Meatballs on-the-go at Ekspres İnegöl Köftecisi

The place: Ekspres İnegöl Köftecisi
The offerings: İnegöl-style meatballs,  meatball sandwiches, bean salad (piyaz)
Price range: A portion of İnegöl meatballs for 12 TL; half sandwich to-go for 6 TL
The pros: Family restaurant, fast service, and reasonably priced
The cons: This place gets really busy on the weekends! 


Ekspres İnegöl Köftecisi is not a tourist destination but it is the perfect place for everyone else – families with kids and grandparents in tow, students on a budget, and locals looking for a quick and tasty fill. I was first introduced to this restaurant as a student at Sabanci University when I was a frequent visitor to Kadıköy on the weekends. Since then, the place has gotten a face lift and the food is just as tasty as ever.

My recommendation is to try the İnegöl köfte, a special type of meatball originating in İnegöl (Bursa). A portion comes with a generous helping of fries and a spicy sauce on the side. I always get the piyaz (bean salad in olive oil) as well. It’s a perfect appetizer to share and I think Ekspres İnegöl Köftecisi’s piyaz beats out any contenders.

The service at Ekspres İnegöl Köftecisi is quick (I mean, really quick), so don’t be surprised if your food comes before you’ve even finished ordering it. At the counter, the waiters prepare the dishes assembly line-style and most customers order the meatballs so they’ve got this down to a science. On the other hand, the restaurant can get really busy on the weekends with families, and during those times, you might have to remind the waiter once or twice to bring you that ayran you ordered.

If you’re lucky, you can snag one of the few tables set up outside the restaurant. If the weather is nice, it’s the perfect place to enjoy your meal and do a bit of people-watching. I brought my parents here when they were visiting Istanbul, and we waited for a few minutes to get a table outside – it was definitely worth it!

The restaurant also has a pick-up window right inside the front door. For only 6 TL you can get a half-bread meatball sandwich (12 TL for the full sandwich). Friends and I recently picked up sandwiches to-go and took them to the Caddebostan seaside where we enjoyed them sitting by the water.

20140427-125915.jpg

20140427-130008.jpg


20140427-125932.jpg

How to get there: From Europe, take a ferry to Kadıköy. At the iskele, cross Rihtim Caddesi and head towards the Starbucks on your right hand side (near Bambi). Ekspres İnegöl Köftecisi is a couple store fronts up from the corner Starbucks.

Advertisements

Twins Coffee Roasters, bringing latte art and the flat white to Istanbul

The place: Twins Coffee Roasters 
The offerings: latte, cappuccino, espresso, filter coffee, Turkish coffee, and more
Price range: 4-8 TL
The pros: A real cup of coffee in the center of Istanbul complete with freshly ground espresso and lovely latte art
The cons: The location is a bit strange but must be a hit with the nearby consulates


Twins Coffee Roasters had only been open for 5-6 weeks and I already had it on my list of my places to-go. Instead of celebrating Çocuk Bayramı (Children’s Holiday) on April 23 like everyone else in Turkey, Gürkan and I headed up to Gümüşsuyu to try out Twins. An easy walk from either Beşiktaş or Taksim, it’s located right next to the Asker Hastanesi on Gümüşsuyu Caddesi.

We were somewhat surprised to see the place mostly empty, but then again it was a national holiday and trying out Istanbul’s newest coffeeshop probably wasn’t on most family’s Çocuk Bayramı to-do list. We walked inside and met Yosrie who whipped up a beautiful flat white and macchiato for us. Both drinks were undeniably delicious and  I was reminded of the down-to-earth, no-frills coffee shops at home where the coffee speaks for itself. Yosrie, originally from Cape Town, was also extremely personable and didn’t mind me snapping pics and asking him questions about the cafe. 

The day was warm and sunny so we enjoyed our drinks outside. Despite the great weather, I hesitated momentarily. With  a coffee bar along the wall and a large wooden picnic-style table in the middle, the one room cafe had a great feel to it. I could definitely see myself whiling away the time here reading, blogging, or catching up with friends. Yosrie even mentioned the possibility of opening another cafe in Beşiktaş, and if so, I’d certainly become a regular.

20140423-211324.jpg

Twins Coffee Roasters

20140423-211308.jpg

Serving up a variety of espresso drinks including the ‘flat white’

20140423-214055.jpg

Simple furnishings & vibrant accents

20140423-211316.jpg

Lovely latte art from Yosrie

How to get there: From Taksim Square, take Gümüşsuyu Caddesi past the German Consulate. Turn left as you get to the Asker Hastanesi and you’ll find Twins on the left-hand side of Miralay Şefik Bey Sokak.

