Levon Bağış could easily be described as the man who actually enjoys Istanbul’s culinary scene the way it should be enjoyed. The head of training for a prominent Turkish wine company, he is also a columnist for the Agos daily newspaper. His weekly column is aptly titled ‘Obur’, meaning ‘the Glutton’. This is his Istanbul.
What is the best-kept Istanbul secret?
The Şile Lighthouse. During the winter, there is nothing more relaxing than sitting by the lighthouse after having chilled out at one of the fish places by the shore. And almost nobody knows about it.
If you had one last day in the city, how would you spend it?
I could spend the whole day drinking a lunchtime rakı by the Bosphorus and watching the strait. And if it is the season for it, I would also go for some lüfer (bluefish). I wouldn’t mind it if it was my last day in this city, it might as well be my last day on this earth.
What is your favorite time of year in Istanbul, and why?
Springtime fits Istanbul well, and it brings about surprises. The road that you cross by the Bosphorus everyday is suddenly colored by bright purple erguvan (Judas trees). Spring also brings about a festive aura to Balık Pazarı (the fish market) with the abundance of produce that arrives during this season.
What is your favorite novel set in Istanbul?
“My Name Is Red” by Orhan Pamuk.
What is your favorite restaurant to go to for an authentic Turkish meal?
Çiya Lokantası in Kadıköy Çarşı. It doesn’t pretend to be local and authentic, it is actual regional cooking prepared via traditional methods. You don’t have to be in the area to go to Çiya. You go to Kadıköy so you can arrive at Çiya.
Favorite spot for a drink?
When you say drink, the first thing that comes to my mind is the meyhane (Turkish tavern). And when I think of a meyhane, I remember Fincan in Burgazada (one of the Princes’ Islands). The place where Rasim and Canan Sofuoğlu do both the cooking and the serving, where you sit by the shore admiring the views of both the Heybeli and Kaşık islands. The midye dolma (stuffed mussels) prepared traditionally, midye pilaki (olive oil-based bean and mussel meze) and their own special mezes should all be tried. Their use of herbs is also worth a special mention. It is a place where rakı goes better with meze than with fish. You also have to try their rokoko (meringue and ice cream cake) after dinner.
A Turkish dish that reminds you of your childhood?
Corn, chestnuts, and simit. They’re all street foods. When going on the Princes’ Islands ferry, you have to buy corn during the summer and chestnuts during winter. How many kids are there out in the world who can feed the seagulls on their way back home? Now, there’s talk of prohibiting the sale of street food out in the squares, but without these three my childhood would not have been the same.
Finally, how would you describe Istanbul in three words?
Home, chaos and soul.
This interview is taken from the November-December issue of The Guide Istanbul magazine.