This past week we decided to make our monthly drive out to El Cajon. We were craving some Turkish food from one of our favorites, Sultan. You've probably read at least one of perhaps a half dozen posts we've done on the place over the last couple of years.
Imagine our shock when we drove into the parking lot and saw "Saray Restaurant" instead of Sultan Kebab & Baklava. We were confused when we saw that the Sultan Baklava sign was still in place.
New signs, paintings, and posters adorn the interior of the place and we didn't see anyone we recognized. The folks running the place, a husband and wife team are very nice and welcoming.
The menu was a combination of Turkish and Persian dishes and a bit confusing.
More than the menu, we were kind of concerned about the (former) owner, who always made us feel welcomed, always stopping for a short chat. We hoped that he was doing okay.....
All was soon cleared up when he appeared, walking through the front door, waving to us, then coming over for a chat. He explained that between taking time for the baklava; his booth in the Famer'sMarkets, having the restaurant was getting to be too much of a burden, so he has decided to sub-lease the restaurant to this couple. He brought the owner out to chat. We found out that he was previously one of the chefs at Sufi Restaurant; the one next to Balboa Market. They took over the restaurant side of things about two weeks ago. After the chat, they both went back to the kitchen area where it looked like a whole lot of intruction was taking place........
We ended up having a decent dinner; the prices seem a bit lower and the portion sizes a tad smaller. Here's what we had. Since it looks like they're just getting started, I'll reserve my opinions until we revisit in a couple of weeks.
Saray Restaurant 131 Jamacha Road El Cajon, CA 92019
We are sad to see Sultan close down the restaurant part of their operation. Sultan inspired us to travel to Turkey, a country we've fallen in love with. Yet, I fully understand why the former owner wants to dial things back and am glad that he is well.
Sultan is a wonderful example of the benefits of blogging. We'd never have found the place were it not for FOY (Friend of Yoso") "KenB" (hope you're doing well), whose email got us to visit, and revisit, many times. One of other wonderful benefits and I'm sure other Food Bloggers will agree, is that once in a while we're contacted by Producers or Story Editors from various food shows and are able to share these wonderful mom-and-pop restaurants. I was lucky enough to be able suggest, along with many others I assume, Sultan along with the next two revisits I'll posting on, to those shows.
Finally, after over a year, we returned........
We got there pretty early. This is a little mom-and-pop place, so when it gets busy, you just need to relax, and go with the flow.
The Missus and I decided to share a combination meze plate.
There is of course, those cooked to death green beans which the Missus loves. The patlican salata, smokey, with hints of cumin and oregano, antepezme (acili ezme), mildly spicy-tangy-sweet, the shakshuka with tasty potatoes, eggplant, and red pepper. Along with some lavas....sorry, forgot the photo, but hopefully you've read previous posts.
We also ordered the "mixed grill", Karisik Izgara, which is enough, along with the mezes, for the two of us.
We times things pretty well. You see, we've postulated that the cooking is much better during Ramadan, and this visit adds to that belief. The chicken kebab (tavuk sis) so tender and moist, full of flavor, the standard issue Urfa(ground beef) kebab, delicious and moist. Only the Kuzu Sis seemed a bit too mild, as in not gamey enough for us. The rice was fluffy the haydari (yogurt dip) seemed much more creamy than we recalled. In fact, this whole meal just seemed a step better than previous visits.
Perhaps time does make the heart grow fonder, or maybe we were just missing Istanbul? The reason is probably out of grasp, but that doesn't really matter. The point was, after having so many disappointing meals recently, this was the perfect meal, at the right time. Just what I needed. We gotta get back again soon......
Sultan Kebab & Baklava 131 Jamacha Road El Cajon, CA 92019
It really did seem like we've spent a good deal of time in Istanbul. In actuality, I'm thinking maybe three weeks max. On our last couple of short stays we started getting away from Sultanahmet and taking the metro to places like Osmanbey and Sisli, home of the Nisantasi Shopping Mall. On the top floor you can walk out onto a small patio and take a photo like this one....though the heights kinda got to me rather quickly.
This is the hip and modern Istanbul, looking all the world like just about any major city in the world.......including the traffic.
Having at least a rudimentary familiarity with a city is nice as it opens up other options for shopping and dining.
We'd kind of hit the wall with eating in Istanbul. All of the nice young men in the hotel, except one, who really knew his stuff, would recommend tourist type places. Like the fish restaurants that line the touristy Kumkapi Fish Market area.
Hawker's try to lure you in....but they lose us as soon as they mentioned the "culture show"......
Across the street is the bright, mega-restaurant district of Kumkapi, which seemed a bit too much for us.
All of these type of restaurant/entertainment districts have a certain look and feel to them. The bright lights, the loud music, the free flowing alcohol. Nothing against this, but we wanted something a bit more low-keyed.
And we found just the place. It was a bit of a walk, about 3 kilometers from our hotel. But we had just walked past Kumkapi into the area known as Yenikapi. Right past a massive Korean Restaurant on Kennedy Caddesi we saw this place that looked full of locals.
We walked on up the stairs and noticed that even though the restaurant dining area was pretty large, everyone was eating on the patio. All the customers were male when we arrived, though more couples started coming in a bit later on. More importantly, everyone seemed to know the servers.....like they were regulars, just what we were looking for.
When the men started coming around with trays....we knew we had found a Meyhane.
Though I'm thinking that there must be an amount of tourist business as there's an English translation of the menu.
Anyway, we were met with sort of an amused attitude. There was one Server, a really nice guy, who spoke passable English and I think he found us a bit interesting as we took to the menu like wolves.....
All the usual suspects were present.