 

Rainy evenings in Ortakoy

Ortakoy is not exactly the place you usually find yourself on a cold, rainy Istanbul evening but my friend Olivia was in town and I wanted her to try Ortakoy’s famous kumpir (giant stuffed potato). Since most of the week it was raining, we had no choice but to bundle up against the Bosphorus chill and walk to Ortakoy at least of those rainy evenings. Along the way, we passed Ciragan Palace, and I excitedly told Gurkan and Olivia how I been invited by Zomato to a baklava-making class at Ciragan. (Istanbul foodies – check out Zomato if you haven’t already!)

For the most part, Ortakoy’s jewelry and souvenir stands had been packed up for the day and the throngs of people that you usually find there were non-existent. It was unbelievably quiet and peaceful. We stopped at kumpir stand #6 which is the one we always go to in Ortakoy. As usual, the lady told us that if we were still hungry after the first kumpir, the second one was on the house. Yeah, right. One kumpir is enough to put me in a food coma – I can’t imagine what two would feel like. My favorite toppings are kisir (bulgur salad), corn, haydari (yogurt with herbs), and extra kasar cheese, and on this particular night, the man making the kumpir was particularly generous. For those of who you don’t know kumpir, there are plenty of other toppings to chose from such as: olives, spicy ezme spread, pickles, Russian salad (a sort of pasta salad), etc. When it comes to kumpir, the possibilities are endless. They are also fun and easy to make at home if you can get by with only preparing a few toppings (with a big group, that might be difficult) The main difference with an American-style baked potato is the sheer variety of toppings and the way the kumpirci mixes in the butter and kasar cheese before adding the toppings.

Despite being full after kumpir, we had designated it a street food sort of night so the eating continued. Next up were waffles with hazelnut spread/Nutella/strawberries/bananas/nuts for Olivia and Gurkan while I dreamed about  midye dolma (mussels stuffed with rice). Before heading back to our neighborhood, I talked the others into a few rounds of midye dolma in Besiktas, and by the time we made it home, we were cold and wet, but had very full stomachs.

20140323-230554.jpg

Olivia enjoys a waffle in front of the kumpir stands. Kumpir stand #6 is on the far right in this picture.

20140323-230637.jpg

Olivia and I bundled up against the Bosphorus chill

20140323-230620.jpg

A peaceful evening in Ortakoy

20140416-213625.jpg

Potatoes as big as your head!

A mom and pop meatball restaurant? Look no further than Çukurcuma Köftecisi

If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll known that I have thing for Cukurcuma, one of Istanbul’s neighborhoods. Art galleries, antique shops, and hipster cafes galore, it’s also the location of Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence which should not be missed if you’re a fan of the book by the same name.

The destination this time was Cukurcuma Koftecisi (or, according to Google, Cukurcuma Meatball Restaurant). I first saw it on one of my many walks exploring Cukurcuma – it’s not far from Cukurcuma 49, a restaurant serving up yummy pizzas with local Turkish wine and live jazz music.  I also checked out the restaurant’s website, and after seeing this fun quote featured on their homepage, I knew it was a place I had to visit.

“Having lunch at Cukurcuma Koftecisi is like being a part of the live studio audience of a TV sitcom with meatballs. Three generations of an unusually tall family run a busy local restaurant with what seems like very little service industry experience but great intentions and strong will. Hilarity ensues.”

We went for an early dinner on a Saturday evening, and had the whole restaurant to ourselves. There’s no menu – the options rotate daily and you just choose from the day’s offerings. We ordered two portions of kofte (meatballs) and a plate of mucver (zucchini fritters) and fried eggplant which came with a side of spicy pepper sauce. The mucver and eggplant were excellent, and the kofte were of the homemade variety. They were very tender and not at all like the kind you typically find in restaurants. My favorite thing, however, was the pepper sauce. It complemented everything perfectly. In fact, I was content to eat it all by itself until Gurkan kindly reminded me that I should save it for when the kofte came.

While we ate, the mom of the family (looking lovely in her chef hat) prepared vegetables for the following day and the dad sat outside watching the dark streets of Cukurcuma and its passers-by. When customers came in, he took their orders and barked a few orders to the kitchen hand. Little rough around the edges but very helpful nonetheless. I’d say the website’s quote wasn’t too far off.

