Sunday, November 30, 2008

Lamb Kebabs with Eggplant | Kösk Kebabi

Lamb Kebabs with Eggplant | Kösk Kebabi


This is an adaptation of a dish we were served at Kösk, a restaurant in Konya.

3⁄4 lb. boneless leg of lamb, cut into 2⁄3" cubes
1 1⁄2 oz. lamb fat, preferably tail fat, cut into 2⁄3" cubes
1⁄4 cup olive oil
1 tsp. coarse salt, plus more to taste
5 slender, pale purple eggplants (about 1 1⁄4 lbs.)
1⁄4 cup butter
1 large green pepper, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
2 medium tomatoes, cored, peeled, and finely chopped
1⁄3 cup lamb stock (see Panfried Lamb Kebabs with Bulgar Pilav, step 1)
1⁄2 cup cilantro leaves

1. Toss together lamb, fat, and oil in a shallow dish. Refrigerate for 24 hours. Drain, transfer to a bowl; discard oil. Add salt; toss to combine. Thread 1 piece fat between every 4–6 pieces lamb onto six 15"–20" metal skewers; set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 400°. Arrange eggplant on a baking sheet in a single layer. Roast until soft, about 30 minutes. Let cool slightly; remove and discard skin. Transfer flesh to a medium bowl; mash smooth with a fork.

3. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add peppers and cook until softened, 8–10 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, 8–10 minutes. Add eggplant and salt to taste; stir to combine. Transfer to a serving platter. Preheat a grill to medium. Grill kebabs, turning and basting with stock occasionally, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Slide meat and fat off onto eggplant mixture. Garnish with cilantro.

This recipe was first published in Saveur in Issue #95

Lamb and Yogurt Soup | Tutmaç Çorbasi

Lamb and Yogurt Soup | Tutmaç Çorbasi

SERVES 4 – 6

When adding the yogurt mixture to this soup, we were taught to stir it in only one direction, a technique used to prevent curdling.

2⁄3 cup flour
1⁄2 tsp. salt
1 egg
2 1⁄2 cups vegetable oil

1⁄2 cup flour
1⁄4 tsp. salt
1 egg

1⁄2 lb. boneless leg of lamb,
cut into 1⁄2" pieces
1 tbsp. clarified butter
1 cup thick strained yogurt
2 tbsp. flour
1 egg
3 cloves garlic
3 tbsp. butter
2 tsp. dried peppermint

1. For the pasta: Put flour, salt, egg, and 1 tbsp. water into a medium bowl; mix to form a dough. Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead until soft and pliant, 8–10 minutes. Halve dough, cover with a damp towel, and let rest for 20 minutes. Roll each piece of dough into an 8" × 12" rectangle. Cut each rectangle into small 1⁄2" pasta squares and let dry, uncovered, until no longer sticky, about 45 minutes.

2. Heat oil in a large deep skillet over medium heat. Working in batches, fry pasta squares, turning often, until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer pasta to a paper towel–lined plate; let cool. Reserve skillet with remaining oil.

3. For the croutons: Put flour, salt, and egg into a medium bowl; mix to form a dough. Transfer to a lightly floured surface, divide into 4 pieces, and shape into 4 long 1⁄4"-wide ropes. Cut each rope crosswise into 1⁄4" pieces. (Sprinkle with a little flour to keep from sticking.) Reheat reserved oil in skillet over medium heat. Working in batches, fry dough pieces, turning often, until golden brown, about 1 1⁄2 minutes. Transfer croutons to a paper towel–lined plate and let cool.

4. For the meat and broth: Put 2 1⁄2 cups water into a medium pot; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add lamb, return to a boil, and skim off and discard any foam on surface. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, until tender, about 1 hour. Remove from heat and stir in 1⁄2 tsp. salt; set aside.

5. Put 3 1⁄3 cups water, clarified butter, and 1 tsp. salt into a medium pot; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add fried pasta, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, covered, until soft, about 10 minutes. Drain in a colander and discard liquid.

6. Whisk together yogurt, flour, egg, and 1 cup water in a medium bowl. Mash garlic and 1⁄2 tsp. salt to a paste in a mortar with a pestle; add to yogurt mixture. Bring meat and broth back to a simmer over medium heat. Slowly pour yogurt mixture into broth while stirring gently in one direction, then add drained pasta. Bring soup to a boil and cook for 15–20 seconds. Remove from heat; let bubbles subside. Repeat process until soup is slightly thicker than maple syrup, 3–4 times more. Season with salt to taste; transfer to a large serving bowl. Heat butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add mint, swirl to combine, then pour over soup. Garnish with some croutons; serve any that remain on the side.