He seemed even more amused that I actually knew the names of some of the dishes, like Acili Ezme....
Which was really good, chunky, decent spice, slight pungency.....
And the delicious shaksuka.
All of which was made for bread....we were provided with two different variations.
The Missus just loved this salad, which I thought was a version of Coban Salatsi, but the gentleman said no....so we asked what it's called. He didn't quite know what to call it. So what to do? We he broke out his iPhone and translated it to English......"chopped salad?!?" We just cracked up. I still think it's a version of Coban Salatasi. Whatever the name, it's delicious!
There was one item we saw on every table, so I just had to try it out. The Missus hesitated at first, but I just had ot have it. The Server brought us a piece to try and we were sold.
This is called Çiğ köfte. In this case it's minced raw lamb combined with bulghar, herbs, and spices. Wrapped in the lettuce leaf with a mint leaf it is pure heaven. Refreshing, a bit lamby, herbaceous, and now one of my favorite things!
As we were polishing things off, our Server came by and dropped this off for us, saying "we have extra...."
This was a really tasty lahmacun. Nice crisp bread topped with a very tasty mixture of lamb and spices. Have you noticed the lack of Sultan posts in the last year or so? It's mainly because the Missus has had the food here.......
The next day we headed off to Rhodes and Symi, but we hadn't forgotten Sahre. When we returned to Istanbul, we had one full day before heading home. That's when we visited Osmanbey. When the inevitable lunch question arose, the Missus asked to eat at Sahre. That would be quite a hike, so we decided on a cab.....we weren't sure on how we'd communicate the instructions correctly to the driver, until the Missus found a package of sugar from the restaurant in Her bag.
It took a while with Istanbul traffic, but we finally arrived poised for lunch.
One thing we noticed as we walked up the stairs was that a makeshift table was set-up in the downstairs parking area. A family of five was eating there. The Missus quickly noticed that one of the older gentleman was in a wheelchair. I guess this is the handicap section set-up.
We were a bit disappointed to find that Çiğ köfte was not served for lunch! The Missus hadn't stopped talking about it for the week we were in Rhodes. Anyway, Her other favorites where still available. Our favorite Server wasn't working and it's not the typical meyhane set-up for lunch, so I just pointed to the menu, which was supplemented with a trip to the back to select what we wanted.
We also ordered some içli köfte.
This was a decent version. The exterior was nice and crisp. The filling, a mixture of minced lamb, bulghur, and spices was adequately flavored.
Think of this as being like a croquette or kibbeh. The best thing was the texture.
I also saw chicken wings on the menu. I really enjoyed the version at Mehmet Kebab, so why not try it here as well?
This were nicely grilled. For some reason, I've really taken to the combination of spices used for wings here. Smokey, salty, with a mild spice.
We both tried the grilled green peppers. Most regions in Turkey don't care for really spicy food. I had tried the peppers at Can Can Pide in Antalya which were pretty darn hot. But this was Istanbul, folks don't like things too hot here, so I took a bite....yikes! Man, this had some pretty good heat. That's when we noticed that all the plates on the tables around us still had their peppers intact.
It ended up being a nice lunch. We had dinner reservation later that evening at Mimolett Restaurant, a restaurant that is trying hard for a Michelin star, but we both had out hearts set on having that Çiğ köfte one more time. So we ended up cancelling when we got back to our hotel.
It was our last evening in Istanbul for this trip and we took our time walking the 3 kilometers to the restaurant.
Still we arrived at Sahre a bit early. A few minutes later "our" Server arrived, looking quite amused to see us. We asked about the Çiğ köfte, and he told us, "no, until 7....."
But we were here and determined to get what we had come here twice in one day for...... It was our last night in Turkey and this was a Meyhane, so I decided to get a couple of Efes.
Meanwhile, we noticed storm clouds coming in from the Mamaris. We, like everyone else were seated on the patio, but were safe since we had the awning above us. Soon enough raindrops started to fall and the most amazing drill was initiated. Like a well oiled machine, all the tables were moved from this configuration....
To this....in a matter of minutes......
We had started dinner......
Of course our Server knew the Missus was after one thing. So a few minutes into our meal, he told the Missus "come" and took Her into the kitchen of the restaurant and the station where the Çiğ köfte was being prepared. He then grabbed one for the Missus to have on the way back to our table!
Of course we got the first plate when it finally came out of the kitchen.
It was just as good as our previous visit.
For some reason, we really took to this place. We'll be back the next time we're in Istanbul.
Gaziantep Sahre Restaurant Kennedy Caddesi No 130 Sahilyolu Yenikapi, Istanbul
We walked through all the restaurants in Kumkapi, then back to Vericeriler Caddesi which turned into Divan Yolu Caddesi.
We mainly wanted that one last view of the Blue Mosque at night.
As the final call to prayer started, I looked out at that same quiet street in front of the Hotel Djem. There's something about Istanbul that I love....that had me visiting here twice in two years. I'm not sure what it is, but it's just a matter of time before I return.
Thanks for reading!
This post is dedicated to "Senor" who got me to finally take the time to write this post. I hope you have a great time in Turkey!
You may find it difficult to believe that we don't actually post on ALL the places we visit. Usually, if the Missus and I have an upscale dinner in San Diego, I usually don't take photos, unless it's happy hour or has some other interesting tie in. There usually are too many people around and I'm a pretty low-key person.....I don't like attention. And then there are those that just "don't make the cut"...it doesn't mean the place was terrible or anything, it could be that I just never got around to doing a post....of course, if it was a stellar meal, you know I'd have done a post.
So anyway, with a minimum of my blabbing, here's a trio that just never made it until I COMC'd (Cleared Out the Memory Card).