In a neighborhood full of trendy (read: pricey) cafes and restaurants, it’s a relief to know this no frills restaurant exists. The restaurant (and the family who runs it) has a personality all its own and as Gurkan says, it’s the nicest esnaf lokantasi he’s ever seen.

 
20140320-213956.jpg

Spicy pepper spread, eggplant, zucchini fritters

20140320-214010.jpg

Homemade meatballs

20140320-214028.jpg

Gurkan petting the cats of Cukurcuma. If you look closely, you can see the mom preparing veggies. Just look for the white chef hat.

20140320-214045.jpg

The dark streets of Cukurcuma. Can you find the three cats?

Tasting adventures at the Istanbul Culinary Institute

The place: Istanbul Culinary Institute
The offerings: mezes, main dishes, desserts, drinks
Price range: 22-28 TL for a main dish (we ordered off the February evening menu)
The pros: good service, nice atmosphere, great variety
The cons: A bit of a tourist destination


Although Friday was Valentine’s Day for most couples, we were celebrating Gurkan’s birthday since he had been on a business trip over his special day. I was really worried that all the restaurants would be booked and when I left work, I still hadn’t made a reservation. We were going back and forth about where to go (Gurkan mentioned Canim Cigerim, and I told him we should go somewhere a bit more special for the occasion), so I suggested that we check out the Istanbul Culinary Institute. Gurkan had called earlier and no one had picked up so I feared the worst – that they would be swamped with starstruck couples.

Luckily, they weren’t. We walked in and the host was able to find us a seat tucked away by the bar. Perhaps, not a prime spot by other people’s standards it actually turned out to be quite nice because we were able to ask for wine recommendations from the bartenders. We also had the back corner all to ourselves which saved us the misery of sitting next to the overzealous, extremely loud tables of American tourists (not resident foreigners – we learn to keep our voices down) sitting in the front of the restaurant.

Everything on the menu looked absolutely delicious. Right when we sat down, the waiter brought a selection of bread with olive oil. Gurkan couldn’t get enough of the corn bread and kept saying how great it was – coming from someone from the Black Sea that is quite a compliment! For our appetizer, we chose a meze plate with ezme (spicy side salad), hummus, beet salad, potato with dill, sarma (stuffed grape leaves), and salmon. Everything  was unbelievably tasty especially the hummus and ezme. Although old favorites, there were prepared so well and different enough that it was as if we were trying them for the first time. Honestly, I think the hummus was one of the best I’ve ever had – it was very thick and not oily at all. The sarma were of the sweet variety  and perfectly seasoned. The salmon was spot on. Each spoonful was a completely new tasting experience.

For the main meal, Gurkan chose the lamb karsky – a lamb dish topped with a lamb kidney served with bulgar pilav and roasted eggplant puree. I opted for the duck in pomegranate sauce with roasted potatoes and caramelized apples. I had a hard time deciding between that and the lamb stew with quince which also sounded delectable. We both ended up being extremely pleased with our selections. I did think the duck was a bit salty but  tasty nonetheless. It made me nostalgic for all the great duck places in Portland (duck fat fries at Duck Fat & duck nachos at Grace)! Gurkan absolutely loved the lamb kidney and said it was the best part of the whole dish. Although I refrained from trying the kidney, I thought the lamb steak was cooked nicely (was that a little bit of pink I saw?) and the roasted eggplant puree was out of this world.

The service was quite good – the waiters weren’t overly attentive, but most importantly, we never felt pressured to hurry up which is often the case in Istanbul. We continued sipping our wine long after we finished our main dishes and probably could have stayed there all night had we not decided to move on.

The place is perfect for a special occasion and I’d definitely recommend ordering an appetizer ahead of time if you’re tummy is hungry! They have dessert too – I’m already looking forward to trying the homemade rose and fig ice cream next time I visit.

20140215-000447.jpg

Meze platter – a taster’s paradise

20140215-000505.jpg

Duck with pomegranate sauce, potatoes, apples

20140215-000511.jpg

Lamb steak with kidney, eggplant puree, bulgar pilav

The Istanbul Culinary Institute also offers recreational cooking classes. How fun would that be!?

 

Çimdik Mantı, or the hidden gem of Levent

The place: Çimdik Mantı
The source: It’s right by my office
The offerings: soup, salad, mantı, dessert
Price range: 15 TL for soup and mantı
The pros: The best ayva tatlısı in all of Istanbul
The cons: None – I love this place!


