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Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi

Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi

I’d intended to do only one more post on Istanbul (a wrap-up of the good and bad meals we had there), but in looking over my notes and photos from the trip, I thought the Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi deserved a dedicated shout-out.

Left to my own devices, I would’ve avoided the place. It was (1) listed in our guidebook and (2) located in the tourist-packed neighborhood of Sultanahmet – two factors that scream “tourist-hell-to-be-avoided.”

But you see, Jon has a few Istanbullu friends (as in: Turkish friends currently living in Istanbul). And we’d asked them for recommendations. And independently of each other, two of them called this place the best koftecisi in town. [Koftecisi, in case you didn't guess, means the place serves one thing only: kofte, aka the burger of Turkey.]

kofte at the Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi in Istanbul

kofte at the Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi in Istanbul

Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi is a massive restaurant, covering at least three floors. And yet, both times we ate there (yes, it was so tasty, fast and cheap we stopped by twice), the place was packed. Yes, there are tourists. But there were a lot more Turkish-speakers than there were guidebook-toting peeps like us.

And it’s a perfect example of why it pays to be a specialist. There’s a menu, but really, it’s unnecessary, because the only decisions you’re asked to make are: (1) how many orders of hot-off-the-grill kofte you want; and (2) what kofte accompaniments do you want. Being big eaters, my friends and I ordered one plate of kofte each, and they were juicy, smokey, and addictively cuminy-meaty. Ask your server for some chili-paprika sauce, and you’ll be in heaven.

salad that accompanies your kofte at Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi

salad that accompanies your kofte at Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi

In case the meat is just too much, you can also get some “salad” – creamy white beans and crunchy lettuce and carrots – to go with your kofte.

Despite having stuffed ourselves both times, our tab for four (including soft drinks) never exceeded 80 Turkish Lira/£30. That’s about £8 a person for a fast, tasty meal in the heart of Istanbul’s tourist district. Tarihi Koftecisi is cheap, convenient and tasty. I couldn’t have asked for a better lunch break in between all the sightseeing and shopping.

Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi Selim Usta, Divan Yolu (ordu) Caddesi 12; 212-520-0566; near Sultanahmet tram station. Note all the similarly-named competitors nearby and don’t be fooled.

If you enjoyed reading this post, you might also enjoy:

  • this post about our favorite cheap meal in Istanbul at the Furran Balikcilik in the Karakoy Fish Market
  • this post about our favorite high-end meal in Istanbul at Muzede Changa

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Unknown "balik" place at the back of the Karakoy Fish Market in Istanbul

Furran "balik" place at the back of the Karakoy Fish Market in Istanbul

My favorite cheap dining experience in Istanbul was at a seriously no-frills balik (fish) place along the water, at the back of the Karakoy Fish Market. Although I have a business card telling me the place’s name is Furran Balikcilik, there’s no signage anywhere, so you’d have to recognize it by the bright red, checked tablecloths made of some type of scratchy wool synthetic (I’m assuming they don’t change table linens). We came across this particular balikcisi after having braved the scary tout gauntlet known as the lower level of the Galata Bridge. Spotting the Karakoy Fish Market, we figured where there’s a fish market, there’s bound to be a fish restaurant, and sure enough, there were several to choose from.

What this particular place lacked in style, it made up for in fresh seafood at low prices. There was no menu, but even if there’d been one, I’m sure it wouldn’t have been in English. Our server didn’t speak English, but no worries – he walked me over to a nearby fish market stall so I could pick out what I wanted: sea bream, mackerel, calamari, and anchovies.

The “kitchen” is a shack made of what appears to be blue scrap metal, and while most of the cooking is done over a fiery grill, there does appear to be some electricity coursing in there via a portable generator.

Fifteen minutes later, our server brought all our goodies, along with a basket of cheap bread, iceberg lettuce, chunks of raw onion, and wedges of lemon.

fried anchovies at an unnamed Karakoy Fish Market place

fried anchovies at Furran Balikcilik in Karakoy Fish Market

Every table around us ordered these plates of fried anchovies. So we had to have them. And these were really good. Lightly battered and expertly fried, the anchovies were meaty and juicy inside. Just a squeeze of lemon and I was set. The anchovies alone would’ve made the meal worthwhile, especially for 6 Turkish Lira (£2.40) a plate.

grilled sea bream

grilled sea bream

grilled mackerel

grilled mackerel

Grilled sea bream was one of the pricier items at 10 Turkish Lira (£4), and of course it was still the bargain of a lifetime. Those guys working in the makeshift kitchen should come over to London and open up a fish restaurant, because the perfectly salted-and-crisped skin on this thing was how fish should be made. Always. Same with the grilled mackerel (a humbler fish with a humbler price tag of 6 Turkish Lira).

fried calamari

fried calamari

Last, but not least, our fried calamari was definitive proof that the man working the fryer at this place is a genius. All the makings of dream calamari came together – fresh calamari, a light batter, and a guy who must practice making this dish hundreds of times a day.