Inka Heritage - Madison Wisconsin:
To my disappointment, I got to Mad-town during restaurant week and Inka Heritage had what amounted to a prix fix menu, so I had to go with what they had.
Ceviche 3 Ajies (3 peppers):
Pescado Inka Heritage:
Sooo much cheese...but heck, this is Wisconsin, right? What should I have expected.
Inka Heritage 602 S Park St Madison, WI 53774
The Wok Restaurant - Chiang Mai, Thailand:
The dishes looked so lovely, but just didn't deliver.....very bland, somewhat dumbed down. These folks run a cooking school I was thinking of joining....kind of glad I didn't.
The Wok Restaurant 44 Rajmankha Rd, Chiang Mai 50200 Thailand
Ucyildiz - Antalya, Turkey:
So if MickeyD's, or say ChowKing came to Turkey, I'm thinking this is what the food would look like. Sorta artificial....funny, the photos in the menu looked so lovely.
We still chuckle when we see the photos....you can't win 'em all.
Anyway, thanks for dropping by and reading....or staring, or whatever it is that you do when it;s mostly just photos!
One of the things I most regretted about our previous visit to Istanbul was that we were unable to visit a Meyhane, what we would basically call a "tavern". Where small plates are served with the Turkish national spirit, the anise flavored drink called raki.
I wanted to rectify that omission and did a bit of research before we left. We also missed out on visiting the Beyoğlu area, which is considered by many to be the heart of modern Istanbul. Beyoğlu would probably be more familiar to folks like Ed from Yuma and the Greeks as "Pera". As I mentioned before, getting around Istanbul using public transportation is a snap. We simply took the tram to the last stop Kabataş, then the funicular up to Taksim Square.
Now just about every large city in Peru has Plaza de Armas, New York has Times Square, San Francisco, Union Square......Istanbul has Taksim Square, which seemed to be wall to wall people when we walked up the stairs to sunlight. There was also some large rally going on as well.
So we headed off down historical İstiklal Caddesi, once known as "Grande Rue de Péra". There are supposedly tons of historic buildings, many of which represented many different styles, from Neo-Classical to Art Deco. But the pedestrian street was just packed to the gills with people....and I mean just totally packed that we felt like little fish in a giant school being pushed along.
So while we did manage to take in some interesting sites, we just kinda pushed along until nearly reaching the end of the avenue and a cross street named Asmalimescit.
The side streets seemed like little peaceful oasis from the crowded avenue, though the masses had started to dwindle near the end. On this street was a meyhane mentioned by the New York Times and other sources named Asmali Cavit.
The place was empty except for one rather raucous raki fueled party when we arrived. We appeared a bit early, but the very nice gentleman running the place led us to the counter where all the mezes were to start us out. It seems that in spite of the menu, most folks here know what they want upon arrival.....something we saw several times as folks arrived when we were leaving.
A lot of stuff was not available and we'd had quite a large lunch. We stuck with some mezes and the guy behind the counter recommended the shrimp.......
Of course I recognized the "standards"....the saksuka was not my favorite, fairly bland. The ezme was smokey and spicy, with a nice touch of tangy and pungent flavors. The pickled items were nice and refreshing. The patlican saltasi, the eggplant puree, was smokey and delicious. The shrimp wasn't anything to write home about....I think the guy serving us were worried that our palates might not survive anything particularly challenging.
All the dishes were decent renditions, but we weren't wowed by them. I'm not a big fan of anise flavored spirits, but I took to raki....of course the more I drank, the more I enjoyed! Turkish raki is closer to ouzo than Greek raki (tsipouro/tsikoudia). Overall, a decent meal, with prices much lower than the old town.
After finishing our dinner, we headed back to Istikal Caddesi. By now the crowds had dwindled.
We decided to catch the vintage tram back up to Taksim Square and head back down that way. But when the tram stopped, it went out of operation. The conductor came out and announced something....one of the folks waiting saw us and very proudly announced in English, "there is big meeting....BEEEEG MEETING, track blocked, tram cannot go!" You know, folks here are really great. I'm guessing that the rally we saw earlier had gone into full demonstration mode and the tracks were blocked. Anyway, it's not something we wanted to get mixed up in. Instead we caught the Tünel (Tunnel), next to the London Underground, the second oldest underground rail line in the world.
It a very short trip just 600 yards or so.
Instead of catching the tram back to Sultanahmet we decided to walk back, which was the right choice as we got the chance to take in the sunset on the Galata Bridge which is where I took the first photo of the "Where the heck are we" post.
It gave us a chance to take in a nice evening.
While the "balik" (fish sandwich) boats were doing great business, the Spice Market was closing up shop for the day.
We stopped the Missus's favorite place in Sultanahmet Park to take in the Blue Mosque......
While we chatting about the next morning and our flight to Tunis.
"You're going to Istanbul again? Why?" Was the response many of my friends and acquaintances when I told them we were headed back to Istanbul. Even though we'd always spoke about returning to Laos or Peru, we'd never gotten around to pulling the trigger. And here we were headed back to Istanbul, and yes, even Greece, though this time it was the island of Rhodes, a place I'd been wanting to visit.
So why Istanbul? We really loved visiting last year, the history, the people, the vibrancy, but perhaps not as much the food.......strange. We compared many of the dishes we ate during our trip with what we enjoy at Sultan and though there would be singular dishes that surpassed those at our favorite Turkish restaurant, both of us were quite impressed at how the food at Sultan stood up. Soon after our trip I took stock of how much effort I really put into researching restaurants in Istanbul. It turns out that even though I had a list, the trip was overwhelmingly about sites and history....we'd often be too tired or lazy to go and search out places and ended up spending all of our time in Sultanahmet, Sirkeci, and Eminonu. Easy enough to do, I suppose since there's so much to see and do. But plane fares seemed reasonable and the Missus wanted to fly out of San Diego instead of making the rather long trip, bus from the house, train to Union Station, then bus to LAX, then the reverse or some facsimile on the way back....which was even worse. So there we were, back in Istanbul.
