Şahin Lokantasi (Istanbul)
Needless to say, it is a very rare occasion when ATO and I just randomly walk into a place to eat. Instead, choosing a destination can often take hours of research and thorough discussion. This is true even when (er, especially when) traveling. And so ATO began investigating lunch spots in Istanbul well before we arrived. But you can’t just trust a Lonely Planet or even the NY Times if you want a legit local eatery…. you’ve gotta start reading the local blogs! Which is very exciting for me (wouldn’t it be awesome if people visiting NYC used my blog?). And this is how we stumbled upon the small and unassuming Sahin Lokantasi in the Beyoglu district of Istanbul, just a block from our hotel!
So wouldn’t it be awesome to be able to eat home-cooked food, even when eating out? Well, that’s the whole concept of an esnaf lokanta, which is precisely what Sahin Lokantasi is. It’s like a local cafeteria, a worker’s canteen, where busy workers stop for a quick home-cooked lunch in the middle of the workday. And this one, in particular, is popping! We rushed to eat here after our flight from Cappadocia, and snuck in around 2:30pm (it closed at 3 - whew!); apparently earlier in the day this place always requires a wait.
The menu here changes daily (with usually around a dozen options to choose from) and features classic Turkish home cooking. The space is small and you share communal tables (and communal bread) with strangers (fine with us, we’re used to that - it’s NYC dimsum in Chinatown style!). The food is first come first serve, which means that food starts to disappear later and later into the day (so we probably missed some goodies from earlier, including the soups of the day, which sometimes feature tripe or pig trotter!). You walk up to the counter, where you can see the various tanks of food, place your order, and shortly thereafter piping hot bowls are delivered to your table.
First indication that this place is truly authentic: we were the only non-Turkish people there. Also, no one spoke English, so we “ordered” our food by pointing at the various tanks of food behind the counter. Which is why I can’t really tell you for sure what I was eating. But I can tell you that this food was satisfying to the soul. If my mom were Turkish, I have no doubt she’d make this stuff at home.
So ATO loved the chickpeas in Turkey, and I loved the white beans, so even though the dish above and the dish below look (and taste) very similar, we ordered them both. While this may look like baked beans served in the US, let me assure you that they are like 1000 times better. Cos actually I hate baked beans. These weren’t so sweet, and the sauce was just so much more savory and complex. Took down my whole bowl and 2 slices of bread for sopping up the excess sauce.
Next, we had some stewed beef. Oddly enough, this actually reminded me of my mom’s Chinese beef stew. Very simple, very down to earth, but good.
And the best dish for last: a squash of some sort, cooked to the perfect tenderness and stuffed with minced meat and rice, covered in a tart, cool, smooth yogurt sauce. Wowzers! If we didn’t have a tasting menu dinner rez in 5 hours, we would have ordered another for sure. Amazing!