This recipe was first published in Saveur in Issue #95

Panfried Lamb Kebabs with Bulgur Pilav | Tava Kebapli Bulgur Pilavi

Panfried Lamb Kebabs with Bulgur Pilav | Tava Kebapli Bulgur Pilavi


You can also use the stock made in step 1 to baste the Lamb Kebabs With Eggplant.

4 1⁄2 lbs. lamb bones
1 medium onion, cut into sixths
1 carrot, cut into 1" chunks
1 tbsp. rice
3 black peppercorns
1 1⁄2 cups fine bulgur
1⁄2 cup plus 6 tbsp. clarified butter
1 1⁄4-lb. piece boneless leg of lamb (from the largest end),
tendons, sinew, and fat removed and discarded, cut
crosswise into 1⁄2" slices
Ground cinnamon

1. Put bones and 10 cups water into a large pot and bring to a boil. Skim off and discard any foam from surface. Add onions, carrots, rice, and peppercorns, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 1 hour. Season lamb stock with salt to taste; strain through a fine sieve into a large bowl. Discard solids.

2. Bring 2 cups of the lamb stock to a boil in a small pot over medium-high heat. Season with salt to taste, add bulgur, reduce heat to medium, and cook, covered, for 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook for 5 minutes. Uncover, drizzle with 1⁄2 cup butter; reduce heat to low. Cook, covered, until all liquid has been absorbed, about 20 minutes. Fluff with a fork, cover, and keep warm.

3. Pound lamb slices one at a time between 2 pieces of plastic wrap with a meat mallet, to a thickness of 1⁄8". Heat 2 tbsp. butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté 3 slices lamb until golden brown, 2–4 minutes per side. Wipe out skillet and repeat twice with remaining butter and lamb. Sprinkle with cinnamon and salt. Serve with Rose Petal Salad with Parsley and Mint, if you like.

This recipe was first published in Saveur in Issue #95

Rose Petal Salad with Parsley and Mint | Gül Yaprakli Marul Salatasi

Rose Petal Salad with Parsley and Mint | Gül Yaprakli Marul Salatasi

SERVES 4 – 6

We use only petals from organically grown roses for this fresh, tangy salad, sometimes tossing in some wild radish leaves, if they're available.

1 medium-size organic rose
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 bunch of parsley
1 bunch of mint
1 head of romaine lettuce

1. Gently pull the petals off rose, then cut off and discard the white bases from the petals and set the petals aside.

2. Put oil, lemon juice, and salt to taste into a large bowl and whisk until well combined. Pick the leaves off parsley and mint and put them into the bowl of dressing.

3. Trim and pull the leaves off lettuce. Wash and dry the leaves, thickly slice them, and transfer them to the bowl of dressing and herbs. Toss to coat well and transfer to a serving platter. Garnish with rose petals and serve immediately with the Panfried Lamb Kebabs With Bulgur Pilav, if you like.

This recipe was first published in Saveur in Issue #95

Almond Halvah | Badem Helvasi

Almond Halvah | Badem Helvasi


This is an adaptation of a recipe we enjoyed while visiting Turkey.

1⁄2 cup high-protein all-purpose flour, such as King Arthur
1⁄2 cup whole wheat flour
3 tbsp. blanched almond halves, toasted
1⁄4 tsp. salt
8 tbsp. butter
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. rose water

1. Stir together flours, 2 1⁄2 tbsp. of the almonds, and salt in a medium bowl. Melt butter in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Add flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until combined. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture darkens slightly and looks moist, about 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, put sugar and 1 2⁄3 cups water into a small pot; bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Allow syrup to boil for 2 minutes; remove from heat. Add syrup to flour–almond mixture and stir until well combined (the result should look like cookie dough). Cover pot and cook over low heat for 8 minutes. Uncover pot, transfer mixture to a serving plate, and smooth into a 7"–8" round with the back of a spoon. With a large soup spoon, press indentations around the edges of the almond halvah to form a decorative pattern, then sprinkle with rose water. Gently press the remaining almonds into the center of the halvah in a radiating flower pattern. Serve, warm or at room temperature, in scoops with Turkish Coffee, if you like.

