Āsitāne – This is where we taste history…

Restaurant signage

We arrive at the beautiful Āsitāne restaurant near the gorgeous Kariye (Chora) Museum in Edirnekapı neighborhood. This restaurant specializes in fine Ottoman Cuisine, and the way dishes were conceived at the Palace during the Ottoman Empire. They have unearthed and included over 200 recipes from palace archives into their menu since they opened up in 1991.

The garden of this beautifully restored historical mansion is a quiet oasis to enjoy a meal. We walk in before lunch hour with our numerous cameras, audio and lighting equipment and a 7-person team to take over the inside of the restaurant. General Coordinator Batur Durmay is a gracious host and puts up with us moving every furniture inches to the left or right for the perfect set up.

The garden

Table setting

As we start chatting about the history of the restaurant he tells me that they may have been the very first establishment to specialize in the Ottoman Palace cuisine. This also meant they had to create an awareness and a demand to go with it. They had to do a lot of research to construct their menus, going into the archives, understanding what was used, when, and with which technique in the royal cuisine. It was a labor of love venturing into food while continuing their family owned boutique hotel business.

Batur Durmay

Batur Durmay, General Coordinator

He says only about 40% of their customers are from Turkey. And almost no one comes with a clear understanding of Ottoman cuisine or its refinement. In an indirect way, they have an educational mission as well, showcasing how things were combined with a clear intent in this cuisine: sweets are complemented with sour tastes, dishes with vinegar are cooked with sweet onions etc.

He doesn’t find it surprising at all that international customers are clueless about the variety that exists in the Turkish cuisine in general. He thinks this is due largely to Turkish immigrants living abroad and are in the food business. Almost none of them are chefs and they present a very limited version of the Turkish cuisine, he argues. Hence the tourists arriving in Turkey think of kebap more than anything else and maybe a few mezes as representative of Turkish food. They are of course delightfully surprised when they encounter the menu at Āsitāne.

Batur Durmay - quote

Batur Bey also talked about how our relationship with food changes from one generation to the next. His generation in Turkey, those who are in their 40s today, wasn’t interested in food, especially as a career he says. And people didn’t bother to learn to cook from their grandmothers either. This he sees as a loss, because without such upbringing one looses touch with the culture as well. Without a sofra (dinner table) tradition, one cannot pass that to the next generation. He is hopeful though as the younger generations are far more interested in food culture in general, and food as a career.

When I asked about his personal relationship to food he said: “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. A violin virtuoso’s children tend to have aptitude for music. This is true for my family as well. As far back as I can remember, our family conversations revolved around food, food culture, culture and philosophy of drinking and so on and so forth. Inevitably you grow up with this as your base. We cook at home; whatever we learned from our parents and grandmothers. We prefer to be around the dinner table when we get together with friends. We prefer to talk deeply about food rather than politics; wondering about its roots, how it is prepared, presented and the way it tastes. It is like a virus, spreading from one person to the next.”

Batur bey’s deep knowledge about the Ottoman cuisine is impressive. It is clear that this is more than a money making venture, but rather a labor of love for him. I believe he just had a baby (Congratulations!!!!), and I can easily picture him in the kitchen teaching his children what he learned from his parents and grandparents. I vividly remember my mom and aunts cooking and laughing together in my grandmother’s kitchen in Akcaabat (Trabzon) where a beautiful old wood stove resided with karalahana soup and tea bubbling on it, with corn bread in its belly, some of us lying on the comfy sofa next to the large kitchen table, my brother  or cousins sitting on the windowsill with a book. There is something about cooking with and around children – what a beautiful legacy to pass on to the next generation…

Humus dolmasi

Humus dolmasi

As we wrapped up the interview they brought out dishes to taste which made me giddy as a child. YUM! Let’s be honest, one of the coolest things about this project is the food. Must come back to this place to have the full dinner experience next time I am in Istanbul. But I digress… First up is the 14th century recipe for humus dolması. There is no tahini in this recipe, instead it is made with chickpeas, currants and olive oil, among other spices. It is served as a starter at room temperature.

stuffed melon

Stuffed melon

Then comes the kavun dolması (stuffed melon) with ground meat, rice, herbs, almonds and. Apparently the Ottomans loved stuffing anything in season, including fruits. This recipe dates back to 1539. It was served at the circumcision ceremony for Sultan Süleyman’s two sons in Edirne. At Āsitāne they make this recipe during winter with quince. During spring, they substitute tart pears and apples.

