Armenian-inspired Jash Istanbul

The place: Jash
The offerings: Huge selection of mezzes, entrees, and drinks
Price range: 12-20 for mezzes, 26-40 for entrees
The pros: Delicious mezzes, great hospitality, live music
The cons: The main entrees paled in comparison to the mezze selection


According to its website, Jash specializes in  traditional Istanbul cuisine. It’s a fair description, but perhaps, not quite correct. Most people know Jash as an Armenian restaurant, or at the very least, an Armenian-inspired restaurant. Sure it serves the standard mezze selections found in any Istanbul meyhane, but its Armenian owner has also added a few Armenian specialities to the menu, including topik which my readers will already be familiar with. A visitor to Turkey may not easily pick up on the Armenian influence, but a resident of Turkey would understand from the decorations (a small Jesus hangs by the front door) or the clientele (we met the owner’s Armenian cousins who were visiting from Montreal).

In many ways, this restaurant feels like you are eating in someone’s home not unlike the familial atmosphere at The Galata House. Like the Galata House, Jash also has an old-time feel to it, but in opinion, it’s done even better. Antique decorations, family photographs, and feel-good hospitality abound. Mari(a), the owner is very hands-on, she gave us recommendations when ordering, asked us what we thought of our selections, and went from table to table to make sure all her guests were happy. The restaurant has a good amount of seating with a downstairs and upstairs as well as an outdoor patio area – but as this place is quite popular, a reservation is a must. You can tell from the picture below that we were the first guests of the evening besides one large group of tourists sitting outside. Shame on us for arriving so early to a meyhane, but someone had some plans that he had to set in motion!

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Jash is know for its mezzes and they did not disappoint. I had my heart set on the topik so we ordered that along with cerkez tavugu (literally translated as Circassian chicken this dish is a special chicken salad with walnuts), sarma (stuffed grape leaves), and melon to go with our raki. The topik was among the best I’ve ever had and it was well worth the 20 TL price tag which I had originally found pricey. The sarma, too, were delicious and extremely fresh. I was surprised to find that they were much better than any homemade sarma I’d ever had – the chef at Jash certainly knows what he is doing. The chicken salad was also good but the portion a bit small. I took a look at a few other mezzes as waiters were serving them, and the midya dolma will definitely be on my list of things to order next time. They were HUGE and overflowing with rice stuffing.

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From L to R: melon, chicken salad, topik, and sarma

By the time our main entrees came, we both agreed that we were already quite full and it probably wasn’t necessary to order two full entrees (next time, we are sticking to the mezzes). I tried the harisa which is only available on the weekends and similar to traditional Turkish keskek which is made with chicken and wheat. Gurkan tried a kofte dish with meatballs on toasted bread with tomato sauce poured over and yogurt on the side. The concept was similar to Bursa’s pideli kofte, but not quite as tasty in our opinion. In the grand scheme of things, we weren’t overly impressed with the main entrees but it may be because nothing could compare to the delicious selection of mezzes we had just devoured.

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Harisa, similar to keskek

Jash has an accordion player that starts to play in the evenings around 8 p.m. On the night we were there, he took up a place outside on the patio to play. The real surprise of the evening was when the accordion player came over to our table and Gurkan PROPOSED. That’s right, he proposed in Jash and I said Yes! Everyone in the restaurant was clapping for us and snapping photos. After everything had calmed down a bit and we had gone back to our table, guests continued to congratulate us from their tables and one couple even beckoned us over to them in order to wish us well in life. I’m telling you this place has the coolest atmosphere. Mari also came over with little gifts including a bookmark and bag holder with the restaurant’s name on them, and we told her we’ll be back every year to celebrate (as long as we are in Turkey). Gurkan proposed on the longest day of the year, so it shouldn’t be too hard for us to remember our annual date at Jash.


How to get there:

Jash is centrally located and easily accessible from Kabatas or Taksim. In typical Istanbul fashion, it rained the evening we visited, so we went by taxi which may also be a good idea for first time visitors since Jash is tucked away in Cihangir.

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On the Black Sea at Ağva and Şile

Last weekend was another rainy Istanbul weekend (thank goodness because the newspapers are forecasting a major drought this summer), and our roommates Nazlı and Berk had the luck of having a rental car on hand after attending a wedding the evening before. We woke up early and Nazlı told us we were heading out on a road trip. To where I asked? Ağva and Şile. I didn’t know much about either, but I jumped in the car still half asleep and we were soon on our way to Kurtköy to pick up our friend Başak.

