Restaurant Reviews

Çiya, Istanbul

There are three things I LOVE when it comes to Çiya; vegetarian kebab, mezes and pumpkin dessert. Although Çiya restaurants are specialised in kebabs, pide, lahmacun and every other Anatolian specialty, they have a vegetarian version of each one of those dishes.

There are three restaurants; two on one side of the road and one on the other side, Çiya Kebap, Çiya Kebap II, and Çiya Sofrası. They call it “memory kitchen” because they keep traditional dishes alive; the dishes us Turks have been brought up with, the dishes our mothers or grandmothers cooked for us when we were so young and therefore, our childhood memories come back to us when we have our first bite.

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Meze buffet at Çiya Kebab

I have had great memories at Ciya before but this time around we tried a different branch and was really disappointed. I don’t normally say negative things about a restaurant, I choose silence over negativity, but this recent experience was appalling and I want to say something about it. Here, I’m saying it… I was downstairs, taking photos of starters (mezes) and wanted to let the lady know who was behind the counter that it was for my food blog. “I’ll make you famous,” I said smiling and her reply was “We’re famous enough!” That was really off-putting. Yes, they are quite famous, no doubt about that. They have been featured in Yotam Ottolenghi’s TV program called Mediterranean Feasts and in The New Yorker article by Elif Batuman. Does it get better than that? No, it doesn’t but, can you actually be famous enough when every customer is a brand new showcase for the restaurant? Here I am writing about this experience in my Sydney home for followers of VegFusion who are mainly from the US and Australia. Americans love to visit Istanbul and Australians go to Turkey at least once in their life to visit Gallipoli. I also wonder what Musa Dağdeviren (the owner) would think if he found out. I wasn’t impressed at all so I pinched their menu. However, my disappointment didn’t end there…

Examples of daily menu (below):

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Sıkma Köfte (Bulghur, onion and yoghurt)

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Enginar Tavası (Pan-fried artichokes with onion, garlic and olive oil)

Another disappointing situation related to this particular branch was the fact that they don’t serve alcohol! You could have it at Çiya Sofrası –we did 4 years ago!—but not at Çiya Kebab and you find out about it after you’ve already started to nibble on your mezes. Anyway, the waiter told us that they had a bottle left by a group of tourists and we could have it. Great! However, it was nothing what we would’ve ordered. It was a terrible wine with more vinegar qualities than actual fermentation of grapes which is unique to wine making. And on top of that, it was served in water glasses not to attract suspicion.

We have had many meals at Çiya before but this is the first time I have photos for you and be blogging about it. Let’s start with how things work at Çiya restaurants: You pick a table and go to the area downstairs and choose your starters whether it be mezes, salads or other cold dishes we call ‘zeytinyağlılar’. They weigh them up and then you sit down and order your kebab or other dishes from their daily menu at your table, and your drinks. And later on; your dessert, of course if you’re having any.

Here’s a combination of mezes I picked for everyone that night:

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Çiya restaurants are specialised in kebabs but they have been doing a vegetarian one for years and that’s what we have every time as a main course. The kebab part is made of bulghur (cracked wheat), onion, mushroom, parsley, mint, olive oil and cheddar-like cheese and is served with onion and sumac salad, grilled tomato, fresh parsley, yoghurt and bread.

Vegetarian Kebab (above)

As for a dessert we always have Kabak Tatlısı (pumpkin dessert) drizzled with tahini and topped with crushed walnuts (below). They serve sherbets with desserts (2 different flavours: tamarind or sumac) if you ask. These sherbets are the Ottoman equivalent for dessert wine, I guess 🙂

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Pumpkin in this dessert is marinated in quicklimey water (quicklime is calcium oxide actually) which sounds just as weird in English as it does in Turkish. It is a long process: quicklime is mixed with water overnight, solids sink down the bottom and the clear water on top is what’s being used. They call it “cream of quicklime” and the pumpkin is marinated for at least 5 hours in that water before it is cooked with sugar and lemon juice. For some reason, it turns out crunchy on the outside and soft and syrupy on the inside unlike your usual pumpkin dessert.

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Pumpkin dessert before they are dressed and served (above).

The other unusual desserts (above) like raw walnut, eggplant (aubergine), tomato and olive.

Ciya Sofrasi can be found at this address:
Caferağa, Güneşli Bahçe Sk.

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