Gomlek kebabi

Fatty Apron Kebap ready to go into the oven…

The last plate is gömlek kebabı (“Fatty Apron” kebap on their menu), a recipe from 1764. It is a ground lamb and beef dish with coriander seeds, cumin, pine nuts and mint, wrapped in caulfat and roasted in the oven with lots of fresh cilantro. Batur bey suggested that this is a taste closer to our palette in Turkey today.


fatty apron kebap

Gomlek kebap ready to be devoured

There are also Ottoman beverages on the table, made with seasonal fruits and spices. Şerbet is made with fragrant fruits and flowers by pressing (without processing or cooking the fruit), while şurup is made by boiling fresh or dried fruits with the addition of lemon sugar. Depending on the season they can be tart and less sugary, such as during summers to have a refreshing effect. During winter there is more honey and sugar used in these recipes. The most interesting one was the Demirhindi şurubu (tamarind syrup). Batur bey called this an Istanbul recipe, though sometimes we see it in the Aegean as well. They have thirty different recipes for şurup and şerbet at Āsitāne. Come on down and have a blissful meal in the garden…


Ottoman Surup & Serbet selection

Ottoman Surup & Serbet selection

The saddest thing is though, these days there are no tourists in Istanbul, and restaurants like Āsitāne with mostly tourists as regular customers are suffering. Another restaurant we interviewed in the movie just closed its doors last week (Lokanta Maya). Let’s hope people will feel safe enough to visit Istanbul soon, before these beautiful establishments possibly go out of business, leaving a void in their wake.

Visit the Āsitāne at this address: Kariye Camii Sokak No:6
34240 Edirnekapı, İstanbul, Turkey
T: (212) 635 7997
F: (212) 521 6631



Day 1: We are really making a movie!!!

We are really making a movie

If there was ever a reluctant subject, I was it. At first, my idea for this movie was for me to be never seen, just heard in a few scenes while I asked a question. I wanted the camera to shoot from my point of view. As you may have read in my first blog post about the beginning this was not to be- something about having a story to tell in order for the movie not to bore audiences to death, blah blah blah.

Sweating through interviews

Internally willing myself to stop sweating. Somehow the universe is not listening.

And so I resigned to the fact that I would be sweating all over this movie as we started shooting during humid summer months in Istanbul while the camera guys told me there would be no fans or ACs during the shoots due to interference with the audio recording. What’s a little humiliation for one’s art/research agenda! Our audio technician Görkem nearly went deaf as I used my fan furiously right by my microphone anytime someone yelled cut for a 10 second reprieve from the sweat shower I was taking.

sweat sweat sweat

Our first day was planned to be a city shoot of me walking around, taking in the sights and doing numerous random things to be used as needed in the movie. It was also to break me in a little so I wouldn’t have too many blunders in front of our participants as I interviewed them.  As we walked around the city for over thirteen hours shooting various scenes, I am told to walk this way and that way, look around and ponder things on a notebook while writing gibberish. I am told to act really naturally so I walk up to a spot to gaze at the Bosphorus bridge and I am reminded promptly not to look away from the camera.

You think I am looking at the bridge. I am looking at a trash can.

You think I am looking at the bridge. I am looking at a trash can.

Always looking up when they ask me to change it up. It is all about the neck.

Always looking up when they ask me to change it up. It is all about the neck.







What do you know, I also look down. Apparently I am all about vertical looks.

What do you know, I also look down. Apparently I am all about vertical looks.

This is my serious thinking face. I am thinking I need an immediate overhaul.

This is my serious thinking face. I am thinking I need an immediate overhaul.

That means I would be looking at the trash bin on the side as if I am admiring the city and the bridge but really it is a trash can. Then I am told to not be so static, do something natural; like look around but never in a way to lose sight of the camera. Not a direct profile, but somewhat of a diagonal look. So, look left, but if you look left truly then the camera loses your face, so don’t look too left, but do it naturally. Walk normally, but that is too fast, and this is too slow. Don’t stop, linger a little, don’t look at us, but act normal.

