The Great Chefs of Istanbul Are Rewarded with Michelin Stars
By Paul Shoul
Let’s start with the ingredients. In 1970 Istanbul had approximately 2.5 million inhabitants. Today in 2022, it has surged to over 15 million. If this city was a country, It would be the 9th largest in Europe.
Straddling Asia and Europe, divided by the Bosphorus strait, has been a center of shipping and trade for millennia. A mixing pot of culture and cuisines.
Istanbul smells like spice, grilled fish, and meat. The street food scene is sublime: glorious donna kebab stalls, fish sandwiches. Simits (Somewhere between a bagel and pretzel) covered in sesame seeds. Buttery baklava, stuffed mussels. kokoreç (grilled lamb intestines). Lahmacun ( Turkish pizza). Baklava to die for.
The traffic is notorious. The sidewalks are packed, humming with a dozen different languages. I heard the Muslim call to prayer, the hawker’s call to eat, and the Rolling Stone’s ” Satisfaction” drifting out of a club.
Sometimes it is faster to grab a ferry to bypass the gridlock during rush hour. The history along the banks of the Bosphorus is mind-boggling. Ferries, fishing boats, huge mega tankers filled with grain and oil all pass by the grand and spice bazaar, mosques, and ancient cisterns.
The Michelin Guide Arrives
In an appropriately swanky award ceremony held at the Zorlu Performing Arts Center on Oct 11th Michelin welcomed 53 new restaurants in Istanbul into their esteemed guide. What a great night with a DJ, opera singers, and a who’s who of the culinary scene.
Incredible appetizers, endless wine, and a crowd of super ecstatic, hard-working chefs finally getting the recognition they deserve. It was a life-changing event for them and the city.
I was lucky enough to dine at some of the newly-ordained star restaurants in Istanbul. Here is what I found.
On the next day, after Chef Pınar Taşdemirul of Araka received one Michelin star, this delightful, unassuming young chef was hard at work in her tiny kitchen preparing lunch for an unruly crowd of 40 journalists and influencers.
A challenging task at any time for any chef, she steadily put out inspired food. It was apparent from the first bite why she was selected.
The restaurant has a cozy/rural/whimsical feeling. As do her dishes.
Confit celeriac and green tomatoes with citrus. Green apple smoked bonito and almond tarator. Miso roasted cauliflower, broccoli, fava with marjoram. sea bream, eggplant, fresh herb sauce. Slow-cooked lamb and chilav. Fig & halloumi baklava, geranium ice cream.
Alaf Restaurant was awarded the Bib Gourmand, Michelin Guide “Best value for money restaurants – offering a three-course meal at a reasonable price.” Chef/owner Murat Deniz Temel served up a Turkish gastronomic map of dishes from regions around Turkey. One of my favorite meals in Istanbul.
Cured fish / Aegean fish egg salad.
“Konya” moldy cheese. Pork kebap. Lamb kebab.
1924 Istanbul Restaurant
My first dinner in Istanbul was a step back into history at the 98-year-old 1924 Istanbul restaurant. A great atmosphere that was somewhat of a gastronomic museum; there was an accordion player and a violin player serenading diners.
Opened by Russian refugees in 1924, they feature a modern take on traditional Russian cuisine. Note to self, 4 shots of Horseradish infused vodka mixed with 3 glasses of wine is not a great idea:).
Zucchini Flower dolma with quince, chickpea topik with fig, house-cured pastima beignet, salmon blini with keta caviar, wild mushroom piroshki, beef cheek cherry jubilee aubergine, and pomme anna, and samantha helva “baklava” with blackberry puree.
Chef Rudolf GPM Van Nynen is larger than life. In the kitchen of Sans Restaurant, he is all business. He did not relax until all the plates were prepared, served, and then met with a silence that sometimes descends on a dining room when the food is so good that there is no room for conversation until you are done tasting.
Amuse bouche, Swiss chard with beef and yogurt, “Urla” artichoke braised in red beetroot puree, spinach roots, fava bean carrot puree
Wine- Kavaklidere Emir 2021, Cappadocia.
Aegean line caught wild sea bass roulade with saffron-tarragon sauce
Wine- Chamlija Narince 2020, Kirkareli
Thrace lamb in a pistachio jacket, siyez wheat shallot, dolma. Celery root, demi-glace of grapes.
Wine- Doluca Sarafin, Meritage 2019, Saroz
Yali 77 Restaurant
Breakfast is a big deal in Turkey. For many, it is the most important meal of the day. On the weekends, it is a tradition that families and friends gather. They talk for hours, eat from numerous small plates and drink gallons of tea or the muddy caffeine jolt that is Turkish coffee.
Yali 77 is located in a unique oasis of open green space overlooking the only beach on the Bosphorus.
Long tables in the garden were adorned with an impressive spread of Turkish breakfast fare. Shared plates of tomatoes, cucumbers, Asuka with walnuts, pastry with cheeses, and pepper boran fried gör egg, menemen, cirrilmis with milk and fried potatoes and sausage Bodrum mandarin Jam, fresh curd cheeses, honey, cream, and simit.
Mandatory things to see in Istanbul
Visit Sultanahmet Square
Located on the site of what was the Byzantine Hippodrome of Constantinople. It was the social center of ancient times where chariot races were once held. It is the historic heart of Istanbul that attracts thousands of people every day. A beautiful open square with gardens, sitting areas, and a smattering of carts selling treats like grilled corn, simit, ice cream, and roasted chestnuts.
All within walking distance are the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace Museum, and the Basilica Cistern, an underground chamber supported by over 336 marble columns that could hold over 2,0945,454 gallons of fresh water.
Ataturk Cultural Center
I was privileged to see Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio Opera by Istanbul State Opera and Ballet at the Ataturk Cultural Center. This concert hall, theater, and cultural center offers a wide range of dance, opera, theater, and music performances and is home to art and history galleries.
Built in the second half of the 15th century, the Grand Bazaar has 61 stone-arch-covered streets and over 4,000 shops. The sheer size of it can be daunting. Just take your time. You can find anything from gold to carpets, spices to electronics, antiques to modern-day knock-off clothing, and local handicrafts. The mother of all shopping malls.
How to get there:
I love Turkish Airlines. There is a reason they are the largest airline on the planet with the world’s largest airport. They know how to fly right.
Where to stay.
This trip was made with assistance from Goturkiye.com, but the opinions are those of the writer.
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