, the only hard part is choosing which restaurant – and which city – you’d like to visit.
Pastries in Cengelkoy
Across the Bosphorus Strait lies the laid-back suburb of Çengelköy, where locals flock every weekend morning to buy fresh pastries and eat breakfast at waterside cafés.
Try Seval Pastanesi, Çengelköy’s oldest pastry shop, which specialises in French-style macaroons and savoury Turkish breakfast foods such as spinach börek and tuzlu petit fours.