Eating Like Ottoman Sultans in Istanbul’s Old City

We thought about trying the oldest restaurant in Istanbul, but decided to try the restaurant with the oldest recipes instead. The chefs at Asitane prepare dishes from recipes found in the Ottoman royal kitchens, and where possible, the menu lists the year of the recipe. For example, my lamb stew was from 1539:

Lamb stew with dried fruits

The appetizers, being classics, did not have years listed, but were delicious nonetheless, with flavors of cinnamon and other baking spices.

Baked, stuffed squid, served chilled

Stuffed vine leaves, topped with tiny dab of sour cherry

In general, we enjoyed the food, but found it perhaps a bit sweet for our tastes. Or maybe just the interpretations that are popular in the US are saltier to suit American tastes? Or maybe the Sultans had sweeter tooths?

In either case, the royal families or maybe just the team at Asitane also seem to love sour cherries, which we also love. Or maybe sour cherries were just in season. They were a garnish on some of the dishes and the main feature in our dessert which was amazing – slices of light sponge cake soaked in sour cherry sauce, tiramisu style, topped with a sort of ice cream and pistachio:

Sour cherry dessert, as tart and luscious as the color

Then we finished off dinner in true (modern) Turkish style, with raki. Now, I wasn’t quite sure what raki was, but Kemal in The Museum of Innocence drank copious quantities of it after Fusun dumped him. And apparently Ataturk was a huge fan, claimed novelist Louis de Bernieres. So when in Istanbul, do like the Stamboulis:

Cheers! Ending the evening with Yeni raki

Of course, our waiter laughed when I asked about raki. He asked if we were new to raki (yes) and recommended one for newbies. To my uneducated palate, it smelled and tasted like ouzo. It was a great digestif, helping me feel less full after our meal, but then in 20 minutes or so, it made me feel incredibly sleepy. So, I guess that’s the desired effect …

All in all, a fun evening out in the Old City. If only we had paid more attention to the location … Later on in our vacation after we had gotten our bearings, but still could misjudge distances on the map, we hiked for an hour or so from the Suleymaniye Mosque, along the Golden Horn and then deep into the winding little streets in the Old City getting pantomimed directions from people taking pity on us on our quest for the Chora Church (known for its 12th century mosaics and frescoes), we saw … Asitane!

Yep, definitely should have paid more attention to the restaurant’s location.

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