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The usual suspects: Nazlı, Berk, Gürkan and Başak

We took a few wrong turns on the way from Kurtköy to Ağva, but eventually ended up in Ağva just in time for breakfast. The rain hadn’t let up, so we found a rustic cafe along the river flowing into the sea. The cafes were set up on the pier, and the space between the cafes and the river was home to a number of furry critters. At first, we had no idea they were there until a few random paws started to reach up over the ledge.

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Puppy paws trying to get into the cafe

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The whole clan comes out to play

After breakfast, we walked out to the lighthouse which is what everyone visiting Ağva on that rainy morning was doing. It’s surprising how one can live surrounded by water in Istanbul and never have a chance to enjoy it, so it was a real treat to feel and hear the sea in Ağva. We didn’t come prepared to go swimming but we were able to stick our feet in, and it was incredibly refreshing.

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Heading out to the lighthouse

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The Ağva hangout

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The beach at Ağva

Our next stop was the İmrenli Koyu Plajı, a gorgeous beach in a semi-protected cove. We grabbed refreshments from the nearby convenience store and lounged around on the beach enjoying the feel of sand and the first rays of summer.

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Nazlı, Berk, and I on the beach at İmrenli Koyu beach

Next was Şile’s Saklıgöl (Hidden Lake) which was aptly named. The lake had several cafes around it as well as a walking path. A perfect place for a peaceful family outing.

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Cafes line the lake

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A peak at Saklıgöl through the trees

Lastly, we stopped in Şile for fish and fried mussels (I had been craving midya tava all day!). The restaurant we ate it had a lovely view overlooking the Şile harbor, and afterwards, we walked on the pier among the fishing boats. I also learned about the famous Şile bezi or Şile cloth, a light woven gauze-like cloth ideal for the summer heat.

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The Şile harbor

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Dusk falls on Şile

Where is Şile? Located on the Black Sea, Şile is approximately an hour and a half outside of Istanbul. We headed to Ağva first, followed by İmrenli Koyu Plajı, Saklıgöl, and finally the town of Şile. When the weather is nice, both Ağva and Şile turn into summer resort towns, full to the brim with people. We were lucky to visit before the summer season officially started.

Exploring Çengelköy on a Sunday afternoon

This Sunday we decided to explore Cengelkoy, a neighborhood on the Asian side of the Bosphorus. Neither Gurkan nor I had been there before, so it was a first for both of us. All I knew was that Cengelkoy was famous for cucumbers and borek.

The trip there was frustrating. After landing in Uskudar via the Besiktas ferry, we got on a bus and found ourselves in bumper to bumper traffic all the way to Cengelkoy. After getting off the bus in the wrong place and walking in the rain, we managed to find Cengelkoy Borekcisi. And that was when the day took a turn for the better.

At Cengelkoy Borekcisi, we ordered cheese and minced meat borek. Although we couldn’t find a place at the Tarihi Cengelkoy Cinaralti Cay Bachesi, we snagged a bench by the seaside instead. The borek was hands down the best I’ve ever had in Istanbul. Not only that, it was much cheaper than anything we could ever find in our neighborhood.

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Cengelkoy Borekcisi at the entrance to the Cinaralti Cay Bahcesi

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Meat and cheese-filled borek

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The view from the Tarihi Cinaralti Cay Bachesi

Afterwards, we walked along the coast up to the military high school and back. The sun was out by then and so were the fishermen. We watched a few reel in some fish and admired the wooden fishing boats.

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Wooden boats

Back in the main part of Cengelkoy, we had dinner at Cigerci Cengelkoy. Gurkan had the Arnavut Cigeri and I chose the Edirne Cigeri (fried sliced liver). It was only my second time eating Edirne style liver and the first time eating it outside of Edirne, but it was quite good. As for the Arnavut Cigeri, I am not sure what makes it special because it just looked like cubed, fried liver to me. Anyways, we were pleased. The service was great.

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Serving up liver at Cigerci Cengelkoy

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Edirne Cigeri (front) & Arnavut Cigeri (back) with piyaz (bean salad)

The dogs of Cengelkoy are also much cleaner and nicer than most of Istanbul’s stray dogs. According to the waiter, this one (Cakir) really likes liver, too.

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Cakir begs for liver

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He got a head scratch instead

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Sunset over the Bosphorus