Saturday, July 19, 2014

Regional, delicious and affordable: Üsküdar Pilavcı

Regional, delicious and affordable: Üsküdar Pilavcı

February 12, 2014, Wednesday
The number of boutique home-cooked food restaurants in İstanbul is not really that many. The second branch of Üsküdar Pilavcı -- one of the places that offer such food -- has now opened in Bağlarbaşı, which is why we decided to go and try it out.

Never mind the “pilaf” mentioned in the name of this new restaurant, the moment we stepped inside, the aroma from the stews cooking inside hits your nose. So what can you find here? Let's start with special regional dishes: Bayburt and Amasya sarma, lor dolma, chard sarma, turnip dolma, okra with meat, hanımdudu stew, çökertme kebab, elbasan tava, Crimean kebab, Greek moussaka, keşkek, fried fresh beans, fried okra, Kayseri mantı and Albanian liver.

You can truly find flavors from all over Turkey here. What's more, we're not just talking about any flavors; the kitchen at this restaurant has really done justice to each dish. Also look for beans cooked in earthenware pots, rolled grape leaves, stuffed dried eggplant, stuffed squash, avcı kebab, Skopje köfte, stews with vegetables and chicken, dishes boasting lots of mushrooms, hünkar beğendi, Köroğlu köfte, watercress, leeks and spinach and the famous Topkapı chicken dish. Also look out for a series of delicious olive oil dishes, perfect to accompany rice pilafs.

Of course, with so many options, I wasn't able to try everything. For example, I did leave wondering what the “avcı” (hunter) soup tasted like. I swore to myself though that I'd head back at the first opportunity to find out.

This new Üsküdar Pilavcı opened just one week ago and its owners are Musa Sağır and Hakan Sağdıç. Able to accommodate 130 people at one time, this restaurant also boasts a generous garden area. You should note, before coming here, that the restaurant does not accept credit cards. This is the kind of place, however, that will let you drop by later and pay if you don't have money at the moment. Very brave!

One of the most famous dishes at Üsküdar Pilavcı is “maklube,” a Hatay regional pilaf dish made with chicken and eggplant. What is interesting about the maklube here is that you can order it made for just one, even though maklube is traditionally made for lots of people at one time, a favorite dish of crowded get-togethers.

Make some time here for the traditional kuru fasulye dish, made with dried white beans, as well. The Ispir beans used here boast more flavor because of the marrow used in the recipe. I also really liked the Konya-style okra. For a drink, try the delicious black mulberry juice here. Seeing more and more restaurants like this one --delicious, reasonably priced and offering home-cooked style dishes -- is a great plus for Turkish cuisine, I believe.

A world of flavors, easy on the wallet

Vegetable avcı (hunter) soup:TL 3
Lentil tomato soup:TL 2.50
Salads:TL 3.50-7
Bayburt, Amasya chard sarma:TL 6
Okra with meat, hanımdudu stew:TL 7
Çökertme kebab, elbasan tava:TL 10
Crimean kebab, Albanian liver:TL 10
Rumeli moussaka, stuffed turnip:TL 6
Mantı:TL 8
Various types of pilaf:TL 2.50-4
Olive oil dishes:TL 5
Kuru fasulye, fresh bean dish, karnıyarık (stuffed eggplant):TL 5
Stuffed grape leaves, other kinds of stuffed leaves:TL 6
Skopje köfte, tas kebab, meat sauté with mushrooms:TL 10
Chicken tandoori, tacuk kapala, hünkar beğendi:TL 10
Spinach, watercress, leek:TL 5
Hunter kebab, vegetable stew, moussaka:TL 6
Maklube:TL 12.50
Desserts:TL 3-5
Drinks:TL 0.50-2.50

Opened a week ago in Bağlarbaşı, this new branch of Üsküdar Pilavcı offers a wide range of stews and regional dishes. Interestingly, it is self-service here, meaning you grab a tray and serve yourself.
The restaurant is located on a busy street so there is no parking available. They do offer take-out service for nearby areas. Prices are very reasonable. Open every day except Sundays, from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The most famous dish at Üsküdar Pilavcı is no doubt its single-portion maklube dish, a surefire pleaser.


