Çiya’s proprietor, Musa Dağdeviren, has a natural charm and speaks with a twinkle in his eye, often leaning forward conspiratorially to impart a particularly interesting piece of knowledge. His enthusiasm for Turkish culinary culture is contagious and, after talking to him, it’s impossible not to come away feeling both inspired and educated.
His name is well known in foodie circles, both in Turkey and around the world, due to his tireless passion for rediscovering ingredients, techniques, and dishes that are at risk of becoming extinct. Dağdeviren’s mission is to protect and preserve village and family traditions in a culture of over-abundance and excess consumerism. He doesn’t focus on the food of the rich, but instead finds real soul food. He showed The Guide Istanbul a few of the distinctive ingredients used in his restaurant.
First up was sirmo, also known as yaban sarımsak (wild garlic or Allium). These long jade green stems omit a distinct garlicky smell when rubbed and are the mysterious herb that stud the deliciously soft otlu peynir—white cheese from the Van region in eastern Turkey. It is also used in soups, omelets, börek, and breads. Dağdeviren showed us how the stems can be plaited and dried to be stored.
Next he brought out a more unusual looking plant, known here as çiriş (foxtail lily or Eremurus Spectabilis). One by one he peeled back the stems from the roots to reveal a citrus yellow center, with a fresh grassy aroma. It’s most commonly used in pilav, but also in soup or with eggs. Dağdeviren also shared his recipes of Sütlü Çiriş with us, as seen below.
He was also keen to point how the geography and soil has an impact on the qualities of an ingredient; so even though a plant from the Aegean coast may be delicious, the same plant may not taste the same if grown in eastern Anatolia. Likewise, they may be used differently; the green of one particular plant may be used in the Black Sea region whereas its root may be used in the southeast. Another example: çağla (green unripe almonds) are used to make dessert in some places but savory dishes in others.
How the story began
Dağdeviren hails from Nizip, a small city close to Gaziantep in southeast Turkey, where he began his culinary career at his uncle’s bakery at the tender age of five. He learnt the skills of kebab and pide making, working at various restaurants before opening his first Istanbul restaurant, Çiya Kebab and Lahmacun, in 1987. Çiya Sofrası came later; in fact, he bought it for a friend but when that friend left he used it to create special orders for his customers and as a place to carry out culinary research.
Food is much more than a nutritional requirement for Dağdeviren. “I was always interested in the why, the where, and the who—the historical, geographical, and cultural aspects of different dishes,” he says. This led him to create the Çiya Foundation, a 110-acre piece of land with a research institute that focuses on traditional Turkish cooking.
Over 1,000 dishes are served each year in Çiya, with more than 100 different varieties of pilav, showcasing just how far Dağdeviren goes in celebrating the diversity of Turkish culinary culture. If you’re visiting Istanbul and want to really experience Turkish food, take a trip to the Asian side and taste it for yourselves. Güneşli Bahçe Sokak No.43, Kadıköy; T: (0216) 330 31 90
Recipes: Sütlü Çiriş by Dağdeviren
This dish is the very definition of comfort food and makes a delicious lunch, especially when eaten with a spoon and some hunks of crusty bread. The greens bring a freshness to the milky base and the black pepper livens it up with a little heat. The recipe was given to us by Dağdeviren.
1lt milk • 100g fine bulgur • 10g ground black pepper • 500g chopped çiriş* • Salt to taste
Bring the milk to boil in a saucepan, then add the bulgur and mix. Immediately add the chopped çiriş and mix. Cook on a low heat for 15 minutes, then add the black pepper. Use salt to taste.
* If no çiriş is available, you could try making this dish with chopped chard stalks or leeks.