Friday, January 04, 2008

Istanbul Food Tour: Asitane

My piddly pipe dreams were realized at Asitane lunch: was it the request to borrow a pen (it was Liam who asked!)? The pictures of each course I tried to sneak? The way we ordered what were certainly the best dishes to order ...? I don't know what it was, and don't start to tell me it was for everyone - a girl can dream - but when the waiter brought me a comment card AND a little gift of orange jam, I thought yes indeed he thinks I'm a real food writer! Liam encouraged me to sign the comment card la fromagette, but I chose to play it coy and write, with as much professionalism as I could feign, "I look forward to sharing the details of our great meal with others."

I had thought that Ciya would be our best meal, but when we entered into this Ottoman restaurant with recipes over 500 years old (described in Lonely Planet as "Ottoman dishes devised for the 16th-century royal circumcision feast"), I knew this was going to be the best yet. I committed to ordering only dishes with an asterisk, indicating actual historical recipes (I don't know where the others came from, but they weren't Kool-Aid, so who knows). First off, a white bean spread with cinnamon slathered onto sesasme-spiced-warm-dinner rolls, sublimely creamy, light, fragrant and sweet. Accompanying this, I ordered root spinach with olive oil that was cooked to falling apart, slightly vinegared, some soft carrots in there and finished with olive oil. Liam ordered a warm Circassian cheese with mushrooms that tasted like smoked Gouda with the texture of feta and was too strong for me.

We both went old-school with our mains - Liam's lamb diced, melted in earthenware with dates, figs and apricots ("sweet main course OK?" the waiter confirmed after Liam went to this after his first choice wasn't available). I had Restiyye "homemade vermicelli with cheese, parsley and walnuts." Mine won - although together it was like a Sultan's variation on Swedish meatballs with egg noodles - like a pared-down kugel, sweet, light home-made egg noodles with cheese with the salt of feta and umami of Parmesan on top, with, of course, parsley and walnuts (and some chili - how we've missed thee!).

Although we were too full to finish our mains, I could not pass up Ottoman dessert. I asked the waiter to recommend between Quince Delight ("quince in syrup") and "pumpkin and fig delight with clotted cream" and he suggested the latter. Like our dessert plate from Ciya, they both seemed preserved in syrup (oh the research to do) - the pumpkin much softer ("more pumpkin-y" remarked Liam) than last night's and the fig ... like a Fig Newton (damn us Americans with our lack of any other fig reference) of the sweetest softest case, the texture going to liquid gold when you might expect grit, topped off with pure butter cream - another dessert to pass up an eclair for (see picture below)

NB: Due to my desire to return home with the orange jam, we checked the baggage. As it stands, I have yet to see the baggage due to a snowstorm in the Czech Republic, a variety of long lines, and general slowness at Air France. I'm not sure now that it was worth it. I'll report.


howe hungry am i!? said...

"the texture going to liquid gold when you might expect grit"

the most beautiful phrase i've read.


brazista said...

darn it, jessica. i keep forgetting to eat something before i open up your blog. i was too lazy to grab my tea and simit before i started, and now i sit here, salivating over thoughts of melting morsels of pumpkin and fig. THANKS. i'll be tuning in again soon!

Anonymous said...

We are planning to go to Istanbul in April 09- want to go to Ciya and Asitane. Would like to get some recommendations from you. Thx (

jessica said...

These were surely our two best meals. I got my best recommendations by cross-referencing Lonely Planet and then New York Times (as well as a few internet searches). Ciya is hard to find, but worth it - prepare for its cafeteria style service and delicious food.