Travel,  Turkey

Sultanahmet Köftecisi, Istanbul | Turkish Meatballs or Izgara Köfte

After spending the entire morning sightseeing in the Sultanahmet area in Istanbul rushing from one historical site to the other, our lunch halt was also in a historical site – the ‘Historical Sultanahmet Meatballs Restaurant’ (the quoted portion is exactly as it says in their website). The promise of the ‘best Izgara Köfte in town’ in a restaurant which originally ‘created’ them, awaited us. Sultanahmet Köftecisi is located in the crowded and the very touristy Sutanahmet Square in Istanbul, still housed in the original building where the restaurant was established way back in 1920. Although there are more than 20 franchises of the same all across the city and many restaurants with similar names, this particular one is a ‘must visit’. The decor supposedly hasn’t changed over the years and the restaurant is housed in several floors, each floor completely jam packed with locals and tourists – a good sign that the food probably will live up to the promise.

A long serpentine queue leads up to the restaurant. As you wait outside, you can see the rush inside through the glass window (above), the salads being prepared in a a jiffy and passed on to the waiters who would rush them to the tables. I think that our travel guide had done a group booking for us at a specific time and we managed to bypass the queue and went directly to our tables. We saw the diners who had previously occupied our tables, get up and leave, the moment we arrived at our designated tables. Not a single second is lost here. A restaurant staff appointed on this floor monitors the movement of the diners with the the usher on the ground floor via a walkie talkie. The moment a diner is done, immediately that is notified to the ground staff, and a fresh batch of expectant diners are ushered in. The tables by the alcoves (below) look very tempting and beautiful, but don’t be carried away – you have no choice in choosing your own table. You sit wherever you have been asked to and you are plain lucky that you’ve got a seating in the first place! Once you sit down and absorb the surroundings including the framed letters and certificates (above), you’ll notice that while the hurried waiters are continuously bringing in giant trays carrying the food, most people are being served more or less the same food. The menu is very simple. You have a choice of Izgara Köfte or the meatballs; the Piyaz salad made up of butter beans, onions, tomatoes served chilled and sprinkled with vinegar; the Çorba or a soup made up of lentils, margarine and thickened with flour; Kuzu Şiş or lamb Sheesh Kebap; Pilav which is not exactly the Pulao that I had visualised but plain white rice and the İrmik Helvası (pic further down) or the sweet Semolina cake made with milk, pine nuts and semolina which tasted pretty much like the Suji Halwa that we make in India. 

We were served the Izgara Köfte (below). The Turkish Köfte is lamb or mutton mince mixed with bread crumbs, minced onions and spices. Interestingly, the Köfte, which translates into meatballs, don’t like meatballs. Instead, they are shaped into little cylinders and then cooked. And the Izgara Köfte, or the grilled Köftes are usually garnished with onions, parsley and paprika. Hardly any spice that is, but the Sultanahmet Köftecisi menu says that their Köfte do not contain any spice. A mound containing palmful of rice, a few tanatalising pickled chillies adorning six flat cylinders of Köfte – a plate of Izgara Köfte costs maximum 15 Turkish Liras and it is accompanied by Ayran or a drink made with blending yogurt, water and a pinch of salt. Also, a few fresh Turkish sourdough breads are served along, which looked like hard crackling buns. My fellow diner, a Palestinian guy who turned out to be a real foodie, suggested that Ayran was the perfect drink to cut down the spiciness of the Izgara Köfte. Which spiciness was he talking about? All I could feel was soft, greasy and buttery minced meat melting in my mouth by the name of meat balls and which looked like flat cigar like cylinders.Turkish Köfte have many forms and many names – Şiş köfte (köfte is pressed onto flat skewers or Şiş), Salçalı köfte (köfte simmered in a tomato sauce), İzmirli köfte (köfte simmered in a vegetable stew), Peynirli köfte (with Cheese in the köfte) and many more. Köfte can open up a whole new world of culinary study and according to Wikipedia, a 2005 study done by a private food company suggests that there were 291 different kinds of Köfte in Turkey! The question is, where do you want to taste these meatballs while you are in Istanbul? I’ll question you back –  are you looking for leg space, arm space, any space where you want to hang around for hours and relax with your friends, while you savour your Turkish meatballs? If you are, this is not the place. Or probably find another branch of the same restaurant elsewhere in the city {you can use Zomato guide} which also serves more dishes than the ones served in this ‘original’ Sultanahmet Köftecisi in the Sultanahmet Square. But, if you are looking for that ‘dining experience’, feel the vibrating floor as the diners walk up and down the rickety stairs, gulp your delicious food down under supervision (remember the restaurant staff who’ll immediately inform the staff on the ground floor that a potential table might be empty within the next 4-5minutes?), and be a part of some kind of culinary history of Istanbul, this is the place to be. I had the audacity to enter the kitchen here, take a 15 seconds video on Instagram of the famous Köfte being grilled over fire, while being brisked away by the busy staff. After coming out from restaurant as we walked away, from far away I saw the Sultan Terrace (below) and I was just wondering whether sitting there would have been any different. No, I guess. The taste of the famous Köfte wouldn’t change, would they?

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Disclaimer: You can visit Sultanahmet Koftehcisi website for more info. Please note that this post is not a sponsored post and the subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. I was in Turkey as a guest of Turkish Airlines (organised by Burson-Marsteller) and visited their flight catering company Turkish Do & Co and the Turkish Technic. While you enjoy reading the posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from this post. You can see more pictures of my travel and food journey here.


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