We often use the expression “eat like a King”, but this time we went a bit further and decided to truly eat like a King, in this case, an Ottoman Sultan. Asitane, open since 1991, is a restaurant, or maybe more like an institution, with the purpose of recovering the recipes of the old Ottoman palaces. Located in one of the oldest areas of the city, right next to the beautiful church of St. Saviour in Chora (home for some of the most beautiful remaining Byzantine panels), Asitane is probably more, like I said, of an institution than actually a restaurant, let’s see, of their vast team make part historians that scour the well-organized books of the palace, searching for recipes, shopping lists and ingredients used in the giant banquets of the Sultans. Property of a group successful in other businesses, the profit of the restaurant is invested in it, whether giving formation to the teams (majorly constituted by people of the neighborhood, one of the poorest and most traditional of Istanbul) or for investigation.

As if this wasn’t enough, Batur Durmay, the owner, assures us that one of the restaurant’s principles is not to use any packaged products or with a bar code, always resorting to small biological producers that see in this space a way to improve and develop their small businesses.

But well, nobody’s here to read a cute text about history and charity, but to read about food and banquets, so let’s move on to what really matters, the food.

Already installed, in a wide with nice lighting room, classic and comfortable decoration, starts our feast, the bread, of excellent quality, is inspired in a recipe from the XVI century of the Palace of Topkapi, to accompany, flavored olive oil and as amuse bouche a nuts, peppers and oregano “truffle”.

Amuse bouche

Almond Soup and Chestnut Soup
The beginning of the meal per se couldn’t have been better, an almond soup, with pomegranate and a very interesting nutmeg touch, a recipe dating from 1539. The other soup, of chestnuts in a broth of spices and dried fruits, mint and dry yogurt, was even more overwhelming. A winter recipe from 1469 that would easily conquer any contemporary chef. What a beginning and what a flavor explosion!

asitane - 8Kebab and Kapak Boreği
A combination of warm starters, with a Kebab (from 1764) made with veal and lamb meat, coriander seeds, pinions and cumin, wrapped in caul/crépine. Amazing flavor, excellent texture and succulent meat, besides a good integration with the onion slightly cooked and the pomegranate. The other starter, Kapak Boreği, dates from 1844, and it’s a recipe of minced lamb meat with cardamom, almonds and pinions, filling an excellent puff pastry. A dish once again flawlessly executed and full of flavor, from the meat, the spices and the puff pastry. Accompanying very well, to cut a bit of all the fat and weight of the dish, an excellent turnip pickle, very, very good.

Couscous (1910)
I have eaten many times this traditional Arabic pasta, but never like this one. Pasta with a bigger grain, al dente, sautéed with butter, nuts and parsley and covered with cheese, resulting in a dish I could eat every day without getting sick. It’s beautiful to see that simplicity is the best medicine when the ingredients have the best quality.

Stuffed Quince (1539)
To us Portuguese that traditionally only use quince to the famous “Marmelada” (kind of a quince jam) it’s interesting to see its versatility in salty dishes like this one. A dish full of history and one of the most charismatic from Asitane. A quince stuffed with rice, veal, lamb, dried fruits, raisins and grape molasses. The result is a sweet and sour combination, without overpowering of flavors, with all the elements working pretty well in the dish. High note to the textures of the dish.

 Mutancana, lamb stew with apricot, onion and raisins (1539)
Another recipe with over 5 centuries, which transported our mouth to other dimensions, a dish with well-balanced sweet notes, where once again the textures are one of its strengths. Very well accompanied with green rice; this color being obtained by the sautéed with spinach and chopped herbs.

 Goatling, pilaf, asparagus (XV century)
One of the new dishes of the restaurant’s menu and one of the most interesting. Slowly cooked goatling, shredded over a pilaf with raisins, pinions, liver, oregano and pepper. How good did these sultans eat…? For sure one of the best goatling dishes I ever tasted.

Bal Helvasi , halva with honey, pistachio and poppy seeds (XV century)
To finish an already long and amazing meal, another classic from the Turkish sweets, the halva flour, cooked with honey, making it less sweet and with a more interesting texture. Good flavor but in the need of a element to elevate the dish, maybe a yogurt ice cream or a pistachio one.

Harmonizing this brilliant meal was the great Quinta do Vesúvio 2009, which traveled with us from Portugal to a fusion with the Turkish cuisine, and the best Turkish red wine we tasted during our trip, the Château Kalpak 2010 made with a blend of Kalecik Karasi and Merlot. Both working perfectly with the tasted dishes during lunch.

The Service is efficient and correct, with the dishes served with the right timings besides a truly genuine joy, beautiful thing to see in working people.

Final Remarks
There’s nothing like an Ottoman cuisine feast for us to feel like Lords, the cuisine from Asitane shows well that cooking is an art with centuries of existence and many more to come. About the restaurant there’s not much more to say, after all the introduction I could maybe add that after Antony Bourdain’s visit in its show about Istanbul, it is certain you’ll find many tourists at the tables of the restaurant, but it is also true that you won’t find anywhere else a cuisine as authentic and traditional as this. The ingredients are of extreme quality and that shows in the dishes, from the most simple to the most complex and elaborated. It was, without doubt, the best traditional meal we had in town, and one of those I won’t forget while I don’t repeat it. Remains for me to thank the team that transformed the Turkish cuisine in one of our favorite cuisines and wishing every country could have its own Batur Durmay and an Asitane to recover the lost menus, with respect, love and a lot of soul!

Kariye Camii Sokak No:6, (right next to Chora’s church) – Istanbul
+90 (212) 635 7997

Quinta do Vesúvio 2009 with the support of Symington Family


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