Muratreis Mah. Nuhkuyusu Caddesi No: 249/1 Bağlarbaşı, Üsküdar / İstanbul
Tel: 0216 532 00 40

Other great spots to try:

Zahir Restaurant: Serving up dishes in a beautiful wooden building in Kuzguncuk, Zahir is a place where I often stop by and is notable for its Ottoman dishes, its maklube and its breakfast options. Tel: 0216 310 03 02

Paşa İskender: Located in Florya Şenlikköy, this is also a great place, both for its flavors and its ambiance. You can also find traditional breakfast options every hour of the day here. And of course, the İskender kebab mentioned in its name is done extremely well here. Tel: 0212 662 96 96

Menemen Mutfak Kafe: This spot is located in Fatih Kıztaşı and is famous for its single-portion makbule, as well as its menemen with cheese. Look for a wonderful breakfast with omelets served every hour of the day if you desire. Tel: 0212 521 06 66

Abdulkadir Restaurant: This spot boasts a great Kastamonu style-döner. Located in Bakırköy, you know you will always be eating well when you stop by! Tel: 0212 570 49 31

Babadostu Cağ Kebabı: This eatery offers up the regional dishes of Erzurum. It has branches in both Mahmutbey and Sefaköy. Look for the Cağ kebab as well as the delicious kadayıf dolması here. Tel:0212 580 09 25, 503 22 36


Saturday, July 5, 2014

Ottoman İstanbul in 10 iconic monuments

Ottoman İstanbul in 10 iconic monuments

Galata Bridge (Photo: Sunday's Zaman)
April 06, 2014, Sunday
From the day in May 1453 when Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror burst through the walls of Constantinople to seize the city from the Byzantines until the day when Mustafa Kemal Atatürk declared a new republic and moved its capital to Ankara, İstanbul was the heart of the Ottoman Empire, embellished with many magnificent buildings, particularly by the early sultans.
 Even in the later years when the Empire was in terminal decline, Constantinople (İstanbul) remained the cradle for experiments in architecture that eventually came to define the modern city.
These are some of the buildings that will give you an insight into the İstanbul of the Ottomans.

Rumeli Hisarı

Rumeli Hisarı

Why? Base for Sultan Mehmet II's assault on Constantinople

In 1452 the young Sultan Mehmet II determined to wrest the hugely important city of Constantinople from the weakened Byzantine emperors. As part of his preparations, he commissioned a huge new castle at the narrowest point of the Bosporus, opposite the castle built by his great-grandfather in what is now Anadolu Hisarı. Using these two castles the sultan was able to prevent food supplies passing up the strait to the besieged city, thus hastening its collapse.

Restored for the 500th anniversary of Sultan Mehmet II's victory in 1953, the castle now forms a dramatic landmark for Bosporus cruises. You can look round the interior too, although as yet nothing has been done to explain its role in the hugely important events of 1453.

Topkapı Sarayı

Why? Private home of early sultans and base for early Ottoman government

Built over the ruins of the old Byzantine palace on a superb site overlooking the confluence of the Bosporus, Golden Horn and Sea of Marmara, Topkapı Sarayı is the finest -- and most visited -- Ottoman monument in the city, its multiple pavilions, chambers and gardens an unexpected glimpse for most Western visitors of a style of architecture far removed from that of their home countries. Although parts of the complex date back to the reign of Sultan Mehmet II, it was many years before Topkapı became the permanent home of the Ottoman rulers and their families who lived in the famous harem -- really just the private apartments of the imperial family.
But Topkapı Sarayı was also the center of early Ottoman government, with the most important dignitaries gathering in the divan to make their decisions, with the sultans sometimes listening in unseen. Only slowly did the business of administering the Ottoman Empire move into separate premises away from the family home.

İbrahim Paşa Sarayı

Why? Only surviving example of early Ottoman private palace

Now home to the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts in the Hippodrome, the İbrahim Paşa Sarayı is often overlooked as an important building in its own right. In fact it was built in 1524 for İbrahim Paşa, the grand vizier, son-in-law and favorite of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent, and somehow managed to survive his fall from grace and the depredations of the centuries until today it stands as the sole reminder of the grand homes once lived in by the upper echelons of early Ottoman society.
Currently closed for restoration, the palace is home to some of the city's most magnificent carpets as well as to a fine exhibition of ethnography. It should reopen soon.

Kapalı Çarsı

Why? Center of Ottoman commerce for hundreds of years

Touristy it may be now, but Kapalı Çarşı, also known as the Covered or Grand Bazaar, has an illustrious pedigree stretching right back to 1461 and the reign of Sultan Mehmet II. To appreciate that fact you need to look for the solid stone Bedesten, the covered market within a covered market whose mighty gates are still locked every evening. Then imagine how the extra buildings have been added gradually over the years until now there are said to be more than 4,000 shops making up the complex.