With drinks, our lunch for four people cost 40 Turkish Lira (£16), total. Everyone traveling to Istanbul should give this place a try. It brought to mind summertime eating at lobster shacks in Maine. I loved it.

Furran Balikcilik not far from the much-written-about Tarihi Karakoy Balik Lokantasi. From Eminonu, cross the Galata Bridge and turn left. Walk through the Karakoy Fish Market, and when the fish stalls end, you’ll see this place on your left, right on the water. There’s no sign, so look for the bright red, checked tablecloths made of some type of scratchy wool synthetic. If you want to keep your lunch down, try not to look at the frantically-rocking boats moored nearby.

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views of the Bosporous at Muzede Changa restaurant in Istanbul

views of the Bosporous at Muzede Changa restaurant in Istanbul

Two weeks ago, Jon and I were in Istanbul for the bank holiday. The sites, shopping and food were amazing, but our favorite high-end meal by a wide margin was at Muzede Changa, where Peter Gordon (of Providores fame) is consulting chef.

Located inside the Sakip Sabanci Museum in Emirgan, a leafy, ritzy part of town, the restaurant is a bit of a hike from Sultanahmet, the touristy section of Istanbul where we stayed. Luckily, on the Saturday night we ate at Muzede Changa, there was a ferry running from Eminonu to Emirgan. The journey was a 45-minute cruise up the Bosporous, passing all the big palaces, abandoned yalis and the sleek Bosprous Bridge. At just 1.4 Turkish Lira (90 cents/55 pence) for the ride, the ferry journey was itself a relaxing and cheap treat. (I especially admired the ferry’s tea-seller, who was able to memorize and track dozens of orders while running up and down stairs, delivering hot tea and change, and collecting empty cups and payment).

The Muzede Changa dining room included a large outdoor patio with views of the Bosporous, which is where we settled for the evening. I loved the casual-elegant decor and the thoughtful gesture of warm blankets for everyone (for when the weather turned slightly cool after sunset). Muzede Changa had me at hello.

artichoke and snap pea mezze at Muzede Changa

artichoke and snap pea mezze at Muzede Changa

We met several friends at the restaurant, making us a party of eight, and with such a big group, we were able to share a lot of dishes. Incredibly, every dish I tried ranged from merely “classic and tasty” to “what-a-unique-mix-of-flavors and tasty.” I know it’s super trite to talk about East-meets-West when in Istanbul, but Muzede Changa’s cooking reflected this idea in an elegant, seemingly-effortless way.

cold mezze of salmon and assorted legumes

cold mezze of salmon and assorted legumes

Salmon, for example, isn’t something I normally get too excited about it. Served as one of our mixed mezze (snacks), the fish itself was silky, and the blend of tang, salt and creaminess of mung beans, chick peas and olives livened things up.

fried aubergine

fried aubergine

Our dozens of mezze included a lot of expertly-fried goodies. Aubergine, a staple in most Istanbullu restaurants we tried, turned up in sweet, smooth form under a crisp, grease-free layer of bread crumbs. Dipped in fresh, zingy yoghurt, these slices were my favorite of the many very good fried mezze we shared.

clove-flavored lamb kofte with goat cheese salad

clove-flavored lamb kofte with goat cheese salad

After stuffing ourselves on shared mezze, we each ordered main courses. Although I’d already eaten some great kofte at the inexpensive-but-brilliant Tarihi Koftecisi, I still thought Muzede Changa’s version, which was infused with the rich flavor of cloves and paired with a tangy-creamy goat cheese salad, was worth every penny.

updated baklava, served with clotted cream and quince puree

updated baklava, served with clotted cream and quince puree

Despite having eaten my weight in mezze and kofte, I couldn’t resist trying the restaurant’s take on baklava, which I normally can’t handle because it’s too dense and sticky. Muzede Changa’s version, of course, was “modern” (i.e., light). The accompanying quince puree added just the smallest bit of refreshing sweetness and moisture while allowing the phyllo to keep its crispiness.

While Muzede Changa wasn’t cheap by Istanbullu standards (mixed mezze for two: 86 TL /£33; main courses: 30 TL/£12; desserts: 15 TL/£6), the prices were reasonable by London ones, especially for the quality of the food, service and surroundings.

With a few bottles of excellent Turkish wines and several cocktails, our tab came to 130 TL/£50 a person. (You could eat for a lot less if you skipped the booze).

I’d go back to Istanbul just to relive our dinner there, but next time I’ll try to go earlier to see the museum.

Muzede Changa, Sakip Sebanci Caddesi No. 22; Emirgan 34467, Istanbul, Turkey; +90 212 323 09 01;

How to Get There: It’s a 10-minute walk to the right from the Emirgan ferry stop, which is reached via a 45-minute cruise from Eminonu (1.40 TL/55 p). The ferry doesn’t run late or even very often, but our taxi back to Sultanahmet cost about 40 TL/£15 and took only 30 minutes via the (not-nearly-as-scenic) highway.

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