This post is part 10 of 17 of my trip to Istanbul. The series intends to give more than just a I-saw-this-and-did-that review. It aims to share the voice inside my head as I explore a world I’ve only read in books.
After hours of self-induced neck cramps at the Chora Church, I was ready to feast. Behind the small Byzantine church is the Asitane Restaurant, which means Head Gate in Farsi. The restaurant is opened from 11:30AM-midnight. It’s the perfect place to have lunch after a cultural visit to the Chora Church.
The Asitane Restaurant is unique from all the other restaurants I’ve tried in Istanbul. Its mission is to rediscover and recreate the lost recipes of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman reign lasted for 700 years but very few recipes have survived. They had a strong tradition that demanded cooks to keep their recipes and cooking techniques a secret.
“The large and airy Asitane Restaurant serves imperial Ottoman cuisine, incorporating Central Asian, Anatolian, Middle Eastern and Balkan flavours, resulting from the intensive research undertaken at three palace kitchens (Dolmabahce, Topkapi and Edirne) to test and recreate long-forgotten imperial dishes, whose recipes were traditionally kept secret. Some of the rediscovered dishes on the menu, such as veal in apple sauce, were served at the circumcision feast held for two of Suleyman’s son in 1539. The location might be off the beaten track, but Asitane is the one and only restaurant in the city where intrepid diners can experience such unlikely-sounding treats as almond soup. This is a restaurant for the serious culinary adventurer.” – Review from Style City Istanbul
The food certainly hit a palette I never knew I had. I’m no food connoisseur but being Chinese, I’m use to MSG, artificial flavoring and spices. At the Asitane Restaurant, the dishes tasted like they were purely flavored with natural ingredients. JC and I shared a plate of stuffed calamari as an appetizer. It was a blend of rice and pine nuts flavored with cinnamon and fresh mint. Our main courses took a little longer to come but there wasn’t mcuh to complain about. We had a table right next to the door and we couldn’t help but marinate in the cool breeze.
As soon as our main course arrived, all small talk stopped. Our conversation consisted of ooohs and mmmhs. For my main course, I ordered the Mutanjene – diced lamb with dried apricots, raisins, honey and almonds. JC had the Muhmudiyee – chicken stewed with almonds, dried apricots and grapes, flavoured with honey and cinnamon. It was perfectly portioned for my belly. All was well until we ordered the Helatiye. It was a pudding dessert with almonds, pistachio, fruits and pomegranate seeds in rose-water syrup. It was like eating flowers. I was not a fan of the rose-water syrup.
Here are some of the fine Ottoman dishes that are served at the Asitane Restaurant. All images below are from Asitane’s Picasa gallery.