Do I look annoyed and defensive?

Do I look annoyed and defensive?

At the end of the night I am feeling slightly clownish and a whole lot of sheepish. It was fun nevertheless with a steep learning curve. I think I somewhat understand what they mean about natural. It is a total re-construction of reality. Act real in a camera savvy way. Do things you normally wouldn’t do as if this is all you do. Be believable, make it happen! I can’t believe I am failing at looking at the damned bridge that takes up 200 degrees of my view. There is a first for everything, apparently.

It is also clear I do not know how to walk since I was told it was either too slow or too fast.

It is also clear I do not know how to walk since I was told it was either too slow or too fast.

I got to see so many streets and corners of the city I have never seen before. It was lovely wandering around. It was also fun to be working with others, in a team. Rarely in our profession do we work with others in this manner. We had drinks and food in between shooting and laughed a lot. They argued about which shot to take and how to make it better. They tried to educate me as quickly as possible. Their enthusiasm, patience and love for their craft made me respect them even more. Even after a ten-hour day, they were still arguing about the best location, best shot, one last look. But most importantly, I liked our camera crew because they love eating. They order and eat with gusto, passionately disagreeing about the best place to eat künefe. I think we’ll get along just fine.

I am told the camera adds 10 pounds. I believe the food during shoots might be responsible for a few others- i.e., buy a simit and eat it, have some mussels, let’s get a fish sandwich, we need you tasting something in the shot! You need to take another bite one more time.

One must balance eating with drinking liquids...

One must balance eating with drinking liquids…

Fruit is an important part of my diet...

Fruit is an important part of my diet…


Zeynep eating mussels in Istanbul

Chowing down mussels on a bridge…




One needs carbs to soak up all the fruit juices I consumed.

One needs carbs to soak up all the fruit juices I consumed.













Did I say I enjoyed myself? Hey, being a star in a food movie ain’t so bad after all… until you watch yourself on the big screen in high definition that is.  Minor setback I say 🙂

There was a lot of eating....

There was a lot of eating….

And more eating...

And more eating…















In sickness and in health

When I first moved to Turkey from Ireland I could barely cook. Boiling vegetables was easy, and I could cook a mean mushroom omelette, but that was about it. As I learned to cook from my husband, with much learned in a few weeks spent with my mother-in-law each summer, I became more adventurous than the typical Irish fare of boiled veg (potatoes, carrots, turnips, cabbage) and meat. The rich variety and depth of flavour in each Turkish meal was astounding.

But then I was faced with a challenge; my husband had trouble with his gallbladder and we needed to clear his diet of fat and most meat. The alternative was severe pain after eating as we waited for his operation.

We typically ate a range of home-made Turkish and international dishes; lasagne, sautés of meat, mushrooms, peppers in a rich tomato sauce served with rice fried in butter, köfte fried and sizzling in oil,

kuru fasulye

Kuru fasulye – meaty and rich and forbidden

potato chips rough cut by hand and shallow fried with a few green Charlston peppers thrown on top to cook in the steam, karnıyarık eggplants fried then stuffed with mince and baked, kuru fasulye dry beans cooked in a meaty sauce. It was rich, tasty and reasonably healthy, or so I convinced myself.

Out for a quick bite we’d choose from a geography of köfte – Tekirdağ, İnegol, Biga or Akçaabat. Black Sea pide was a favourite with a choice of mince fully wrapped by the dough cut just enough to slide a raw egg in after taking it out of the oven, or an open round filled with Black Sea cheese skimmed by a lake of oil. Another alternative was Edirne ciğer, thinly sliced liver dipped in flour and fried.


Köfte – definitely off the menu

Or perhaps we’d head for the et mangal for grilled meat, a difficult choice between lamb, steaks, more köfte, spicy sucuk or Adana kebap and a host more. For a real treat we went for Iskender kebab, döner kebap on a bed of pide covered with tomato sauce and topped with a generous splash of melted butter served at the table by the waiter. Though all were served with salads or soups, they could hardly be viewed as healthy.

