Tuesday, May 19, 2015

MENU's Aegean Odyssey. Day 3, Istanbul: Asitane, a restaurant with classic Ottoman cuisine

We decided to have an easy morning before going to one of  the "activities" we had planned when putting this trip together. We met Batur Durmay at Pete Ayub's Sense of Taste kitchen in Cape Town some years ago and he has been receiving MENU since then. He has a restaurant in Istanbul, Asitane, which specialises in traditional Fine Ottoman cuisine - 600 years of the Ottoman Empires flavour legacy. Many years of research have gone into the recipes.

Up to now, all the restaurants we have seen have been very "touristy" with touts standing outside waving leaflets and menus and trying to persuade us to come in and take a seat. Asitane is very different...

We walked to our local Metro station about 15 minutes away and were immediately lost, went to the wrong platform for the line we needed and had to exit and start again. Fortunately a security guard gave us a metro map and told us which stations to use. So off we went
Two stations, and we needed to change lines, only to find that the next line was closed and we had to take a bus. These boys were cooling off in a sprinkler near the bus stop
Istanbul has a very good public transport system, once one learns to use it and learns a little Turkish. The Istanbulkart works on tubes, trams and large and small buses
From the last stop  we walked, got lost, asked for directions, got lost again, walked some more - we have found people, other than bus drivers, to be most helpful -
and walked alongside the old city wall
and eventually found Asitane after a two hour trip. It seems we should have taken a taxi which would have got us there very quickly
It has a lovely garden setting, cool and green under the Chestnut trees
And for inclement days, evenings and functions, a large indoor restaurant
The outside bar
Batur joined us, helped us to choose from the menu and suggested appropriate Turkish wines
Service was impressive, slick and polite
We started with glasses of this Turkish Rosé wine which smelt of rose hips and tasted of strawberries and grape must but was bone dry and very refreshing
Hot rolls, green fresh olive oil and a tapenade of green olive and walnuts
Batur ordered a tasting menu for us, smaller portions to share of some of the best dishes. This was a warm creamy almond soup from a 1539 recipe, sprinkled with some nutmeg and pomegranate aruls
Four tastes of Turkey to eat with the bread: 
L to R,  traditional 1469 chickpea humus delicately flavoured with currants, walnuts and cinnamon; fresh cottage cheese, spring onions, parsley, green pepper, tomatoes  seasoned with rosemary & paprika; broad beans with dill and olive oil; pounded cucumber with onion and pistachio. 
All are delicately flavoured 
The Kavaklidere Selection white wine we drank was made from unfamiliar grapes Narince and Emir, but had semillon notes and on the palate limes, slight Riesling notes but no terpenes, fruit present but bone dry and very good with the food. Served correctly in cold glasses
A delicate cabbage roll stuffed with chestnuts, rice, onions and delicate spices
In the front, what most South Africans might recognise as a skilpadjie. A fatty Apron Kebab: minced lamb and beef with coriander, cumin, pine nuts and mint and at the back a Balli Gemeci Boregi, deep fried pasta with white cheese, goat cheese, peas and finely chopped parsley
Our main course dish was so unusual and so delicious that, when melon season comes around again, Lynne might try making this. It's a cored, sweet juicy green cantaloupe 
melon, stuffed with minced meats, rice, herbs, almonds, currants, pine nuts and then baked in the oven. The sweet fruitiness compliments the savoury; it doesn't fight with it. Lovely nuanced spicing
One large portion each
We finished our meal with double espressos
A friendly garden cat
Spring chestnut leaves
Our bill
The menus
A table setting
Wonderful perfumed 'orange blossom' bushes at the entrance
Next door is the Cora museum and lots of souvenir vendors selling traditional tiles and other enticements
Lynne had to explore the jewellery store and we met this very helpful Belgian store owner Alexis De Moulin, who just happens to be producing an on line food guide to Istanbul! How appropriate. He gave us lots of tips
At his suggestion, we walked down the hill to the side of the Golden Horn. We got lost a bit and it seemed a very long way, but we travelled through some very interesting neighbourhoods 
Hey, a local connection! In the most unlikely location
A falling down house. There are many
It seems the owners have left and no one is allowed to touch them, so they turn into ruins
And another
A Bulgarian church being restored - it is in the parkland alongside the Golden Horn
A view to Taksim and the Galata tower on the other, Asian,  side
We took a bus to the Haliç Metro. This Metro station is superbly modern. We could not understand  why the map placed it right in the middle of the Golden Horn. It has been built in the middle of a huge bridge spanning the water
The all around views from the platform are spectacular. Here is our train arriving
Walking back home through our colourful neighbourhood in rush hour. One needs to be careful with the pavements at night. They often have pitfalls like this
To view yesterday's instalment, click here
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© John & Lynne Ford, Adamastor & Bacchus 2015
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