Dreading another lunch at Kanyon or Metrocity? Can’t find a spot at Küçük Ev in Levent Carşı? Need a quick, quality meal? Look no further than Çimdik Mantı. It’s tucked away on the corner of Levent Caddesi and Gonca Sokak, a two minute walk from the Levent metro exit.

The decor is simple, the service quick and the menu brief – all great things in my opinion. Although the place makes good mantı (it’s a mantı restaurant after all), the real star is the restaurant’s ayva tatlısı (quince dessert). I’ve been a lover of ayva tatlısı ever since I tasted it at one of my friend’s houses, but this ayva tatlısı takes the cake. It’s not too sweet, the quince is smooth, and it’s topped with a generous helping of kaymak (clotted cream). I had been raving about the dessert to Gürkan for a couple of weeks until he went with a  group of colleagues many of whom ordered up a second helping of ayva tatlısı because it was just that good.

Even without dessert, the mantı is reason enough to visit the restaurant. Sabırtaşı used to be my favorite mantı restaurant, but the portion sizes have been so drastically downsized that Çimdik Mantı is my new go-to mantı place. Each table is stocked up with the obligatory spices of red pepper and oregano – sumac also makes an appearance. The owner told me you can’t have mantı without sumac so I poured it on and I was pleasantly surprised with the result (& happy to discover a new use for sumac!) The broccoli soup is also highly recommended – it comes piping hot and actually has real chunks of broccoli in it.

20140204-231257.jpg

Piping hot broccoli soup

20140204-232104.jpg

Kayseri style mantı

20140204-232749.jpg

Best ayva tatlısı in all of Istanbul

20140204-231304.jpg

The offerings

The original Fazil Bey’s Turkish Coffee

 

The place: Fazil Bey’in Turk Kahvesi (Fazil Bey’s Turkish Coffee) in Kadikoy, the original one located in the fish bazaar
The offerings: Turkish coffee, sahlep, filter coffee and more
Price range: 4 – 7 TL
The pros: Traditional Turkish coffee and yummy sahlep served with lokum in an authentic atmosphere
The cons: It’s really small so it can be difficult to find a place to sit & there is no credit card machine


Fazil Bey’s has been one of my favorite cafes since my days at Sabanci University  – the days when I spent a lot of time on the Asian side and trips to Europe were few and far between. Now, that I live in Besiktas, it’s quite a treat to spend some time in Kadikoy, but it also takes a bit of planning.

This week’s occasion was meeting up with my good friend, Alia, who I met while doing my Master’s with Sabanci University. The last time Alia and I had been to Fazil Bey’s was a couple years ago right after I had finished my coursework and before I moved back to the US (momentarily). That day was a snowy one, and I remember climbing the narrow stairs of Fazil Bey’s, shaking off the snow, and sitting down only to fall in love with Fazil Bey’s sahlep. The upstairs was a cozy one with a few disparate tables squeezed into the small area, and the servers had had no shame when it came to telling us when we had overstayed our welcome. To be fair, with very limited seating, I can see how they want to move people in and out as quickly as possible, but to our Midwest sensibilities, this seemed quite the affront!

That’s why this past weekend we decided to check out Fazil Bey’s newer cafe, but it was packed to the brim, and there was no hope of finding a table especially since neither of us wanted to be stuck on the balcony with the copious amounts of second-hand smoke. After a quick stop at Beyaz Firin to grab some acibadem cookies to take home for later, we went to the old Fazil Bey’s and found a prime spot right inside on the first level. We were able to catch up over a round of sahlep and then coffee which are both served with lokum, and the drinks were just as good as I remembered. This time we sat for a couple of hours and it didn’t seem to be an issue at all. We chatted about blogging, recipes, home, work – all the stuff you talk about with a good friend.

20140118-214856.jpg

Evening falls on Fazil Bey’s

20140402-220210.jpg

Looking down on Turkish coffee preparations

20140402-220201.jpg

Coffee nostalgia at Fazil Bey’s. Check out MK drinking his Turkish coffee in the black and white picture center top.

*If you are looking for a real Turkish coffee in a traditional Turkish coffee shop, this is definitely the place to go. I always make it a point to bring guests to this cafe for a Turkish coffee experience, and in my many visits in the last few months, I haven’t felt rushed at all. Must have been a one-time thing!