Initially we cut down before cutting out and tried to eat more vegetable dishes. Shallow frying was out, as was butter, but oils were cut in half and fat free meat bought. Meat was reduced to a taste. Köfte were grilled, strictly rationed and eventually banned. Dinner became bland and boring. We both resented having to cater for his discomfort, rather than eating normally.

Over time, reductions weren’t enough. Boiled potatoes made an appearance, bringing back my Irish  childhood. Boiled potato accompanied every meal then, sometimes mashed and roast on Sundays. Having turned his nose up at them for 14 years unless they were smothered in olive oil, raw onion, green peppers and liberally sprinkled with red pepper and parsley, served plain they


Boiled spuds in their jackets – on the menu every day without fail

became my husband’s staple. Roast chicken remained on the menu though the patient was only given breast meat and no skin under any circumstances. In the end we alternated boiled spuds and roast chicken or turkey, with a chicken soup made with breast, potatoes and carrots and boiled rice.

There were two signs the end was coming. The first was tea. I tried different combinations of tea leaves into boiling water or water onto tea leaves or 12 minutes brewing or 8; it didn’t matter the tea was awful every time. I couldn’t taste much difference, but it seemed like my husband’s taste buds had been subtly affected. I couldn’t win.

The second sign involved breakfast. I had managed to find a replacement for the Turkish breakfast of white cheese, olives (another mysteriously not-up-to-scratch item), jams and helva – porridge. I should have seen it for what it was, a sign my Turkish husband was not well at all. I had eaten it occasionally in the winter and he was unmoved by the charm of a steaming bowl. He positively loved the joke about the English man who sneered at the Scotsman that oats were only used to feed horses in England, not people. The Scotsman replied “Aye, that’s why England is famous for its horses and Scotland is famous for its men!”
None the less my husband was eating porridge every morning, with a drizzle of honey and a few raisins for flavour. I can’t say he ever grew to like it, but it became familiar and safe. Always a good thing when you’re not feeling well.

It was a relief when he finally had the operation and recovered. We could go back to the international mix of Turkish, Italian and whatever I feel like throwing together. And the occasional Iskender kebap drizzled with melted butter…

Still it doesn’t say much for your national cuisine when it’s what constitutes sick food.

Catherine YIgit

Catherine Yiğit is a writer and translator who lives in northwestern Turkey near the mythical city of Troy. Born, bred and buttered in Dublin, Ireland, she arrived in Turkey in 2001 having circumnavigated the globe. You can learn more at her website the Skaian Gates.






Pumpkin, Purslane, and Beans: How to Eat in Turkey

When I moved to Turkey from the United States I knew enough about the food from previous visits to expect it to be fresher and more seasonal than in the US, and I already had a fondness for Turkish cuisine. What I had yet to discover was the Turkish fixation on the rules for combining foods and flavors. I remember asking one fall what kind of dishes people make with the huge greenish gray pumpkins that appear each year, and being told in all seriousness that the only thing you can make is kabak tatlısı (pumpkin dessert). “But what other Turkish dishes do people make? Soup?” No, you can only make pumpkin dessert was the slightly disapproving reply. So of course my foreign friends and I proceeded to add pumpkin to soups and macaroni and cheese, and share recipes among ourselves during the annual pumpkin glut, as our Turkish friends looked on disapprovingly, wondering why we would add a “dessert food” to our stews. When I mentioned to a Turkish friend that I made curried pumpkin and chickpeas his uncharacteristically negative reply was, “that sounds horrible!” He remained unconvinced even after I explained it wasn’t sweetened.

However, when eating out in Istanbul I do tend toward the combinations demanded by the Turkish palate; I’ve come to prefer them in many cases, and I’ve learned to say yes to servers in lokantas when they suggest adding yogurt or onions to a particular dish. There are reasons these combinations are popular: they just work. Below are a few classic Turkish food combinations, along with rules I’ve learned, and sometimes broken, along the way.

Kuru FasulyeKuru fasulye (dried beans) are the cheap comfort food of Turkey. I’ve always been a huge fan of beans in any form so it’s no surprise I took immediately to this simple dish of white beans stewed for hours with tomato paste, onion, maybe a few pieces of meat for added for flavor, and not much else. A deceptively simple recipe somehow transformed in the process of cooking into something beyond what its humble ingredients would suggest. But as important as the beans is what you eat with them.

