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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A coffee break in Istanbul’s Old City

The place: Brew Coffeeworks
The offerings: Coffee & baked goods
Price range: 5-8 TL for coffee and espresso drinks
The pros: Strong coffee & funky decor with blue accents
The cons: Located in the old city, the clientele is mostly tourists


Normally, we don’t go to the Old City – it’s far too crowded and touristy for our taste. We only cross the Karakoy bridge unless we have a specific mission in mind – such as buying baking utensils in the bazaar, begging the Fatih Emniyet for my residence papers, or trying a new restaurant (the last one in Fatih was a major fail – #thanksbutnothanks Anthony Bourdain and his Turkey Youtube video). This Sunday, however, we had a mission and that was to help our roommates find new bikes. Gurkan had the bike know-how and I was just there for moral support, and of course, to help Nazli find a snazzy basket for hers.

Before even making our way to the Eminonu bike shops, we chanced upon Brew Coffeeworks, a cafe I remember one of our guests had mentioned he had found while touring. He had said that it was a nice place but in a strange location, and he couldn’t have been more on point. In the midst of unsupervised children, squawking pigeons, and haggling bazaar sellers, Brew Coffeeworks is a beacon in the chaos. Located in the same building as the Ottoman Legacy Hotel, I imagine the clientele is mostly made up of tourists either staying at the hotel or following their tour books to the Spice Bazaar and fish stands of Eminonu.

At first, we wavered about whether we should go in (we were after all on a mission and we had already agreed to eat at Cigkofteci Ali Usta if we were able to find it), but the cafe’s cool blue inside was welcoming and I hadn’t had my morning cup of coffee, so I nudged the others and they soon followed. Surprisingly, the cafe was also completely empty except for another table of two ladies. If the cafe wasn’t located in the Old City, but rather, somewhere in Taksim or Besiktas, I have no doubt it would have been packed. With Wi-Fi available and a decent amount of seating, it is a perfect place to study or work, but given its present location, people probably pop in to take a quick breather after visiting the Spice Bazaar.

Between the four of us, we ordered a few iced lattes and an iced americano for me. In the summer, cold press iced coffee is my drink of choice, but very difficult to find in Istanbul, so an iced americano is a fairly good substitute. We were pleased to find the expresso drinks at Brew Coffeeworks good and strong (none of that fake coffee masquerading as espresso in this joint). Besides the espresso, I really liked the funky blue accents – from the bright blue ceiling, to the blue accented photos, and even the blue display book about Şile cloth (which I mentioned in my last post about Şile), the concept was well executed and the cafe a welcome respite from the chaos of the Old City.

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Cafes in Cape Town & Zurich and a recently opened one in Izmir as well.

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Funky decorations with bright blue accents.

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Ample sitting space to study or work

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Iced Americano (not a cold press iced coffee, but honestly, a close second)

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I didn’t try the baked goods, but they looked awfully delish

Backwoods meets trendy Cihangir at Geyik

The place: Geyik Coffee Roastery & Cocktail Bar
The offerings: coffee & cocktails
Price range: latte 10 TL; cocktails 30-35 TL
The pros: Excellent coffee, great atmosphere and good tunes
The cons: Very small & the bathroom doors are see-through!


This cozy cafe is right down the street from Smryna, another well-known Cihangir hangout. By day, it’s a chill coffee house and by night, it’s a trendy craft cocktail bar. When we walked in, there was no coffee menu to be found, and instead, Serkan (the co-owner according to The Guide) simply asked us ‘what’s your drink?’ Normally, I take a pour over during the day but it was warm and I had just walked up from Karakoy, so I opted for an iced latte and I am glad I did. Serkan prepared the drinks right in front of us, and I was pleased to see he shook the lattes martini-style and served them with shaved chocolate. It’s certainly not standard latte preparation but it was a nice touch. The espresso was smooth and the drink frothy.

While sipping my drink, I admired the inside of the small cafe. A few stools were set up at the bar but most of the sitting space was on a bench alongside the opposite facing wall and towards the back of the cafe where there were free-standing tree stump stools. There were tables and cushions set up outside as well but all had been spoken for. Back inside I noticed the floor still had its original design and the ceiling was covered in rustic wooden beams. Behind the bar was a small image of a deer (geyik), the namesake of the cafe, set against a brick wall.

