Istanbul: Turkish breakfast and Black Sea cuisine

With the ubiquitousness of every style of restaurant here, and the tremendous affordability of dining out, I’m afraid I might turn into a bit of a food blogger until we leave the city.* Yes, yes, I know you’re not complaining, but it was never my intention! Still, on days like today when Erik and I are both busy working, we mostly stay in — except at mealtimes. So today’s post is all food.

We first went out around noon, with no destination in mind. A few blocks from our apartment I spotted a circular sign on a side street.

Kahve 6 sign as seen from down the street

{as always, mouse over photos for description, or click to enlarge}

Kahve 6 from the street

I knew kahve means coffee (the Turkish word for breakfast — kahvaltı — translates to “before coffee”), so we went to investigate. We found a very cute, bright, and completely empty dining room, though there were soups on the specials board, and a black-shirted waiter ready to show us the menu. The place was so attractive, and the menu so appealing and detailed (and in English) that we couldn’t really think of a reason not to eat there. So we asked for a table for two, and were then shown to a lovely back garden full of plants and with a little fountain in the center. Aha, so that’s where the customers were hiding!!

Back garden dining at Kahve 6

After brunching with my dad’s boss’s daughter last weekend, I knew I liked Turkish breakfast, so I ordered it again here.

Part of the breakfast menu at Kahve 6

I ordered the “full-on breakfast” and got this:

Turkish breakfast plate

It’s a slightly different assortment than what we had on Sunday, but the essentials (cheese, tomato, cucumber, and spreads both sweet and savory) are the same. Clockwise around the edge of the plate, from top center: a flaky, tender, savory pastry filled with soft cheese and fresh dill; a salty and slightly crumbly cheese; ripe tomatoes; peeled cucumbers; what tasted a little like Swiss; what tasted/felt just like string mozzarella; another mild cheese with a smooth, semisoft texture; slice of banana and peeled pieces of apple and peach. I was very charmed by the peeled peaches. I’ve never seen anyone take the trouble to do that! And for the little bowls, clockwise from top center: olives with pits, tomato paste in oil, what I think was unsalted butter but it almost tasted like mascarpone, kaymak (delicious clotted cream) and honey, some sort of softish crumblyish cheese with onion, fantastic homemade mulberry jam. There was also a bread basket for the table, with white and brown sliced bread.

I love the Turkish breakfast plate because it’s hearty but not heavy, and you can make any kind of sweet/savory combination you like. I don’t think it would satisfy me if I felt like an eggs-and-bacon type meal (Scottish breakfasts are good for that!), but on mornings when I’m not ravenous, it is just the thing. Especially with tea.

Tea in tulip-shaped glass

Erik helped me eat my breakfast, but he was in more of a lunch mood, so he ordered broccoli soup (one of the day’s specials) and börekçi, which were described as crispy filled dumplings. They were very tasty, though I joked that they look like Snausages.

Börekçi and yogurt sauce

I may return to Kahve 6 another day for more of their breakfast, or just for some tea and cookies and a work session. It’d be a fun place to sketch as well.

We worked all afternoon, and then headed out again shortly after sundown, for dinner. We’d read a restaurant description in Istanbul Eats that intrigued us very much: “The Black Sea area is Turkey’s culinary misfit… If anything, the food there seems to have been mysteriously transplanted from the American Deep South.” Well! We had to try that, of course, and the place is only a short walk from where we’re staying. We went in and sat down, and the waiters brought us some cornbread (!), a basket of a puffy flattish white bread that looked and tasted like chewy pizza crust, and a menu that was all in Turkish. We studied it carefully, looking for cognates (“hmm, ıspanak… must be spinach”) and trying to remember words we’d seen elsewhere (“I think the review said to get rice with hamsi… that must be the hamsili pilav”). I was fully prepared to order off the menu, but the waiters saw us perusing it and invited us to order at the steam table instead. The man there recited one-word descriptions of everything while simultaneously showing it off. “Chickpeas” prompted the lifting of a ladleful of the tomato-sauced legumes and pouring them back into the vat; “eggplant” went with scooping up one of the stuffed halves with a serving spoon; “rice” was accompanied by a fluffing up of the grains. I pointed and ordered, with the man dishing up as quickly as I spoke, passing the plates over the glass to the waiter to place on our table.

Dinner!

Clockwise from bottom left: beans in a rich and slightly tangy sauce, cornbread, spinach (tasted more like chard though) with pieces of red pepper, fresh-anchovy pilaf, more bread, and eggplant stuffed with tomato, ground meat, and I don’t know what else.

Here’s another pic of the pilaf. It was pretty anchovy-y — without the funk of the jarred/canned variety — but I enjoyed it.

Fresh anchovy pilaf in a terracotta ramekin

The flavors weren’t quite Southern — and the anchovy pilaf and stuffed eggplant could only have come from this part of the world — but overall the meal was strongly reminiscent of soul food, which we found hugely comforting. We haven’t eaten anything so greens-and-beans-y since we left home almost six months ago, and I couldn’t stop babbling happily as I sopped up the sauces and pot liquor with pieces of the puffy bread. The table to my left was occupied by a convivial party of four, and they’d ordered a huge salad and an equally huge platter full of fried fresh anchovies, and what looked like casseroled dolmas (I’m going to get that next time!).

Our meal came out to about $22 US (39 TL), and as we left the restaurant one of the waiters called after us, “Thank you,” and then, “Arigato!” We burst out laughing at this, and a man from our neighboring party — stepped out for a cigarette — smiled at us. We walked back to Cihangir feeling well-fed and well contented.

*And our next stop is Paris… no temptation to food-blog there, I’m sure. ;b

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