Fortune has continuously played with Istanbul’s iconic Pandeli restaurant, making sure that its wheel never stops spinning. Decades later, the undefeated spirit of the place reawakens to remind Istanbulites of why preserving memories matters.
By Marzena RomanowskaAs much as caring for history is an important task, it is also a very difficult one; especially when it comes to places like Pandeli restaurant, with so many memories attached to it. Until its reopening in 2018, I didn’t have any of my own memories of the place. Having taken the century-old tradition for granted, I thought it would always be there whenever I finally decided to show up.
When it suddenly disappeared from the city’s gastronomic map in 2016, I felt like I would never be able to understand the relevance of the place as well as those who’d had the chance to dine there. However, everything was not lost. Two years ago current managers Yücel and Gülin Özalp decided to take upon themselves the demanding task of keeping Pandeli’s spirit alive. Now, new generations don’t have to borrow other people’s memories to conjure up a picture of the place, but instead can create memories of their own.
To understand the position of the restaurant in Istanbul’s culinary history, one needs to first take a closer look at its timeline dotted with ups and downs since founder Pandeli Çobanoğlu first arrived from Niğde in 1901. Çobanoğlu was making a living from selling meatballs and bean salad to Eminönü merchants, and he could never have imagined that—a few decades later—the same bean salad would be enjoyed by royals on the upper floor of the Egyptian Bazaar.
His first food stand turned into a restaurant, which closed during World War I. But when Pandeli returned to Istanbul in 1926, he began a new chapter in his culinary journey at a new three-story location in Eminönü. The founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, was among his devoted customers—requesting his favorite dishes to be sent to Ankara by train.
Çobanoğlu overcame the economic obstacles that two world wars threw at him. But the most significant threat came during the pogrom of September 6–7, 1955 that targeted Istanbul’s Greek community, of which Pandeli was a member. When the news of him leaving his profession reached President Celal Bayar and Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, an order of state was issued to assign the Egyptian Bazaar’s upper floor, owned by the General Directorate of Foundations, to the restaurant. A new chapter opened for him again, this time also making room for his son, Hristo, who worked alongside his father until Pandeli’s death in 1967. The next two generations of Çobanoğlu family carried the torch, until it was symbolically passed on to the Desert Group in 2018.
During my first visit to Pandeli, I was lucky enough to meet guests who have made the restaurant part of their personal tradition One of the first conversations around our table was whether the restaurant’s menu should stay as faithful to its history as possible? And if not, what would be the most reasonable alternative? Everyone seemed to agree that reflecting the dining style of the past was crucial, and Pandeli should remain a symbol of Istanbul cuisine, as it was before the influences of central and eastern Anatolia entered the local gastronomy scene.
The culinary world has changed beyond recognition since Çobanoğlu first started serving his beans in Eminönü. So many present-day diners might not be able to fully appreciate the culinary achievements of a bygone era without first placing them in a historical context. However, Pandeli’s relevance is way more complex than its food, having left its mark in the memories of thousands of Istanbulites as well as foreign guests. It also proves that hard work pays off in ways more valuable than money.
Pandeli’s iconic dishes
- Beans in olive oil
- Rice stuffed vine leaves
- Pandeli’s eggplant börek with döner kebab on top
- Kadınbudu meatballs with mashed potatoes
- Oven baked sea bass in curl paper
- Cherry tirit with clotted buffalo cream
Who has eaten here?
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Queen Elizabeth II, King Juan Carlos I, Queen Sofia of Spain, Audrey Hepburn, Robert De Niro, John Malkovich, Peter Ustinov, Roman Polanski, Sarah Jessica Parker, Daniel Day-Lewis, Burt Lancester, Melina Merkuri, Sean Connery and many more…