This recipe was first published in Saveur in Issue #95

Turkish Herb and Spice Mix | Baharat Karisimi

Turkish Herb and Spice Mix | Baharat Karisimi


Seasoning mixtures of this kind are common in kitchens throughout Turkey. Use this spice mix in the recipe for the Marinated Grilled Lamb Loin Skewers.

1 1⁄2 tsp. dried winter savory
1 tbsp. pickling spice
1⁄2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1⁄2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1⁄2 tsp. dried mint leaves, crumbled
1⁄2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1. In a spice mill, grind together to a fine powder dried winter savory, pickling spice, ground cinnamon, freshly grated nutmeg, crumbled dried mint leaves, ground cumin, and freshly ground black pepper. Store away from direct sunlight in a small airtight container for up to 3 months.

This recipe was first published in Saveur in Issue #27

Friday, November 14, 2008

Baklava Diplomacy

Baklava Diplomacy

Turkish baklava

Turkish baklava

Nadir Güllü is known in Turkey as the King of Baklava. The shop down the street from his factory in the Karakoy section of Istanbul sells a royal selection of extraordinary pastries, including chestnut, chocolate, and walnut baklavas along with the traditional pistachio. These honeyed delicacies bear about as much resemblance to those overly sweet and soggy confections sold in U.S. supermarkets as does Beluga caviar to lumpfish roe.

Güllü is a fifth-generation baklava maker, from a family originally hailing from Gaziantep in south central Turkey, the center of pistachio cultivation. A long-dead ancestor learned the art of baklava-making from a master baker in Damascus.

Today, Güllü’s factory is the largest baklava producer in the world, creating more than 55 different kinds of baklava and related phyllo pastries such as kunefe and burmali kadayif. The factory is kept more sterile than most surgical operating rooms, and it takes a seven-year apprenticeship to become a master phyllo roller. Each sheet of phyllo is thin enough to perform a puppet show behind it; forty sheets make a single tray of baklava.

Güllü takes his role seriously, saying that he practices “baklava diplomacy,” forging alliances with suppliers in Greece, Israel, and elsewhere. He demonstrated to me how one should use all the senses when tasting his baklava: First plunge a fork into the top to hear that satisfying kssshh! sound that comes from fresh, crisply baked phyllo that is saturated with syrup but not sodden. Then there is the odor of pistachio, baked pastry, and (depending on the type of pastry) rose water. Finally there is the texture in the mouth: enhanced by a liberal slathering of rich, whipped sheep’s-milk butter, the whole confection is then rolled in freshly ground pistachio nuts to give added crunch and flavor.

Not planning a trip to Turkey soon? The next best thing to a visit to Karaköy Güllüoglü is to order the frozen pastries and phyllo from the company’s outlet in Brooklyn: Gollugo Baklava.

Photographs by Tony Eprile

Street Food

Street Food: Istanbul

Originally Published May 2005
Great food abounds on the streets of this culture-bridging city. Hunting for the perfect trash kebab, John Willoughby tries it all.

Normally a sane driver, at least by Turkish standards, Ihsan abruptly jerked the wheel to the right and swerved across three lanes of traffic on the busy Bosporus highway. I was seized by the sudden, horrible fear that I was about to die, not for love or patriotism or even money, but for a kebab. And a trash kebab, at that.

It’s not as if we hadn’t already had kebabs. Lots of kebabs. Really great kebabs. And even this skewered plenitude was only the beginning of what we had eaten on the streets of this always surprising city. In fact, the variety and quality of the food there echoes the magnificence of Istanbul’s not-so-distant Ottoman past, when eating was such an obsession that many of the 1,300 cooks in Topkapi Palace spent their entire professional lives perfecting a single dish.

Fittingly, it is in the warren of narrow streets outside the mammoth Grand Bazaar, in the historic Sultanahmet district, that Istanbul’s street-food scene reaches its zenith. That very afternoon, wandering among the bustling crowds dressed in everything from full-length black robes to business suits, Ihsan and I had stood in a long, snaking line outside a minuscule shop to take away the best doner kebab I have ever tasted. I thought I was satisfied, but about 20 feet later Ihsan stopped at a glass-topped cart for a stuffed mussel, nested in its shell over a mound of subtly spiced rice. As I ate my third, I noticed a woman sitting on the street behind me selling something I’d never seen before: long, translucent, bumpy, sausagelike shapes. They turned out to be an Ottoman sweet—ropes made of paper-thin grape “leather” that had been thickly stuffed with toasted walnut halves.

