As history tells us, the Ottomans lived gloriously.
And they ate gloriously.
The Ottoman kitchen was truly a secret treasure, full of recipes the chefs experimented with and cooked up for 600 years. The chefs were brought in from different parts of the empire to create and experiment with different ingredients and each cook was hired for a specialty. All the dishes made for the sultan were first tested by the imperial food taster, not only to ensure that the taste was superb but also to check for poison!
Today, there are a few restaurants in Istanbul that honor the rich history of the Ottoman cuisine. Asitane Restaurant, located right next to the Chora Museum, stands out from the rest for being the first and by far the best one.
The tradition required that the kitchen staff kept their recipes and cooking methods as secret, therefore none of their valuable information were printed, documented and passed down to generations.
Since opening its doors in 1991, Asitane has done a lot of research through the archives of the era and now offer over 200 recipes in their winter and summer menus. In addition to their traditional menus, they also create specific menus for short periods of time to resurface forgotten Ottoman recipes such as the “Aphrodisiac Dishes of the Ottoman Cuisine” and “Dishes From the Period of Mehmed the Conqueror”.
The recipes are still kept as secrets and the chefs follow each recipe exactly down to the last detail. Ingredients are brought in from parts of Turkey and are as local as it gets; the bulgur wheat comes from the southeastern city of Urfa and the olive oil from the Aegean Sea town Ayvalık.
Recently I had a wonderful dinner experience here, eating dishes that dated back to the 16th century. The restaurant has a secluded garden and in the summer months a “fasıl” musician (Ottoman classical music) plays in the background that really sets the tone of the evening.
Now let’s talk about food. Our dinner was delicious from the start to finish, accompanied by several glasses of the good old “rakı”. All of the dishes were shared by two and were just about the right amount of food.
Almond Soup (1539)
Photo credit: Eluminary.org
Stuffed Grape Leaves with Sour Cherries (1844)
Ottoman Hummus (1469)
Grilled “Circassian” Cheese with Oyster Mushrooms
Lamb stew cooked with apricots, Rezaki raisins and almonds
Stuffed Melon (1539)
Cored melon stuffed with a blend of minced meat,
rice, herbs, almonds, currants and baked in the oven
Südlü Zerde (1539)
Milk pudding flavored with saffron and honey
Ottoman cuisine often mixed savory and sweet which made for very interesting flavors. The Stuffed Melon was truly exquisite with the minced meat, rice and spices all cooked up in a juicy melon. Another stellar dish was the Almond Soup, creamy yet light with a hint of nutmeg that really pulled it together. I batted my eyelashes to the waiter for the recipe but you can guess that I did not succeed.
Last but not least, the dessert Südlü Zerde blew our socks off. A simple milk pudding was taken to the next level with the addition of saffron and honey, and of course the secret touch of the chef.
As we were about to leave, joyfully stuffed with all the delicacies we had savored, our polite waiter handed us a small paper bag with a little surprise inside; a jar of their homemade apricot jam. Needless to say, their jam is one of the best I have ever tasted. The apricots spread like a thin paste and are packed with fruity flavors. This little delicacy has been a staple on my breakfast since that night and reminds me of the wonderful meal with each bite.
We bet your mouths are watering now. On your next trip to Istanbul, make sure you set some time aside to enjoy a meal at Asitane. Better yet, you can take a cooking workshop with their chefs and maybe learn a few secrets to take home with you. One of the dishes you’ll make during this 2.5 hour workshop is the Hassa Böreği, a traditional Turkish pastry where paper thin sheets of “yufka” (phyllo dough) is layered with cheese, green olives, walnuts, yogurt, spring onions and tarragon then rolled into a spiral shape and cooked in the oven. A true delicacy.
Asitane, Kariye Camii Sokak No:6, 34240, Edirnekapı, İstanbul - Türkiye (Foursquare Location); Tel: (212) 635 7997 - (532) 755 9544 Fax: (212) 521 6631 email: firstname.lastname@example.org www.asitanerestaurant.com; 200 Turkish lira, or about $90 at 2.16 lira to the dollar for a generous assortment for two, without drinks or tip.
Istanbulite, a bespoke travel agency, is one of the two privileged agencies in the city to organize this workshop in Asitane’s kitchen. If you’re ready to don your purple Asitane apron and cook side by side with these talented chefs contact istanbulite here for more information.
I guarantee you, it will be an experience to remember.