With very discerning stomachs, Turkish people have been foodies before the term existed, ‘locavores’ without even trying. Everyone in Istanbul has opinions on ‘the best’ döner, pilav, kuru fasülye, dolma, and so on. However, in Istanbul as in elsewhere in the world, globalization and urbanization have caused people to lose touch with their food’s origins. Yet in recent years, this is starting to be reversed and Istanbullites are beginning to take a greater interest in what they eat.
As well as running ICI, Hande Bozdoğan has her own farm, so we asked her if she thought this awareness was on the rise.
“Some people are very careful about what they eat in terms of seasonality and quality of ingredients, but I think this number is considerably small in comparison to the overall population. Many people do not have the luxury to think of these issues. Luckily, we still have seasonality; local fruit and vegetable markets are very important for household shopping. Home cooking is important, and it is important for us as people in the industry, to exhibit simple ways to cook practical, healthy, and tasty dishes at home. Also, sharing traditional methods of preserving, making jams, compotes, pastes etc. is vital.”
Vedat Başaran of Nar Lokanta told us how he thought Turkish food culture could be preserved in the face of globalization
“Turkish food should be placed into universal eating principals. The origins of local ingredients should be highlighted on the menus. Traditional cooking techniques must be applied to different local ingredients in order to provide much more variety. The origins of Turkish food lie in seasonal local produce, which contemporary cuisine should take note of.”
The Slow Food Movement began in Italy in the 1980s to offer an alternative to the increasing popularity of fast-food. It eventually spread to Turkey and has been gaining popularity in recent years, alongside the Slow Fish movement, which seeks to protect the seas. For more information visit their website.
In recent years there has been talk of an Anatolian revival trend in restaurants across the city. We spoke to Civan Er, former head chef at Changa and the proprietor of Yeni Lokanta, about the rise of contemporary Turkish cuisine:
“I don’t know what contemporary Turkish food is - I make traditional Turkish food with a contemporary twist, but I wouldn’t call it modern. For example I make a vegetarian mantı filled with stewed dried aubergine, onion, garlic, red pepper paste mix, and serve it with a sauce made of salty yoghurt, ginger, garlic, and white wine [as opposed to the usual meat filled mantı served with garlic yoghurt and chili-infused butter]. In the last five years, Turkish food has started to grow and become more innovative. Perhaps because of the internet, and the effects of globalization. People now have the opportunity to see what others are doing, and people are becoming more aware of what they eat.”
Reflecting this new interest, Gastronomika is an organization that was formed with the aim of both preserving Anatolian cuisine and repositioning it. Their first step is creating a comprehensive standardized public archive, made of first hand research in Anatolia and from trawling through historical references. Next they are taking an interdisciplinary approach, combining history, design, and geography to explore and experiment. They told us that, “simply eating contemporary Anatolian cuisine in restaurants is not enough. We want to change the attitude of people when they cook at home as well.”
For some delicious and inventive recipes that give Turkish classics a modern twist, see Lale Apa and Hande Bozdoğan’s renowned cookbook, Contemporary Istanbul Cuisine (available in English, French, and Turkish.
Whatever the reason for this revival it’s undeniable that the city’s best new restaurants are no longer turning to Provence or Tuscany for their inspiration. Local chefs are taking pride in their country’s produce and embracing the diversity of Turkish cuisine. The recent openings of Yeni Lokanta and Surplus demonstrate that Istanbul can not only retain the traditions of its pastures and palaces, but also embrace modern developments in the culinary world, in a uniquely Turkish way that celebrates the seasonal bounty and complex history of these fertile lands.
Modern Turkish Restaurants
Ulus 29 is an upscale favorite well-known for its incredible Bosphorus view, avant-garde décor. It offers light modern takes on traditional Turkish food as well as boasting a more international menu, and an award winning wine list.
Topaz is a fine dining venue with a superb view of the Bosphorus serving excellent Ottoman, international, and Mediterranean cuisine as well as two tasting menus and an extensive wine list.
Enstitü is the work place and (skilled) experimentation zone of Istanbul Culinary Institute’s third year students. The best ingredients and equipment are provided for the students, thoroughly present in the preparation and execution of their dishes.
When Mikla opened in October of 2005, Chef-Owner Mehmet Gürs’ vision of creating a refined but contemporary “Istanbullu” restaurant was brought to life successfully. The menu reflects the chef’s Turkish-Scandinavian background alongside the outstanding food, breathtaking view, and excellent service.
Müzedechanga is an innovative restaurant serving contemporary Turkish-Mediterranean dishes with a creative flair and a beautiful Bosphorus view.
With a menu of dishes that are both profoundly original and wholly seasonal, Yeni Lokanta is simply excellent. From a simple salad with sumac yogurt or sucuk (spicy sausage) from Gaziantep, all dishes exhibit ingredients and traditions derived from all regions of Anatolia to bring unique creations
This article was part of our Turkish food special in the March/April 2014 edition. It followed on from a look at the history of Turkish food, regional variations in Turkish food and the different types of restaurants in Istanbul.