I also had a chance to check out the cafe’s cocktail menu, and I was shocked to see that the old fashioned had made the cut. For some months now, I have been searching Istanbul for an old fashioned, and I had come to the conclusion that the best and perhaps only old fashioned in all of Istanbul was the one I make at home (thanks to my friend Olivia who brought me the bitters from Boston). I’ll be back to try Geyik’s old fashioned, but not before I return for another one of those frothy lattes!

Word of warning: Don’t drink too much coffee otherwise you will have to use the bathrooms with see-through doors. Not sure how this can be possible? You’ll have to see for yourself…

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A snapshot from our walk to Cihangir

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The barista works his magic as Mr. Geyik looks on

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It’s all in the details at Geyik

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Shaken lattes at Geyik

 

Turkish gastronomy at the ITEF Festival

This weekend was a whirlwind of events. Saturday started off with breakfast at the Consul General‘s residence in Arnavutkoy, followed by my Turkish class at ITI, and then catching up on Turkish dizi (TV series) in the evening. On Sunday morning, I attended the Istanbul Tanpinar Literature Festival (#ITEF), followed by re-discovering Hayri Usta Ocakbasi in Taksim and checking out Cihangir’s newest cafe, Geyik Coffee Roastery & Cocktail Bar.

As a wrap-up to the weekend, I thought I’d write a bit about the ITEF festival run by Kalem Literary Agency. My roommate Nazli (couchsurfer extraordinaire, polyglot and professional literary agent) works at Kalem Agency, and it is always a treat to attend one of the agency’s events. This past fall Gurkan and I had the opportunity to attend the 2013 ITEF festival opening at the Austrian Consulate. Although many of the  talks were in German, we were happy to be in good company in a gorgeous building with a variety of refreshments on hand.

This year the ITEF festival was moved to the spring, and I was only able to make it to a couple of events due to my work schedule. I did however get a chance to make it out to Caddebostan today for the the food literature events. I caught the tail end of Evliya Celebi Seyahatnamesi’nde Yemek Kulturu (Food Culture in Evliya Celebi’s Seyahatname) as well as Anadolu Yemekler ve Ritueller (Anatolian Food and Rituals). Among the things I learned were: hamsi was known as hapsi in the Seyahatname, the many regional variations of preparing keskek, and of course, I came home with a new list of Turkish words to study, all related to Turkish gastronomy.

Gurkan and I each picked out a book from the ITEF book tent for further reading. I chose Ilhan Eksen’s Istanbul’un Tadi Tuzu: Saray Sofralarindan Sokak Yemeklerine. I decided if I am going to make myself read Turkish on a regular basis, I should at least be reading something that interests me, and this one covers it all: from palace spreads to street food (Did I mention that Nazli is determined to turn me into a Turkish to English translator?). Gurkan chose Dengeli Demlenme ve Raki Mezeleri a recipe book for raki-meze night by the same author. I’ve already marked the recipes I want him to try and he’s determined that he can make topik (an Armenian meze dish made out of chickpeas and spices). From the topik I’ve seen and tasted in Istanbul’s meyhanes, I’m afraid it might not be an easy dish to recreate.

After a late afternoon lunch on Taksim’s backstreets, we poured over our new ‘foodie’ books at Geyik where we ended the day with iced lattes shaken martini-style and topped with shaved chocolate. Double yum.

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A snapshot inside the Austrian Consulate at the 2013 ITEF Festival – the numerous hangers were part of an art exhibit

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A presentation on Anatolian food traditions at the 2014 ITEF Festival

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ITEF’s weekend events at the Caddebostan seaside

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I couldn’t help but take a picture of this guy outside the event

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The seaside on a rainy Istanbul afternoon

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Nazli (@nazligurkas) at Kalem Agency’s office in Asmalimescit

 

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.

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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.

A day at the Princes’ Islands

Luckily we just barely made the 7:40 pm ferry to Büyükada – the largest of the Princes’ Islands – one Friday evening after work. Our friends had given us a night at Büyükada’s Butik Ada Hotel as a gift for Gurkan’s birthday. We were both looking forward to the weekend – not only was it a chance to get out of the center of Istanbul but it was also an opportunity spend time on the islands in the off-season. Last time we visited in July only to find the weather  scorching hot and the island crawling with tourists.