The hotel has gotten even better over the last year, good wi-fi, even conditioner.......during the first leg of our trip we stayed in the new "annex" location, a very large room. The front desk staff had changed over, but they were a nice bunch.
Our next stop......well I did mention wanting to revists Hagia Sofia. Which is what we did. The lines weren't as long as on our previous visit and we had the drill down....get your ticket and head straight for the interior getting there before the tours and ohter tourists. Heading upstairs you can really understand how grand the place is.
I was fascinated by this marble door on our previous visit.......I didn't know what the significance of it was. Well, it's called, what else, the "Marble Door" and participants of synods used the door to enter and exit meetings.
The amazing thing about Hagia Sofia is, that no matter how many hundreds of people are in the place at once.......it never seems totally filled.
As we left Hagia Sofia, I was on a mission........we needed to get out of the area and to some of the more well known eateries. "Lokantas" are eateries where working stiffs traditionally got their fill of good home style cooking. Many of the items are in steam tables and you pick what you want. Before you go where I think you're going....this ain't Panda Express, as lokantasi have become a key player in bringing the cuisine of Turkey to the forefront. Here's a great article from The Guardian. One place that I saw constantly mentioned over the last year on food forums and blogs like Istanbul Eats is Ciya Sofrasi, having been called a "culinary shrine" and even "the best restaurant in Turkey", among others. Ciya is located on the Asian side of the Bosphorus....so this time we were actually using the ferry, not taking a tour. The fare is cheap....2 TRY, about $1.10 gets you across the Bosphorus.
Beyond just the metro and tram to and from the airport, we'd find out just how good the transit system was in Istanbul on this trip. Taking the ferry is a snap. you just find the station for whichever area you're going to, put your 2 Lira in the entrance gate and wait in line.......also, folks in Turkey, in spite of a rather serious looking demeanor, are generally very helpful and nice.
Here's what the Asian side looks like from the ferry.
About 40 minutes or so later......you're getting off in Kadikoy.
It looks like a middle class residential-business area. The part of Kadikoy where Ciya Sofrasi is located contains a ton of restaurants, vegetable, and seafood stands.
We arrived at Ciya a bit before they opened.
So we decided to walk around to kill time. We found a shop that sold coffee and inquired about a place that actually made a good cup of proper Turkish coffee. We were directed a couple of door down.
Turkish coffee takes a while to make. And it was kind of funny trying to tell the shop owner exactly what we wanted since he spoke no English.
A quick word about drinking Turkish coffee. If you ever get a cup, let it sit for a minute or more, the coffee is very fine and unfiltered, you get a mouthful of finely ground coffee if you don't let the coffee settle to the bottom of the cup.
Walking back to the coffee seller the Missus bought a packet of sahlep......She's been wanting to get some.
We arrived back at Ciya and the place was just opening. The owner and chef of Ciya Sofrasi, Musa Dağdeviren is quite a celebrity both in and outside of Turkey, having been a presenter at the Culinary Institute of America and featured in articles such as this one in New Yorker Magazine. Musa is renowned for gathering recipes from all corners of Anatolia, some which have almost disappeared and placing them back on the table.
I had read that there are over a thousand different dishes offered at Ciya over the course of the year, though Ciya is most famous for the vegetarian dishes of the region of Gaziantep.
Upon entering the Missus was drawn to the table of cold dishes.....which the person behind the counter explained to us is simple terms was...."salad bar". Though I've never seen a salad bar quite like this. Here you could get a variety of whatever you wanted and it was priced on weight.
There's a section of other various soups, stews, and cooked dishes. Here you could choose what you want.
You could also order various kebab and meat items from the menu....but really, with all of this to pick from?
Here's the items the Missus selected from the cold table.
The dolmas...stuffed items were quite good, but it was the various salads that were really outstanding. The pickled thin branches and leaves up top I believe are pickled caper leaves....which were wonderfully flavored.
The Missus also picked a simple red lentil soup, something we've had many times....just for comparison purposes.
The Missus just loved this. I'm not a big fan of lentil soup, but I had a taste......this was lighter than other versions, not as buttery, with the wonderful palate cleansing flavor of mint coming through. I actually enjoyed it.
The stuffed artichoke, not as much......
It was a bit dry for me.....also on the bland side.
We'd had a not so great experience with kuru patlican (dried eggplant) before. However, in this dish, combined with great savory flavors, it was outstanding. The texture was slight crunch and the flavor of the eggplant came through.
The one meat dish, a simple lamb stew paled in comparison....under seasoned, the meat very tough.
The dried eggplant dish would have been my favorite, if not for dessert....yes, that's right, dessert. I really don't have a sweet tooth, which is often a saving grace considering what I eat....but this, something I believe is called "teleme", just seemed made for me.
What the person behind the dessert station told the Missus was that this was dried figs and milk. It had a the wonderful flavor of figs (I do love fig newtons) along with what seemed like condensed milk. Sweet, but not a sugar sweet if you know what I mean. This was by far my favorite dish of the meal. Which was capped off with some tea......not Turkish tea though. When it arrived at the table it had a very familiar scent.....this was oregano tea! It really smelt like dry oregano.....we weren't sure at first, but it was pretty darn good!
Our meal came out to about 40 TRY, approximately $22 US. We were later told that Ciya was considered to be quite expensive with regards to Lokantasi.....but to us, it seemed like a bargain.