We kept strolling, meandering, sampling. We tried kokoreç, a pleasingly fatty snack of lamb intestines fashioned into coils, grilled over charcoal, then chopped up and seasoned with dried oregano and the ever-present Maras pepper. Next came a sandwich of ground lamb cooked on a wide, round, black metal griddle. In one narrow alley, we came upon my absolute favorite, çig kofte, the hand-fashioned “cigars” of heavily spiced raw ground veal served on a leaf of romaine lettuce with a squeeze of lemon and a scallion. Even after that, I couldn’t resist a piece of pide bread simply grilled and skimmed with butter.

When we finally emerged onto a main artery near the Egyptian Spice Bazaar, I couldn’t even look at the grilled corn and chestnuts on offer. But Ihsan said, “Well, it’s after nine. The cöp şiş stand should be opening about now,” and we took off on that fateful drive to the Asian side.

As it turned out, Istanbul’s drivers are unusually adept at avoidance tactics, and we made it safely to the curbside, where Ihsan hopped out of the car to embrace Ercan, the tall, thin Turk presiding over the brazier. As they laughed and hugged, I inspected the skewers laid out over the glowing coals: There were cubes of lamb interspersed with small chunks of mutton fat, spicy sucuk sausage alternating with aged kaşar cheese, long skewers of diminutive lamb livers.

This being Istanbul, where kebabs are practically a religion, this variety had its own very specific provenance. “We call them cöp şiş, ‘trash kebab,’” said Ihsan. “The style is from southeastern Anatolia, and they’re called trash because they started out as little pieces of whatever was left over from restaurants at the end of the day’s service. The stands still only open late at night.”

A few minutes later, we were headed back to the curb, a cold beer in one hand, and in the other, a sheet of thin flatbread wrapped around grilled lamb sprinkled with a sort of tomato relish. I took a bite: The deeply seared lamb, with its faint echoes of smoke and gaminess, was buoyed by the juicy brightness of tomato, the gentle bite of onions, oregano’s earthiness, and the complex, slightly chalky heat of Maras and Urfa peppers. Like the best street food everywhere, it was straightforward, robust, instantly addictive. “Now that,” said Ihsan with a sigh, “is a kebab.”

An Insider’s Guide to Eating Like a Turk

An Insider’s Guide to Eating Like a Turk

Originally Published October 2008
The culinary customs of Istanbul can be confusing—to begin with, every type of food has its own restaurant—but once you figure things out, you’ll be rewarded with a culinary paradise.
Istanbul restaurant

When my parents came to visit me in Istanbul in the 1980s, they took one look at the tiny apartment I was sharing with another student and insisted that we go out for dinner. The conversation with my mother went something like this

“Where are we eating tonight?”

“Well, what kind of food do you want?” I asked. “Meat? Fish? Something with sauce?”

Mother, irritably: “I want to sit in the restaurant, look at the menu, and then decide.”

“Sorry, but you have to decide now. Each type of food has its own restaurant.”

“Okay, something with gravy.”

Duly instructed, I led them to my favorite lokanta.

“I’d like a beer,” my father announced when we had settled in.

“Sorry, the lokanta doesn’t serve alcohol.”

Despite the proliferation of foreign-style restaurants and chains in Istanbul, most Turks still insist on maintaining the authenticity not only of their food but of the entire eating experience. This can be confusing to the newcomer, but with even a little knowledge you will find the city a culinary paradise—which makes sense given that, as the capital of two successive empires and the cultural capital of the modern Turkish Republic, it has been the site of serious eating for thousands of years. The foods and customs of Istanbul’s traditional restaurants are also a window onto the tug-of-war between religion and secularism that permeates Turkish society. What is eaten where, and how, is not a casual matter here.

Alcohol, not surprisingly, is a primary indicator of a restaurant’s place in the social fabric. Those that serve wine and beer, in particular, are associated with Istanbul’s diverse ethnic and religious history and with today’s urban secular elites; those that don’t cater to the pious Muslim part of the population. This demarcates a fault line in Turkish politics and society so deep that some secularists won’t dine in a place that doesn’t serve drinks, and the pious won’t enter a restaurant that does. You can spot the difference right away by the presence or absence of women in head scarves. Lunch is less ideological than dinner—something like the Christmas Truce of 1914, when British and German soldiers shared cigarettes and a song in no-man’s-land before returning to their trenches.