I call my favorite source of kuru fasulye “the bean palace”. They may serve other dishes, but I’ve never seen anyone order anything other than beans in this huge, gilded restaurant with soaring ceilings. The last time Kelly's bean palaceI went the waiter looked dubiously at me, probably wondering if he needed to get someone who spoke English. Finally he came over and asked if I needed a menu, but I said no and ordered beans, rice, pickles, and ayran, a classic combination. He looked surprised, then nodded in approval. While many cultures have a classic rice and beans combination, in Turkey each item is served separately on its own plate. Many people preserve the separation on the fork, taking a bite of one, then a bite of the other, where an American might mix the parts into one concoction. Pickles and/or small hot peppers provide a nice contrast to the subtle beans, to which it’s acceptable to add dried red pepper, washing it all down with the salty yogurt drink, ayran. I’ve noticed recently that some like their kuru fasulye with sliced raw onion on the side, but I’m not sure if the onion is a substitute for the pickles or both can be added to the combination: further investigation is needed (any excuse to eat more beans!). Kuru fasulye is a classic example of one strain of Turkish culinary thought: the belief that simpler is better.

Rakı is a traditional alcoholic Turkish drink made from grapes and tasting strongly of anise. There is a whole culture around drinking rScreen Shot 2016-06-17 at 9.16.21 AMakı, which I love, but as a lightweight when it comes to alcohol I’m not exactly an expert in this very social group activity. However I do know that eating melon with white cheese while drinking rakı is the minimum required when you partake, or you can spend an entire night with a group of friends sharing small dishes, eating fish, and singing around the table. There are rules associated with drinking rakı and eating the foods that go with it, as was clearly revealed to me by the following conversation:

Me: Last night I was feeling ambitious and I made mücver (zucchini pancakes) and semizotu (purslane).

Friend 1: Semizotu with garlic and yogurt?

Me: Yes.

Friend 1: And you drank rakı (editor’s note: this was a statement, not a question).

Me: No…

Friend 1: No?! You can’t eat mücver and yogurt dishes and NOT drink rakı. Hey! Come here! (calls another friend over). Last night Kelly made mücver and semizotu with yogurt.

Friend 2: And you drank rakı (again, not a question, this response was totally unprompted by Friend 1).

Me: No…

Friend 2: Why not?!

Friend 1: We thought you knew better by now… (sadly shakes head).

Ayran and fish is practically a forbidden combination in Turkey. I love both and one night in one of my regular haunts ordered both. My waiter didn’t say anything, but there was such a look of pain and horror on his face that I asked what was wrong. He explained to me that he wanted to serve me what I wanted but asked if I could Screen Shot 2016-06-17 at 9.28.19 AMplease, please not order those two things together, because it would make me sick. Apparently this is a common myth in many places, although G6ogle tells me it’s not true. But because my waiter was so disturbed I changed my order and asked some Turkish friends about it later. They nodded wisely and confirmed that I would indeed become quite ill if I combined ayran and fish, so I reserve that combination for home. As I was eating my ayran-free dinner that night I looked over and saw that the woman at the table next to me was drinking a glass of rakı and a glass of red wine at the same time. Apparently this combination was perfectly acceptable to my waiter—I found the thought of it repulsive—but maybe that’s my cultural bias showing.

In conclusion, when in Turkey try eating like a Turk. Beans require a side of pickles, yogurt-garlic foods require a side of rakı. And what you do with pumpkins and ayran in your own home is your own business.

Kelly HevelKelly Hevel has been living in Istanbul since 2006. While “demystifying art and the creative practice,” she writes Dispatches from Istanbul. She also teaches art and creativity workshops. Contact her at khevel@mac.com.


‘What is the hook?’ she said, ‘what is the story?’

As I tried to come up with a semi-intelligent answer for the grant officer at the NEH (National Endowment for the Arts), I realized I never thought of the project as a “story.” Well, this is not too surprising, as we are not in the business of storytelling in social science research. Usually we are trying to establish credibility and objectivity by establishing distance from our subjects, even as we criticize these methodologies. At most we try to conjure up titles to grab your attention in our articles or conference presentations.