After lunch we headed back to the ferry station....but then the Missus stopped at the Dolmus station. No it's not stuffed grape leaves or peppers. Dolmus (literally "stuffed") are what they call the minibuses that run specific routes around Istanbul. On the flight to Istanbul, the really nice woman seated next to us struck up a conversation. She was born and raised in Istanbul and lived both in the US and Istanbul part time. She recommended that we visit an area called Bağdat to see what modern, everyday, albeit upper middle class Istanbul was like. So there we were, in a dolmus, having paid a simple 3 TRY each on our way to Bağdat Caddesi. Driver didn't speak any English, but others on the dolmus did and explained where we needed to stop.
The streets in the area were wide by Istanbul standards....I really didn't take any photos because it really looked like just about any large western city. Eventually we got tired and waved down a dolmus. This guy didn't speak English either, but understood "ferry" and dropped us off. We made it back to our hotel just in time for a nice nap........dreaming about what we'd have for dinner!
That title long enough for you? I considered not finishing the Istanbul posts of our 2011 trip, but thought I should probably do them because they influenced our most recent trip. Of course, probably the most serious omission in our posts was not mentioning the Grand Bazaar, spread over nine acres, with over 60 streets, and over 550 years old, of course we had to check it out, if only for a couple of hours. We decided to enter through the main gate of the Bazaar......
Depending on what your source is, it is said that there are somewhere between 3,000 to 4,000 shops in the Grand Bazaar. That's a lot of stuff......stuff that was also more expensive than elsewhere. I guess the overhead must be pretty high here. since we travel pretty light there wasn't much room for "stuff". So of course we were here in search of something to eat! I'd read a post on Istanbul Eats about a kebab shop in the Bazaar area. The Bazaar itself contains many "Hans", which used to be inns which is where travelers would stay. If you're interested in more about the Grand Bazaar as well as a walking tour, you might want to get this book. And while walking navigating the bazaar might seem a bit of a task, we had little trouble finding CebiciHan....you walk through a short, low ceilinged, passageway and find yourself there......just a few yards in distance, but seemingly a universe away from the bustle of the Grand Bazaar.
In a tranquil courtyard, next to a tea shop with a large group of older men were socializing and playing cards was the shop I was looking for called Kara Mehmet Kebab.
It was a peaceful and relaxing place, the guys running the show were friendly....and quite mischievous. When the borek vendor came by, hands filled with a pile of borek above his head, they started tickling him and slapping his behind....trying to get him to drop all his profits. Funny thing, we later saw a photo of the borek guy in the book I mentioned above!
I started with a refreshing glass of Ayran.
The Missus wanted some tea, which was brought from the tea shop next door.
Ordering for me was pretty easy....I just went with the Karisik Izgara...the mixed grill. The Missus wanted to try the Adana Kebab. Things started off with a nice Coban Salatasi, shepherd's salad, which was quite good as it was dressed with what tasted like balsamic vinegar.
The Missus enjoyed Her Adana Kebab. Though it was milder than She expected, it was very moist and tender........which is where many of the kebab places here in the states fall short.
My mixed grill turned out to be quite a bit of food (duh!).
Strangely....well, knowing me, maybe not.....I really enjoyed the grilled chicken wings which were moist and full of flavor...smokey, salty, sweet, and mildly spicy. The skin was even fairly crisp.
This turned out to be the best meal of our time in Istanbul.
Kara Mehmet Kebap Salonuu Iç Cebeci Han No: 92 Grand Bazaar, Old City, Istanbul
It was also a lot of fun watching the old men argue over a game of cards......one gentleman slammed his cards down and started to walk away in a huff while all the other guys tried to get him back. Some things are universal and we couldn't help but laugh. The other men were cracking up and pointed at us saying something in Turkish......the guy sheepishly smiled, waved at us, and went back to the table where his smiled disappeared, pointing to another gentleman, the one who probably beat his rear end off, and the game resumed.
Soon enough it was time to hit the bustling streets of Istanbul again.
We still needed to pick up some small gifts to bring back to us. One of the guys back at the hotel told us to get Turkish Delight from Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir.
According to the story, back in 1777 Bekir Effendi created Turkish Delight and this shop has been in existence since then. We were told that it was the oldest continuously run business in Istanbul at over 230 years. I'm not a big fan of lokum, but heck, if you're going to get it, it might as well be from the originators, right?
By the time we were headed back to our hotel the heat and crowds were starting to wear us down. The Missus noticed a shop with a second floor dining area and decided that it would be a great time for a break.
We ordered a snack and some tea downstairs then walked up the narrow stairwell (the norm for Istanbul) to what turned out to be a very nice dining area.
It turns out that the name of the place was Hafiz Mustafa 1864....I guess for when it was established. This was the perfect little break we needed.
While looking at the photo of the street below, I recalled how crowded and busy things seemed.
And yet, when we returned home, we missed the lively, vibrant, and very social environment......much like we missed China when we got back from our trip there.
Of course, right at that moment, I could more clearly empathize with this fellow we passed on the way back to our hotel room.
This was nothing a nice shower and a short nap couldn't cure and I was ready to go. The front desk folks had recommended at restaurant called Rami to us earlier. It was called very nice and classy...well, we had been travelling with just backpacks and really weren't in the position of visiting anyplace too fancy. We were assured that we'd have no problems with the restaurant which is located in a charming little house a few blocks away.
Well, the house may be charming, but the gentleman who seated us was far from that. The pace was empty, but he was quick to tell us where we couldn't sit....nothing on the second floor, no tables with a view....all reserved, even though the place was totally empty and would remain so during our entire meal.
