In the last week of May, I traveled to Turkey to celebrate a little something with a few like-celebratory friends. Why Turkey? Well, it was picked by the adventurous instigator of this trip, M, and it was simply the best choice! And for good reason. Mind boggling and thought provoking history, breathtaking landscapes, a safe and cool night life, and almost most importantly, simply fabulous food and drink!
You discover a nation’s people through its food, I have heard said. If this is true, then the Turkish are warm, spicy, sweet and everything in between.
There is so much to talk about, and remember. The vibrancy of the restaurants and street cafes in the big city of Istanbul, to the quaint ones in the small towns of interior Turkey. The Ottoman cuisine which is so delectable, and of course, the drink.
Starting, with the Haci Abdullah in Istanbul (where we had our first meal), located in the very bustling Beyoglu area of Istanbul. This area is chock a block with street side restaurants (the most charming facet of traveling in these countries, for me).
Street view, not Haci Abdullah!
Haci Abdullah happened to be on the very next street where our hotel was located, so a few enquiries on day 1 about where to eat authentic Turkish food (oh, these tourists, by gad!) all pointed to this beautiful restaurant.
It is a stones throw from the extremely busy Istiklal Avenue, which sports Sephora, Gap, Calvin Klein, and The Body Shop and more. And you are hit by history right here. This place is a 124 years old, no kidding. Haci Abdullah opened as Abdullah Efendi towards the end of the Ottoman Empire, in 1888, with the trading license granted by the then Sultan Abdulhamid II. Since then, it has passed through three generations, changed three locations, and since 1958, has been in Beyoglu.
The restaurant has a nondescript front… we were greeted right at the door with what we were to discover is very traditional Turkish hospitality, “welcome to Turkey”, “welcome to Istanbul”, being asked how many we were, and quickly whisked to a large table.
And the delights begin. Almost all Turkish restaurants begin a meal with a platter of starters. The Turkish meze. Meze platters are a whole delectable range of cold starters, only some of which were familiar. But who wants familiarity on a holiday far away? Eggplant salad, hummus, dolma (vine leaves, cabbage leaves, chard leaves, peppers, tomato, squash, pumpkin, eggplant or mussels stuffed with rice and/or meat), haydari, cacik (cucumber, olive oil and dried mint in yogurt), and quite a few non-veg choices too. Surprisingly, the meze is mostly vegetarian.
And everywhere, every meal – the breads. Warm, piping hot, covered in sesame seeds, wheat, grainy, or plain, the breads are to die for.
Sounds like lunch done?!
Rice, delicately flavoured and cooked in a clay pot, covered with dough. This was absolutely delicious.
There is tons more on the menu. Unfortunately, I only have so many pics… too busy eating! As you tuck in to the starters and rice and bread, the staff are swiftly offering up more varieties, of kepabs, more bread, relishes…
Haci Abdullah serves up over 150 types of dishes in a day, on some days. But that is not all that they are known for. Their fruit compotes leave one longing to transport half the ones on display right back home. Masters at the art of pickling, it shows in the sheer variety of fruits and vegetables that are showed of in rows upon rows of clear jars. Peaches, apricots, olives, pomegranates, cherries…
Some of these are SO old, well… the manager at the restaurant explained it so sincerely, we have to believe them!
Haci Abdullah has a little something to take away, and I don’t mean surreptitious silver. They give away little books, documenting the history of the restaurant and share some of the recipes that have been passed down from master chef to apprentice. Now isn’t that a great foodie legacy to carry around in a pocket all the way back home!?