I’ve never let anyone hold the kids while they’ve got the ciggies: moral tales of maternal smoking practices” comes to mind ***

Continue Reading..

Eating with the Seasons in Turkey

I was never someonfruits in bazaare to get creative in the produce section of my grocery store in New Jersey. I would walk a predictable pattern, throwing a pint or two of strawberries into my basket before moving toward my other favorites: blueberries and bananas. It made no difference if the weather was hot and sunny or the roads were covered in snow, I could walk into that same store and see the same things in their designated locations. Whenever I wanted to cook, I would scroll through the pages of food blogs waiting for anything to catch my eye, then rush off to the store expecting every ingredient I needed to be there for me.

When I arrived back in Istanbul in late May for the year, I was excited to see that the farmers markets were bursting with plump orange Malatya apricots, juicy strawberries that stained their paper bag dark red, overflowing baskets of cherries (which the farmers claimed tasted like baklava), and massive Çanakkale tomatoes. As summer went on things just got better: figs the size of my fists, mountains of bright green beans, and peaches growing bigger and more delicious by the week. I would enter the market with multiple reusable bags and only leave when I could not physically carry anything else.

As the seasons began to change, I watched the staple items in my diet disappearing from the farmers markets to be replaced by something new. The people working in the markets warned us of this each week, shouting about their last batch of certain items, and advising us to enjoy them before it would be too late. And just as they predicted, peaches became pumpkins, apricots became apples, cherries became carrots.

Winter’s arrival would again change the landscape of produce to be found.

Turkish Bazaar

Turkish Bazaar- farmers market

There would be piles of leafy greens, overflowing baskets of beets, pomegranates, and mandarin oranges. People with woven baskets full of chestnuts would beckon shoppers to come sample their product as they roasted it over a fire.

Turkish cooks embrace each change in season. They enjoy each fruit and vegetable when it tastes its best, and then say goodbye until next year as they welcome the next season’s bounty. They also find ways to preserve some items so that they can utilize the flavors of the warmer months during the more sparse winters. Most homes contain items like homemade tomato and pepper paste, dried eggplants strung together and waiting to be stuffed, and dehydrated fruits. They understand that a canned summer tomato will always taste best than a “fresh” winter one. In the cool winter months, those preserved foods provide the flavors of the summer.

As I participated in this seasonal eating, I realized that it makes much more sense than expecting every fresh fruit and vegetable to be around at all times. I wondered why I had not been eating seasonally my whole life. Perhaps it is because the typical American grocery store does not display obvious signs of a change in season. When the same items are available year-round, eating seasonally requires you to make an effort to learn which produce is in season. In Turkey, people grow up with this knowledge as they see the availability of different foods flow through the same cycles every year. I did not set out to learn the seasons for fruits and vegetables in Turkey, but it happened to me naturally as I shopped each week at my nearby farmers market and grocery stores.


dried vegetables

This different availability based on the season also forces you out of your comfort zone, to try to experiment with what is available at any given time. Rather than having a favorite fruit or vegetable that you consume all year round, you can develop seasonal favorites and look forward to their return. In the fall a local farmer would sell freshly carved pumpkin at the end of my street, and in the spring he switched to carving artichokes, so my own purchases and eating habits changed with what he had available. Having a varied diet ensures that you get adequate nutrients, but also prevents you from getting bored of eating the same foods over and over again.

Of course you will occasionally wish for a big ripe peach in December, or for a rich chpazarestnut in May, but living in Turkey this past year has transformed me both as a consumer and a cook. Rather than entering the store with a recipe and hoping to find each needed ingredient, I enter my home with bags of whatever fruits and vegetables are in season, and then search for a recipe that utilizes them. I’ve learned to buy things like tomatoes and pumpkin in bulk, and then preserve them as tomato sauce and pumpkin puree in my freezer for when they disappear from the markets. And most importantly, when I see something being sold out of its season, I walk away. When you taste a Turkish strawberry in June, the strawberries in an American grocery store in January don’t seem appealing anymore.


Brittany Peterson has a BS in Nutrition, from the Syracuse University (Class of 2015). She is currently a Dietetic Intern & MS in Nutrition Student at College of Saint Elizabeth

Check out her blog, Anatolian Kitchen


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