It did seemed like the spacing of tables were a bit cramped, but of course that didn't bother us since no one else was there.
Our Server promptly dealt us our menus and proceeded to disappear for a good long time. No water, no nothing....... When he returned, I think we made our second "mistake"........we'd had a good amount of food for lunch. To us, it seemed that just have a combination of starters for dinner would just be the perfect thing. His response, "humph......."
We went with the cold starters combination (TRY 29 - about $18 at the time).
All I remember after tasting this was how bland and ice cold this stuff was. It was like cafeteria food.
We also ordered the "Hot" Starters Plate (also TRY 29)......hot was just being used in the broadest of terms I suppose as most of this was also cold and somewhat greasy.
That lahmacun was plain nasty and we quit after one bite each.
Believe me when I say it was far from what as written on the menu.
As we were almost(thankfully) through our meal the Server plunked down some bread at our table......I mean really, if you're going to get all stuffy and pretentious on us, at least show me that you know how to time things and do your job. After all the great experiences we had in Istanbul, this was a rather sad way to end our trip.
As I sat at the window of our hotel room and listened to the last call to prayer for the evening I realized something. I usually work a little harder when researching places to eat when we travel. All the sites and history of Istanbul had taken over and we had stayed with places close to the Old City. I would have to fix that next time we were here. And based on how much we loved Istanbul, there would be a next time.
Yes, this is mmm-yoso!!!, the blog o' food. Today, Cathy is playing the part usually played by Kirk, who is having a blissful time elsewhere. ed (from Yuma) is blissfully enjoying his downtime in Yuma.
Hi. Kirk usually posts about dinners at Sultan. (I've found at least five posts where he has mentioned meals there and that link is to the most recent meal.) As you have read, He and His Missus are elsewhere and since The Mister and I also eat here and I have photos of some light/lunch meals, here's another post.
I took this photo early one morning, as we were driving to Kaelin's Market for goodies. You'll never actually see the front parking places empty when the mall is open.
I don't think Kirk has posted a photo of the open kitchen. I snapped this when I had the chance. That photo montage above the window looks like it's from Kirk's posts about his Turkish vacation. Sultan is the only True Turkish Restaurant in San Diego County.
We always order a salad when we stop here. This is Koylu Salatasi salad (small, $4). Cucumber, tomato and parsley. The dressing is light : oil, vinegar and spices. This is refreshingly fresh.
We almost always also order Mercimek- ($3) made with red lentils, flour, butter and spices. This vegetarian soup is so darn good- deeply rich flavored. You would not think it is vegetarian.
This is the Veggie combo platter ($10). A bit of everything: Start from 11:00-Baba Ganouj (smoky), Hummus(garlicy and lemony), Patlican Salatasi(eggplant, onion, sweet pepper, tomato and parsley),Taze Fasulye (green beans, onions, carrots, sweet pepper and tomato), Tabuli (bulgur, parsley,tomato, onion, cucumber in a lemon-olive oil dressing), Haydari(yogurt, cucumber, dill and mint) and in the center to enjoy with everything if we didn't want to use bread, a roasted eggplant.
Falafel ($7). Made with fresh garbanzos, tomato, hot pepper, onion and served with the hummus/ baba ganouj/haydari from above. A very good version.
On another lunchtime visit...
As I mentioned, we almost always order the Mercimak ($3). It's that good.
This time, we chose the Tabuli salad (small, $4). It's also that good. Just enough bulgur wheat and always perfectly dressed.
Lahmacun ($3) The house made bread topped with a mix of ground beef, tomato, sweet pepper, tomato, parsley and spices. This is quite large, thin and very deeply flavored. The lemon, pickled onions, peppers and pickles are nice to add on, but tasting this as it hits the table, it's perfect.
Then there is this. From the appetizer menu. Simple. Peynirli Borek ($3) Feta, onion and spinach. Made fresh, on crispy still warm filo. This is a perfect food: taste, textures...
We always get tea at the end of every meal, even this meal of small appetizers.
Sultan Kebab and Baklava 131 Jamacha Road (At East Main and North Second), El Cajon 92019 Website (619)440-1901 Open 7 days 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
After a pretty mellow time in Antalya we arrived back in Istanbul, ready for the final leg of our trip. By now, we had the drill down pat. Catch the light rail from the airport, get off at the Zetinburnu stop....
Then catch the tram and get off at the Sultanahmet stop. There were times when the tram was packed....like sardines, but since we don't have much luggage; two backpacks, we did fine.
One thing we picked up on right away was to get your tokens when you have a chance, planning ahead one or two trips....this way you aren't at the mercy of crowds in front of the token dispensers while your tram arrives...then leaves without you. This will also prevent what happened to me once...we needed to catch the tram to the airport. While I was walking to the token machine I noticed our tram coming. I quickly inserted my coins into the dispenser hoping none would be rejected. Grabbed our tokens and ran full blast to the boarding station. I hadn't run so fast in years,; make that decades. The Missus was laughing so hard She almost fell over....luckily we made the tram.
We walked to the Hotel Djem, checked in, and decided to just walk the few blocks to Sultan Kosesi. The Missus wanted sahlep again and it was nice to run into our favorite Server.
The Missus combination vegetarian plate was much better than what I ordered.....
which was an Adana Kebab.
We were up and on the move fairly quickly.
The Missus wanted to check out the Blue Mosque and since it is a functioning Mosque, it would be best for us to visit between prayer times. We really didn't want to intrude......
Sultanahmet Mosque, was built by its namesake between 1609 and 1616. Sultan Ahmet's goal was to build a mosque greater than the Hagia Sofia right across the way. It's quite beautiful, especially the exterior at night. It's called the Blue Mosque because of all the blue tilework.
