Authentic Ottoman Turkish cuisine at Istanbul

I was just a school kid when I first heard about Istanbul and it was from a vinyl record that dad used to play which featured a 1953 song sung by The Four Lads, Istanbul Not Constantinople.

Enjoying Meze dishes with Turkish bread at Istanbul
This novelty song had a catchy tune and I can still remember some of its funny lyrics written to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans and the renaming of Constantinople to Istanbul in 1930.

“Why did Constantinople get the works? That’s nobody’s business but the Turks!”

The lyrics of this Istanbul song and its familiar tune is running on a crazy loop in my head as I make my way to Istanbul.

Yes, Istanbul.

No, I don’t need a passport, air-ticket or any visa to go to this Istanbul because it is nearby, located within the commercial area in Horizon Hills, Iskandar Puteri.

When in Istanbul, Stefan is Mustaffa
Our friend Stefan, who operates the Coppola Pizza place a few doors away in the same block, invited my friends and I for a dining experience at his latest venture here as he aims at creating an authentic collection of quality restaurants in this area.

When the wooden door opens at the entrance to Istanbul, my eyes lock onto the stained-glass lamps above, mesmerized by a collection of glass globes coated in a mosaic of colours and suspended at various levels in an attractive bunch.

The lighting is subtle within and when my eyes adjust to the low light, I see concrete floors covered in lengths of woven Turkish carpets.

We are welcomed in and requested to remove our footwear. On the sideboard, wooden shoe cupboards are provided to store the footwear and keep it out of sight.

This is a normal shoplot but the space is maximized by the use of reflecting mirrors, tall arches and down lights to give an impression of a wider room.

A section is cordoned off on one side to create a more cosy ambience. It is designed under a canopy where diners may sit on the carpeted floor strewn with cushions to create the illusion of dining and reclining comfortably within a tent!

Preparing traditional Turkish Coffee
on a tray of heated sand
We are shown to our table and seated comfortably (on chairs!) when Stefan, in keeping with the Turkish setting, introduces himself as Mustaffa!

In his heavily accented English, he regales us with tales on his family heritage which included a history and geography lesson about the region where Istanbul is situated.

In short, Istanbul is a city of early civilization that shares common borders with Europe and Asia, and a melting pot of cultures with an intricate blend of cuisine that has become uniquely Turkish.

In his desire to share some family recipes – because he misses it so – he has Turkish chefs who are skilled in preparing popular recipes from the Sultan’s Table in the traditional Ottoman way, using authentic ingredients, to serve this cuisine here.

Meanwhile, the culinary team led by Chef Shaban and Chef Recep are whipping up a series of dishes to give us an unforgettable taste of Ottoman recipes in the only authentic Turkish Ottoman style restaurant, not only in Johor but in this region.

We begin with cold Meze or Mezze (RM16 each), cold appetizers served with Ekmek or homemade bread (provided complimentary).

A selection of cold Meze to savour with breads
I pay close attention as Mustaffa introduces the appetizers in Turkish names but I believe I got it right as he drones on about the ingredients that go into each preparation.

With the seven dishes arranged in rows, they are identified as:

[Top Row Left to Right] Acili Ezme or homemade spicy dip in a blend of tomato, cucumber, garlic, onion, chilli and parsley; Babaganus or homestyle mix of grilled vegetables like eggplant, red capsicum, garlic, dill and yoghurt; Mangal Salata or charcoal grilled vegetables like eggplant, capsicum, tomato, coriander, garlic, dill and onion, all chopped and mixed with olive oil.

Yaprak Sarma [Background] and Pacanga Boregi [Front]
[Middle Row Left to Right] Muhammara or flavourful red pepper dip topped with pomegranate molasses – a fragrant dip made with red capsicum, tomato paste, tomato, walnut and garlic; Humus, a traditional Middle Eastern dip made with chickpeas, olive oil, garlic, dill and lemon; Saksuka or oven baked mixed vegetables in olive oil comprising potato, eggplant, carrot, onion, capsicum, tomato, pumpkin and garlic.

The only item in the bottom row is Pirasa Plaki or oven baked leeks and vegetables like pumpkin, onion and garlic in olive oil.

These are refreshing vegetarian dishes to savour with freshly baked breads and we are told that diners often enjoy an entire meal of only warm and cold Meze.

Hellim Izgara, a grilled vegetable salad with Hellim Cheese
Diners may pick the Cold Meze platter served with a choice of four (RM57) or seven (RM99) choices of cold Meze dishes that comes with unlimited servings of Ekmek.

In addition to the Cold Meze, Mustaffa introduces two recommended Warm Meze items:

One is Yaprak Sarma, a signature Meze made in his grandmother’s recipe using pickled vine leaves stuffed with beef and lamb mince mixed with rice and coriander with a dill yoghurt dip.