Süleymaniye Mosque

Süleymaniye Cami

Why? Masterpiece of greatest Ottoman architect, Mimar Sinan

Unanimously regarded as the greatest of all Ottoman architects, Mimar Sinan (c. 1490-1588) was responsible for around 320 buildings, of which 84 still stand in İstanbul, including 42 mosques. Of these mosques, the most conspicuous on the skyline is Süleymaniye Cami, generally regarded as the finest of his gifts to the city despite strong competition from rivals such as the Şehzade, Rüstem Paşa and Sokollu Mehmet Paşa mosques. In the newly restored Süleymaniye Cami, Mimar Sinan brought to perfection a style of centrally domed building that had formed part of the city's silhouette since the days of the Hagia Sophia.

Süleymaniye Cami is also important as the most complete surviving example of an Ottoman külliye, the complex of social buildings associated with the imperial mosques. Clustered around it you can still see the imaret (soup kitchen), kervansaray (caravanserai), hamam (Turkish bath), hastane (hospital) and multiple medreses (schools) that all once functioned alongside it.

Fine funerary monuments on Cülus Yolu, Eyüp

Eyüp Cami

Why? İstanbul's most holy shrine where Ottoman sultans were confirmed in office

At the far end of the Golden Horn, Eyüp Cami is the most sacred of all İstanbul's holy places, the believed burial place of Eyüp el-Ensarı, standard-bearer and friend of the prophet Muhammad, who had been killed during the Umayyad siege of Constantinople in 668-69. So important was el-Ensarı that it was over his grave that Sultan Mehmet II built his first mosque after capturing the city. Today, nothing remains of that building, the mosque having been completely rebuilt in 1766 after an earthquake.

Throughout the Ottoman era, Eyüp Cami played an important role in the ceremonial attached to the coronation of a new sultan. Once appointed, the sultan would be rowed up the Golden Horn to Eyüp where he would process along the Cülus Yolu (Accession Road) to the mosque where the Sword of Osman would be strapped onto him to confirm him in his new office. The route of the old Cülus Yolu is still marked by some of the city's finest Ottoman buildings.

Nuruosmaniye Cami

Why? First example of a more Westernized style of mosque architecture

Frequently overlooked in the rush to reach the shopping treats of the Kapalı Çarşı, the huge Nuruosmaniye Cami is interesting, according to urban historian Murat Gül, as the first example of a new approach to mosque architecture that utilized Western-style ornamentation rather than the motifs familiar from early Ottoman buildings. Not only that, but it boasts the only horseshoe-shaped courtyard in the city. Lengthy restoration work appears to be nearing completion if you'd like to admire these innovations.

Dolmabahçe Sarayı

Why? Private home of later Ottoman sultans

In time the Ottomans tired of congested Topkapı Palace. At the same time, desperate to revive their declining empire, they had begun to flirt with Western ideas that found their natural home on the other side of the Golden Horn in Galata and Pera --modern Beyoğlu. So when the time came to design a new palace more suited to modern tastes, the decision was made to build it on reclaimed land in what is now Dolmabahçe. The men charged with creating this new palace were Garabet Amira and Nikoğos Balyan, scions of an Armenian family of architects that left as strong a stamp on late Ottoman Constantinople as Mimar Sinan had on the earlier version. The palace they completed in 1856 had 258 rooms, including a Ceremonial Hall with a 38-meter-high ceiling.

Topkapı served the imperial family for centuries but Dolmabahçe speedily fell from favor after an attack on the neighboring Çırağan Palace in 1878 exposed its vulnerability. It continued to be used for state business and it was here that the Republic of Turkey's first president, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, died on 10 November 1938. To this day, his bed is draped with a Turkish flag. All the clocks in the palace stand still at the moment of his death.

Yıldız Sarayı

Why? Final home of the Ottoman sultans

In 1878 the sultans made their last move inland and uphill to Yıldız Park where the paranoid Sultan Abdülhamid presided over the creation not so much of a cohesive palace like Dolmabahçe but of a complex of buildings separated from each other by walls and tunnels that make it difficult for modern visitors who need to make two separate trips to see everything. More of the buildings are being restored to be ready to open to the public. Meanwhile the most striking section is the Şale, a long, low building that must surely be one of the grandest guesthouses in the world and was largely built to accommodate Abdülhamid's friend, Kaiser Wilhelm II, on his visits.

Galata Bridge

Why? First bridge to link old Turkish part of city with new, more Westernized part

Today it's almost impossible to imagine a time when there was no bridge across the Golden Horn linking the historic part of the city with what is now Beyoğlu. Yet that is indeed how matters stood until 1845, even though both Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo had drawn up tentative plans for a bridge way back in the 16th century. Since then, Galata Bridge has gone through several rebuilds, most recently in 1994. A tram now sweeps majestically over the bridge, completely dispelling the colorful ghosts of the Ottoman past who swarmed across it so vividly in Edmondo de Amicis' travelogue, "Constantinople."


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