As we exited the Blue Mosque, I noticed a very tall fellow wearing a yellow cap. You can see him to the right in this photo.
It was Kareem Abdul Jabbar....I mean, you really can't miss him at over seven feet tall and surrounded by several bodyguards. I turned to the Missus and said, "I think the Lakers are out of the playoffs (this was last year)." She asked me, "how do you know." He wouldn't be here if they were still in it.
Anyway, a photo of the Blue Mosque.
The area right to the west of the Blue Mosque and Sultanahmet Park is the Hippodrome, yes, that kind of Hippodrome. Built when the city was still known as Byzantium, when Constatine the Great moved the capital to "Nova Roma" (New Rome), which became known as Constantinople heenlarged the seating area to hold over 100,000 people! Undergoing major renovation when we visited, it really didn't look that impressive. A large walkway, with several obelisks. The one to the right is what remians of the Serpent Column which was brought to Constantinople from Delphi. It was once the figure of three serpents intertwined supporting a golden basin.
Notice that the obelisk appears to be buried a bit? The original level of the Hippodrome is actually about 8 feet below the current pedestrian walkway, where the base of this obelisk is located.
The one to the right is called the Obelisk of Theodosius. Theodosius the Great brought this back from Egypt in 390A.D. It is carved from pink granite and is actually from the Temple of Karnak in Egypt and dates back to 1490 B.C. It was cut into three sections, the top section was mounted on a marble pedestal, just where it is now. It look good considering it's over 3500 years old!
This is called the German Fountain and was built and presented to Abdul Hamit II in 1901 to commemorate Kaiser Wilhelm's visit in 1898.
We explored the streets of Sultanahmet a bit more........
And though the days were beginning to get longer, we decided to grab dinner, then head back to the hotel. Metin, from the Hotel Djem recommended a restaurant called Mozaik to us. Funny thing, we stayed right around the corner from the place on our first night in Istanbul.
Though the prices reflected the area....being high traffic tourist oreinted, the food was pretty good.
The Izagara Mantar Salatasi, a mixed green salad topped with grilled mushrooms was probably the weakest dish, bland, and nothing special.
The Missus enjoyed Her Patlican Musakka, tangy tomatoes, sweet roasted peppers, She told it was pretty good.
I really enjoyed my Cizz Bizz Kofte, cute name, huh? It actually means something like sizzling meatball.
I'm not quite sure about the sizzling part, but these were very well seasoned and melt in your mouth moist and tender. The simple stemed vegetables were an afterthought just to take up space on the plate.
The combination of lamb and beef was done well......it had just enough of that lamb flavor to keep you interested.
Turkey is a Muslim country, thus you won't find alcohol in every shop on every corner. Because our days seemed to be flying by, it really didn't look like we'd be able to visit a meyhane. So I decided to try some Turkish Raki, not to be confused with Cretan Raki, this was veyr much like Ouzo. In fact, when you added ice to the drink it turned milky white just like ouzo. I'm not a big fan of anise drinks, but I had to try at least one, right?
The drink set me up for a wonderful night. Right after the last call to prayer I was out. To wake up the next morning ready to go. We took our usual morning walk, then headed off to the Hagia Sofia....only to find a line already at 8am! I'll honestly say, that the Hagia Sofia doesn't really lok as dramatically impressive as the Blue Mosque from the outside.
But this structure was once considered the "Greatest Church in all of Christendom". So something fantastic must be in store. Right in front of us in line were four young people from Spain. One of the young ladies was obviously a dog lover and this one caught her attention. She called him "El Guapo" - the handsome one!
She actually went looking for something to give Mr Handsome to eat and came back with some simit, sesame bread and starting feeding him.
Unfortunately, there's just so much sesame bread a dog could eat! To which she apologized, "lo siento el guapo, nada de carne"......El Guapo seemed to understand an was just happy to be the subject of her affection.
Here's a hint if you're visiting the Hagia Sofia and have time the day before. Buy tickets for the next day the previous evening. There's another line for folks who already have tickets. Anyway, we made it in fairly quickly, before it really got clogged up.
And upon entering I could understand the words of Justinian who supposedly said upon viewing the rebuilt Hagia Sofia for the first time, "Glory to God that I have been judged worthy of such a work." It's just one of those places where photos do not do the subject justice.
Unlike the Blue Mosque, whose interior is somewhat marred by the large pillars used to brace its large domed ceiling, the gracefully beautiful Hagia Sofia is supported by ribs made of hollow bricks made in Rhodes from a special clay.
The Islamic caliphs remind you that in 1453 Sultan Mehmed II, laid seige and conquered the "Center of Christianity". Hagia Sofia became a mosque.
In Islam, images of humans are not allowed, thus all the beautiful mosiacs in the former church were covered in plaster.
In 1935, Turkey's "George Washington", the founder and first President of Turkey, Ataturk, declared Hagia Sofia a museum. And the mosiacs have been or are being restored....to see the light of day once again.
As it is, I've spent a good amount of time on the Hagia Sofia. I cuold probably spend a couple of thousand more words on it, but I'll spare you. I'll just say, that of all the places I've been, there's only one other place I want to revisit......Machu Picchu.
Light and shadows do add a great deal of atmosphere here as well. You'll be within the shadows of a hallway or stairway. perhaps under one of the beautiful stained glass windows, only to walk into the bright yellows of one of the galleries.
Ok, enough, I'll spare you. Just one more interesting thing. There's a column within the Hagia Sofia, called the "weeping column". It was supposedly brought from the Temple of Artemis.
We were told that water sometimes drips out of the column, thus it "weeps". There are supposedly miracles associated with this column. The Missus was told to stick Her thumb into the hole then spin completely around and if Her thumb comes out wet a miracle will happen.
