Anatolians in Los Angeles: An Afternoon at Café Istanbul

The unpretentious sound of Turkish is interspersed with fleeting moments of dialogue in Spanish, as the young waiters at Café Istanbul aloud organize their Latinx cooks, who, it seems, have mastered some of the most alluring recipes shared. along the Aegean, Marmara, Mediterranean and Black Sea coasts, those bodies of water that have always provided the diverse wealth of the Anatolian palace.

Its walls, furniture and decoration give off the special atmosphere of the Los Angeles ground floor, of a dark and anhistoric functionalism. But there is a saving grace, transporting like the fare, which, under palm trees and near the beaches of the Pacific, alludes to exotic places. Around the seating of the cafe, almost like an American diner, are framed photos of the Bosporus, its suburban ferries, and other iconic fragments reminiscent of nostalgia for the urbanized marine ecology that is Istanbul.

Their cuisine, however, extends beyond the city-like airs of Turkey’s largest metropolis to include more bucolic lands in the pale Anatolian. Their thick, white “yayla” rice soup is made with yogurt and sprinkled with mint. It’s listed as a ‘highland meadow’ appetizer and, while hot, its fresh dairy richness is also refreshing, making it a comforting country dish that works just as well on a hot California summer day as it does in any other country. the cold hills of the Black Sea.

“Yayla”, which means highlands in Turkish, evokes this humid forest ecology on the coast of a coastline shared from Eastern Europe to Central Asia. It’s almost tasty in the Café Istanbul recipe, executed with compelling authenticity. Half of the planet’s circumference dissolves the moment its silky texture is savored. And next to a light, flaky variety of long, thin “börek cigar”, it pairs well.

Sprinkled with dried herbs and spring onions, the “börek cigar” is larger and distinct from its traditionally lighter fry. The many outer layers of its phyllo dough break and crumble to the touch. It’s as irresistible as it is delicious. In a family setting, where much of this dish is generously consumed, there would be countless of these savory pastries filled with feta and mozzarella, which when melted together create a mouthwatering fusion.

Street view of Istanbul cafe in Los Angeles. (Matt Hanson for the Daily Sabah)

A culinary journey

The history of food in America is defined by the reinvention of Old World cuisine, redesigned to suit a population who, after many generations of displacement, whether by choice or by force, turn around and attempt to imagine how their ancestors cooked. Fortunately, as an immigrant nation in which foreign businesses are generally welcome, America has become a testing ground on which the rules of restoration are rewritten.

In a climate where cooks and foodies may not be as familiar with the cuisine of Café Istanbul’s set menu as the young, relaxed, Turkish-speaking staff, anything goes. That said, Café Istanbul adheres to the tradition where it might otherwise have strayed from its path. Although he offers an Americanized Mediterranean set of Greek dishes, his strictly Turkish dishes could very well show up on someone’s plate in Istanbul.

This is the case with their “Imam Bayıldı”, a legendary name for a beloved recipe, which in Turkish simply means “the imam has passed out”. There are many folk tales that provide colorful explanations for the nickname behind the fried whole eggplant stuffed with onions, tomato, garlic, slowly baked in the oven and served with a creamy garlic yogurt sauce mixed with mint and chopped cucumber.

In the Bosphorus coastal village of Kuzguncuk, now in the Istanbul metropolitan area, a bubbly and robust female chef ruminated aloud about the origins of “Imam bayıldı” while brewing it in her friendly kitchen cafe. Kuzguncuk has an air of cross-cultural mix with its multiple and important Greek and Armenian churches, as well as its two synagogues, and a reputation for housing gypsies like the poet Can Yücel.

Lifting a wooden spoon, apron and in her usual humorous mood, she wondered if she had finally unraveled the mystery behind the legendary faint of the Imam who had inspired a Turkish culinary classic. She turned to her hungry guests as they drank their hot tea and told them that it wouldn’t be out of the question that a Greek woman had simply added too much garlic to the once-simple eggplant fries that she would cook for it. ‘local imam.

The high degree of garlic in Greek and Turkish cuisine is enough to make a foodie wonder if these culinary cultures have been locked into a competition over how much they can use, especially in “jajik” sauce (spelled cacık en Turkish) which goes with “imam bayıldı” and the dish itself, which, it seems, was designed to accommodate an abundant mass of garlic-induced delight.

Around the course

Elsewhere in Café Istanbul’s kitchen are carnivorous favorites with traditions spanning the Anatolian countryside. Eastern Turkey may have an ecological affinity with the desert living conditions of southern California. Adana and Iskenderun’s meat dishes return to Istanbul from a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Beverly Hills and include a range of Mediterranean-style seafood, such as gilthead sea bream or “çupra” In turkish .

At any time of the day, Istanbul Cafe is a real haunt to appease anyone’s appetite for Turkish cuisine, although compared to any real Istanbul experience it is in fact extremely steep, totally unaffordable. . For example, the average “Turkish tea”, served in a tall, domed glass, while legitimate in color and taste, is 10 times more expensive than it would be in a luxury cafe overlooking the Bosphorus (and Istanbul cafe). do not look at anything).

Added to this, the absolutely basic ‘simit’ or Turkish bagel, and ‘açma’, another bread item for commuters’ breakfast, baked with black olives or cheese and served with honey and butter (like this is the case in the streets of Istanbul), seems insanely overpriced at 14 dollars. But the property in Beverley Hills, and all of Los Angeles for that matter. It’s a wonder that, with its Spanish-speaking cuisine and its muted mood, the food at Café Istanbul is finally worth it.

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