The other is Pacanga Boregi or the Belly Dancer Special – that resembles deep-fried spring rolls – made with Beef Salami, Capsicum and Mozzarella cheese wrapped in Yufka or Phyllo dough.

A double portion of Kurban Chorba or lamb soup
served with whole lamb shanks!
Then comes a choice of Salatalar or Salads served in two varieties, made with fresh vegetables or the alternative, made with grilled vegetables, in portions which are good for sharing.

Coban Salata, a refreshingly fresh salad commonly known as the Shepherd’s Salad, has chopped tomato, cucumber, lettuce, onion, capsicum and onion topped with parsley and a drizzle of lemon.

As its name describes, the Hellim Izgara is made with a selection of grilled vegetables like eggplant, carrots, mushrooms, tomato, cucumber, pumpkin, onion and fresh lettuce with fried Hellim Cheese.

Cheese-lovers will enjoy the strong taste of the fried cheese along with the grilled veg.

Mustaffa is proud of the Chorba or Soup selections and recommends Mercimek or lentil bean soup, and the more robust Kurban Chorba or lamb soup.

Traditional Turkish Coffee served in a khave finjani
My eyes widen in surprise when it is served because I didn’t know that the lamb soup comes with a whole lamb shank in a tasty stew brewed with onion, potatoes, carrots and coriander!

Mustaffa explains that Turkish families may enjoy a leisurely meal together that spans over five hours – sharing portions and taking short breaks in between to recline and doze – and wake up refreshed to continue eating the next course.

A picture of a Middle Eastern dining scene is forming in my mind as he goes on to describe the live music entertainment and how diners can even get up to dance together (maybe to burn off the calories!) before they continue their meal!

A large serving of the Sultan Pilav
In response to Mustaffa’s sharp instructions (in an unfamiliar Turkish dialect?), staff members jump into action, approaching the day bed (on which I’m seated!) and offers extra cushions for us to lounge more comfortably…

While waiting for the Ana Yemeklel or Main Course items to be prepared, Mustaffa invites us to observe how Turkish Coffee is traditionally prepared on a tray of heated sand.

The art of brewing Turkish Sand Coffee is an integral part of Turkish culture heritage and we watch with fascination as the staff member measures coffee grinds, sugar and water into the long-handled copper cezve or coffee maker and patiently heats it on the sand.

I must commend Mustaffa on the attention to detail because the freshly brewed coffee is served in a traditional small, pretty porcelain cup, a kahve finjani.

Then its time for more food – the Sultan Pilav – a dish fit for the sultans which needs a 2-hour advance order to prepare.

Baked rice spills out of the crispy dough in the Sultan Pilav
Mustaffa cuts through the crispy dough and out spills pilaf rice cooked with cubes of lamb, apricots, raisins, chestnuts and cashew nuts!

While the baked rice can be eaten on its own, I thought it also tastes good with a portion of Istanbul Guvec, a traditional Turkish slow-cooked casserole, made with beef, eggplant, onion, garlic, capsicum and potatoes.

This tasty casserole comes in two sizes: Small (RM42) and Large (RM85) and is usually eaten with bread.

I enjoy a portion of Istanbul Guvec with Turkish bread
There is a range of charcoal grilled items and shish kebabs in the menu, prepared in recipes using minced beef or lamb, chicken and fish that are popular in various provinces like Adana, Urfa, Karadeniz and Anatolia.

The recommended pick is a combination of three kebabs in the Istanbul Karasik Kebabi (RM155) that comprises Tavuk Sis (cubed chicken thighs), Kuzu Sis (cubed leg of lamb), and a choice of either Adana or Urfa kebab, served with Bulgur (cracked wheat) and rice, bread, onions and salad.

Finally, it is time to end our meal sweetly with Tatli or dessert and I’m delighted to see not one but two desserts.

Stefan AKA Mustraffa, serving Kunefe
A serving of Baklava, slices of filo pastry stuffed with walnuts, garnished with cubes of Turkish Delight, followed by Kunefe, a sweet cheese pastry made with shredded kadaifi pastry, cheese, pistachio nuts, drizzled with honey and served with kaymak or clotted cream.

I can still sense the pride oozing from Mustaffa as he happily removes his fez and drops it on my head while he goes on to slice and serve the freshly baked Kunefe at the table.

As the warm Kunefe melts in my mouth, I must agree that Istanbul is where one can savour the most authentic taste of Ottoman Turkish cuisine in Johor Baru.

Istanbul Ottoman Turkish Cuisine (Halal) is located at No. 7 Jalan Hijauan 3, Horizon Hills, Iskandar Puteri, 79100 Johor Baru, Johor.

Open daily for Lunch from 12pm to 3pm and Dinner from 6pm to 11pm.

Reservations are recommended as space is limited.
Tel: +607 – 509 5484 and WhatsApp +6016 761 5824.

No comments:

Post a Comment