Her thumb did come out moist, but I'm still here! So no miracle on this day! he-he-he.... also, the fact that a pagan column was being used in a Christian church just sounded a bit weird to me. But who am I to say?
We'd had an interesting night in Antalya and I was really enjoying the city. From the hotel, to the the people, it was working out well. After a typical no need to eat until next week Turkish breakfast, we decided to take a walk around "Old Antalya", the Kaleiçi, surrounded by city walls, it is protected from development. There are still Ottoman and Roman style homes in the area.
I was unusually touched as we walked by the Keike Minare (the broken minaret) which is part of the ruins of the Korkut Camii, which was in my previous post. An elderly gentleman, very well dressed, probably in his eighties was walking on the other side of the street. He started toward us, smiled, walked up to me and extended his hand...... I didn't quite know what to say other than to smile and shake his hand. For me, it was such a welcoming gesture......
The streets themselves varied in width, some wider than others, some quite narrow, all of them exuding character.
It was also quite nice that the streets were empty at this hour, which is why we really enjoy our morning walks.
In this day of cookie cutter construction and having seen the "condo farms", buildings sprouting like corn in China, this was quite a change. You could feel the history of the city oozing from the cracks in the walls.
The doors of various building were particularly fascinating. Each one different, they all seemed to have a story to tell.
After a bit we wandered North, then toward the direction of Ataturk Caddesi, the main street in the area, right outside the city walls where the tram runs. To get out of the walls you walk thru Hadriyanus Capisi (Hadrian's Gate) which was build to honor the Roman Emperor Hadrian for his visit to Antalya in the year 130AD.
Walking south, past all the older men drinking tea in the park, we headed down Ataturk Caddesi, past all the shops, banks, and business buildings....and even past the ATM Farm. I don't recall ever seeing a place where competing ATMs are line up in such a manner.
We walked past what looked like government buildings, had a short stop for tea, then around the edges of a very large park.
We ended up here.......
The views were quite beautiful.......
To our right was Hıdırlık Tower, built by the Romans in the first century. I guess to keep watch over the Antalya Bay.
Right to the north was the colorful Roman Harbor.
We walked down to the harbor, past all the colorful tourist boats, then back up what must have been a cliff wall way back when.......
Climbing back up those steps I recall turning around and looking and marveling at how wonderful the "strands of clouds" looked.
Sort of a like a cloud version of the aurora borealis.......
After this we just kind of wandered around and somehow ended up at the Clock Tower.
Funny thing happened as we walked past the Tekeli Mehmet Pasha Camii.....an elderly gentleman walked out and waved us into the Mosque. I pointed to the shorts I was wearing....I really didn't plan on visiting a mosque. But he just shook his head and waved us in.
Down a nearby street is the Shopping Bazaar, mostly full of tourist stuff.
We eventually made a complete circle all the way back to Hadrian's Gate. By this time I was starting to get hungry. We headed away from Kaleiçi and ended up near a shopping area. We saw this place on the street. I'd read about it somewhere, so we decided that this was the place for lunch.
This place was doing some major take-out business and the Pide looked really good!
The prices seemed right and the Missus liked the menu which offered a good variety of items.
I'd noticed that the food in Antalya seemed more aggressively spiced than what we had in Instanbul. I actually enjoyed this. I tried a pepper from the bowl on the table and it was indeed fairly spicy.
The Missus enjoyed the dolmasi...one pepper, one eggplant.
But She really enjoyed the Patlican Musakka. It's not like Greek Moussaka. This was spiced stewed lamb on a roasted eggplant.
I had the Karisik Pide, which turned out to be quite filling.
Those roasted peppers were delicious as well.
Of course, this is Turkey and there was that basket of bread available......
Of course we headed back to the hotel and immediately took a nap....awakening a couple of hours later. After just lounging around for a couple of hours we headed back out. Near the main street and traffic control gate to the old city was this little restaurant.
Folks eat fairly late here, so we had the entire restaurant to ourselves and took a small table in the very pretty tree lined back courtyard.
I'd pretty much had my fill of meat and just wanted a variety of mezes for dinner. The server, a very nice young man was quite accommodating and we just had bread (of course), lavas, and a nice variety of mezes for dinner.
It was a light, but very satisfying meal.
Of course we took an after meal walk. This time we followed the tram line away and west of the Kaleiçi. This took us to a residential/business area that looked fairly expensive.
We followed the road to the water's edge, then turned back.....
By this time the Missus wanted an "after dinner sweet" and this place looked like it would fit the bill.
I had ayran, the Missus had tea, and we settled at the outside table. It was a nice place to people watch as we shared some baklava.
Meanwhile, a gentleman with a handsome dog walked down the steps. He left the dog there while he went to get his hair cut next door. I guess the pooch is pretty well known. The owner of the shop put a napkin in front of him and placed a piece of baklava on it.
I guess it's good being king, or at least a prince. He was so well behaved and waited patiently for his owner. Meanwhile, across the street we saw a beautiful golden retriever, so proud and happy....suddenly stop, turn around, and try to drag his owner in the opposite direction. We wondered what caused this...then we noticed that the dog had stopped a two doors down from a Vet! Of course it was to no avail as the owner tugged his suddenly unhappy dog into the Vet.
One more interesting thing........
This gentleman was the shoe guy right in front of the snack shop. One of my shoes was starting to come apart at the sole. We got him to fix my shoe, which lasted until we got back home!
It's easy to fall into the flow here, but it was back to Istanbul in the morning. We did have a relaxing two days, though.....
One last thing. For some reason, I just loved this sign.......