After a two hour ferry ride and almost getting off at the wrong island (Gurkan’s fault, not mine), we arrived at Büyükada around 9:30 p.m. The ferry hardly any people on it, and when we landed, we were suprised to find the island similarly quiet. Most of the restaurants and cafes had already closed their doors for the day. We checked into our hotel (a lengthy process as it seemed the guy manning the desk was not familiar with checking in a foreigner; here, they ask for every little detail from your father and mother’s names to your place of birth).

We did a quick once over off the room (meh, definitely needed some redecorating but the location couldn’t have been better) and then headed out to find somewhere to eat. We followed the sound of music and found ourselves in front of Hile Balık. The prices seemed reasonable and a variety of fish were on the display menu; however, after sitting down the waiter informed us they had nothing left except for hamsi (anchovies) and another small type of fish. Even though I don’t care for the small fish, we stayed put and ordered  since it was unlikely we could find another place open at that hour. Unfortunately, the portions were small and the fish not that great. We agreed that it was an unsatisfying meal and if it hadn’t been for the basket of bread I had eaten, surely I would have left hungry. At least the table next to us had already had a few rounds of raki and were starting to dance about the restaurant so the  entertainmnet was far from lacking. We had a nice after-dinner walk in the March stillness and I was happy to find that the island’s street dogs were very friendly and loving.

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This guy was so cute I was tempted to take him home

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Butik Ada – great location but not so great interior decorating

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Horses line up for the day’s taxi rides (there are no cars on the island)

In the morning, we had a quick breakfast at the hotel and rented bikes to go out to Yörük Ali beach, a good couple of miles from the main part of the island. As anyone who knows me knows, I am not one for bike riding. It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s just that I am not good at it especially when it comes to hills and we were on a hilly island. After I got over my initial fear of biking through all the people and horse-drawn carts, we were out of the bustling center and on our way to Yörük Ali.

The beach was the highlight of the day. We didnt have to pay an entrance fee because it was in the off-season and we had the whole place to ourselves. We walked out to the pier, sat down and enjoyed the view (and checked out the jelly fish underneath us). We also got to spend time with the cafe owner’s dog and some wandering horses who weren’t on phaeton duty for the day. After an hour or so, we pushed our bikes up the large hill and headed back to the center where we only ended up paying 10 TL for the two bikes. Best deal of Büyükada hands down! The deal was even sweeter when I noticed that I could get a kağıt helva ice cream sandwich, one of my favorite summer desserts, nearby.

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Heading out to the pier at Yoruk Ali beach

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The views at Yoruk Ali

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A lot of work to be done before the beach is ready for the summer

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Paddle boats wait for the summer

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An old cart along the path to the beach

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Enjoying their day off

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yum yum! Ice cream between kagit helva

Our island eating adventures took a downhill turn when we choose a restaurant overlooking the harbor for afternoon refreshments. We ordered mussels which strangely enough never came, and although, we were content with our selections of mezzes, we were appalled to find that the waiter had tacked on an exorbitant service charge and fee for bread on the bill. Charging for bread at a mezze restaurant is unheard of in Turkey, and considering the service was quite poor, we found it pretentious of them to tack on the service charge (I mean, c’mon, they never brought part of the order).

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The view overlooking the harbor

After taking once last walk to admire the beautiful old houses on the island, we hopped on the ferry and headed back home to Besiktas.

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My dream house

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Heading to the ferry terminal for our trip home

Lessons learned: Next time, we’re just renting bikes and packing a picnic to eat at one of the picnic areas overlooking the sea (there is one on the road right before you reach Yörük Ali beach). Unless you’re getting a kağıt helva ice cream sandwich, the restaurants are extremely touristy and overpriced. In fact, next time we’re going to skip Büyükada altogether and head to Burgazada, the former residence of Sait Faik, one of my favorite Turkish writers.

Other things to do: On a trip to Büyükada last summer, we walked up to the Eski Rum Yetimhanesi (Prinkipo Greek Orthodox orphanage) located at the top of the island in a forest. If you ask any of the locals, they can point you in the right direction. In my opinion, it’s definitely worth the hike. Although it’s gated off with no trespassing signs, it’s really a sight to see and I can’t help but imagine the stories the walls hold. If you’re crafty, maybe you can even sneak in – check out these pics.

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The 2-hour ride home

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.

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Twins Coffee Roasters

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

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Simple furnishings & vibrant accents

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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.