In Ottoman times, Greeks (called Rum, a corruption of Rome) and other Christians were the merchants and tavern keepers, while Muslims kept to the barracks and the bureaucracy. The prominence of hard-drinking Christians in the city’s culinary history is reflected today in the meyhane (literally, “wine house”), an emblematic urban dining locale that serves primarily fish and raki, a clear anise-flavored alcohol that, with the addition of a splash of water, turns into white “lion’s milk,” drunk throughout the meal as other cultures drink wine. Dining on fish while drinking alcohol is the quintessential hallmark of being urban and secular.

The custom in meyhaneler is to first choose from a variety of cold appetizers (mezes) displayed on an enormous tray, then hot appetizers, followed by a fish, then fruit. In a precise culinary pas de deux, the classic meyhane starter is sweet melon with tart white cheese, followed immediately by raki with a water chaser. The variety of other mezes is endless but usually includes seasonal vegetables in olive oil or yogurt, morsels of seafood, bean pâtés, hot pockets of cheese in flaky pastry, calamari, and spiced liver.

There is no more classic meyhane than Refik, located in Beyog˘lu, Istanbul’s vibrant nightlife district. The food here is delicious—the grilled “Albanian liver” sprinkled with tangy spring onions and the börek (savory grilled pastries stuffed with cheese or minced lamb) are particularly good—but even more important is the atmosphere. For more than half a century, owner Refik Arslan, now 85, has overseen the nightly transubstantiation of food, drink, and fellowship into keyif, a condition that British explorer Sir Richard Burton once described as a feeling of intoxication derived from a social state of connection.

My own quintessential keyif experience happened some years ago. My friends and I were working our way through a glorious array of mezes and several bottles of raki when suddenly a rug merchant named Hasan began to sing. As his voice rose and fell along the complex scales of Turkish classical music, a hush settled over the room. When he finished, the laughter and clinking of glasses resumed, fish was ordered, more raki was poured. Before long, the next table—an amateur singing club out on the town—broke into song. When they were done, a man at another table piped up, and so it went the entire evening. We heard the shutters go down at the restaurants next door, but no one was willing to break the spell. Even the waiters stood entranced until two in the morning, when we spilled out into the deserted street. There’s a Turkish saying that goes, “What the heart wants is intimate conversation, the rest is an excuse.”

Fish restaurants tend to be more sedate than meyhaneler, although there’s no rule against spontaneous singing. Ismet Baba is an airy shack perilously suspended above the water next to the ferry landing in the charming Asian village of Kuzguncuk, a famously tolerant neighborhood that’s home to artists and writers. Enormous windows give diners a view of the Bosporus Bridge and a parade of cargo ships, ferries, and fishing boats. There is no menu; the fish available that day and their prices are listed on a blackboard. Among the best are barbunya, red mullet flash-fried in cornmeal, and simple, grilled kalkan (turbot). The restaurant is always full, so come early in the evening and bring cash to pay your bill.

Fish rarely appear on the menus of so-called “meat restaurants,” which don’t lend themselves to song, but rather to conversation and serious eating. These places tend to specialize in kebab, a cuisine from eastern Anatolia, the skewered chunks of lamb rotating over a glowing charcoal fire that evokes the Central Asian nomadic heritage of the Turks. A few meat restaurants serve beer, but the traditional accompaniment is ayran, a refreshing, lightly salted yogurt drink.

The Develi family from eastern Antep province has been in the kebab business since 1912. There are now several Develi restaurants in the city, but since a good view is an important ingredient of Istanbul eating, I recommend the one situated inside the Kalamı¸s yacht harbor, on the Asian side, near a seaside strolling path shaded by oleanders. Among the appetizers, a favorite is ali nazik, a smoky eggplant purée swirled with yogurt and topped with succulent lamb cooked in butter. You must also try the restaurant’s famed version of çi˘g köfte—spiced raw beef ground to a paste with bulgur, parsley, and Maras and Urfa peppers, then shaped into patties decorated with the imprint of the cook’s fingertips and served in a crisp leaf of romaine lettuce with a squeeze of lemon juice. The kuzu tandır, tender lamb cooked in a sealed clay jar, is also excellent, as is the fıstıklı köfte, grilled meatballs of lamb ground with pistachios. Kebabs come with a mound of arugula leaves, parsley, grilled long green peppers, and a juicy grilled tomato, and waiters circulate continuously with trays of delicacies newly hatched from the oven—tiny pizzas, stuffed eggplants, and balls of spicy ground lamb and walnuts.

Alcohol is not usually served in lokantalar, old-school restaurants that specialize in the sort of food mothers laboriously make at home in sturdy pots and casseroles: soups, stewed lamb, rice-stuffed squash, vegetable casseroles. Thirty years ago, lokantalar were the workingman’s kitchen away from home, located in the poorer parts of town. On a winter morning, behind steamed-up windows, you could make out men spooning up their breakfast soup or, in the wee hours, downing tripe soup to conquer their impending hangovers. Recently, “home-cooking” lokantalar have spread, in part to serve the tourist trade, but also because more and more Turks are eating out instead of making the time-consuming dishes at home.

By far the best lokanta in the city is Hacı Abdullah, in Beyog˘lu, the neighborhood built by the Genoese and Venetians during Byzantine times. Chattering crowds teem along Istiklal Avenue, but step around the corner and the noise drops away. Old men sell shoelaces and blue beads to ward off the evil eye beneath Hacı Abdullah’s modest sign. Inside, men in suits have taken off their jackets, families are chatting, and women are lunching beneath the stained-glass dome that crowns the back room. Founded in 1888, this place follows the old Ottoman custom of turning ownership over from masters to apprentices in each generation. The present manager, Hacı Abdullah Korun, is a sprightly man in his late fifties with a neat salt-and-pepper beard. “We use only the best ingredients from the same suppliers,” he explained with the enthusiasm of a man who has devoted his life to good food. “Butter from Urfa, olive oil from Balıksesir, lamb and veal delivered from Thrace.” The tradition here, as in all lokantalar, is to eat a variety of appetizers in olive oil—tart grape leaves stuffed with rice, pine nuts, and currants; rice studded with dill and pistachios and wrapped in cabbage leaves; a stuffed eggplant or green pepper—then move on to one of the several dozen meat or casserole dishes, such as braised lamb shanks wrapped in eggplant. Dessert might be a fruit kompostolokanta’s specialties, along with kes¸kek, coarsely ground mutton or chicken mixed with boiled and mashed wheat and chickpeas— a traditional meal served at Anatolian village weddings. such as spiced stewed quince, ruby red with a fresh, citrusy flavor. Compotes and pickles are among this

In Turkey, even the desserts are divided. Milk-based puddings are found only at shops called muhallebiciler; baklava has its own shops; and European-style cakes are sold only in pastahaneler (patisseries).

Down the hill from Beyog˘lu, a stone’s throw from the Galata Bridge, you will find Turkey’s best baklava. Elderly, bearded Hacı Mustafa Güllü sits behind the cash register at Güllüog˘lu while his son Nadir, a third-generation baklavacı, fields questions from the many foodies who make the pilgrimage to his shop and nearby baklava factory. So popular is his baklava, he told me, that a shipment on a bus was once stolen by passengers. In his cramped office, Nadir leads me through the baklava equivalent of a wine tasting. After handing me a plate with a single large piece of walnut baklava, he instructs me to look at it: “All five senses must be brought to bear. First the eye. Then smell. Then a sound like ‘kish’ when you bite into it. Then the palate. Then the stomach two hours later.” It had never occurred to me to smell my baklava, and I was taken by its rich, nutty scent. Fresh baklava is not overly sweet, but light and complex.

There are many muhallebiciler specializing in milk-based desserts, some quite old and well loved, but the memory of a place often doesn’t live up to the reality, especially when the shop has become a chain in the interim. That is not the case with Sütis¸, established in 1953, whose large, well-lit restaurants serve an enormous variety of milky desserts, as well as chicken dishes and doner kebabs. Emirgan, where the shop is located, is an easy bus ride up the European coast of the Bosporus, lined here with old Ottoman villas, tiny villages, and parks. From the outdoor terrace, there is a stunning view of the water to be enjoyed while you spoon up such sweets as baked pudding (fırın sütlaç), smoothly creamy under its scorched skin. After eating you can take a walk up the hill to Emirgan Park, where the sultan’s summer villas have been turned into cafés. No more sultans, and more choices, but the old rules still apply.