When I was growing up in small-town Oregon, we would take family trips to San Francisco or Portland and eat at Chinese restaurants that seemed really hip, happening, exotic: lots of flavors and spices you couldn’t get at Wong’s in Klamath Falls, with its maroon colored booths, Sweet ‘n Lo holders and salty “Chinese” with MSG to the hilt.
No. These urban establishments had cool track lighting, surround sound lounge music, bamboo plants next to white walls and statues of dragons.
This was circa 1994, and at the time, these eateries were really cool to us town folk…and ETHNIC. No matter that they served California roll sushi only and General Tsao’s chicken, they served it in cool Ikea (also new at the time) bowls and you could order off menus that were designed by someone who had an idea of graphic design, not by the owners’ 11-year old kid using WordPerfect.
As the 2000’s rolled in, these so called hip Asian food established trickled down to small towns and West Coast cities moved on to things like Korean taco trucks.
Istanbul Asian cuisine hasn’t moved on yet, Cin Bufe in Besiktas recently showed, and I’m oddly fine with that.
Why? Because somehow a menu with cheap California rolls and General Tsao’s chicken represents nostalgic comfort food for this 34 year old. Its nice to hop in the time machine back to 1994 and see all these cool urban — albeit Turkish — folks with piercings and peace buttons, surrounded by red dragons and stuff made of jade.
It helps that the food is good. We started with the sweet and sour soup, Zeynep and I split the “normal” sized one (you can get it küçük as well). Our friends said it was big enough to split. As an American man, when Turkish people tell me something is “big enough to split”, I am immediately skeptical. But lo, what came was nothing less than a soup big enough to split, pleasantly spicy and not too sweet with lots of chunks of veggies.
After that, our main dishes came. When we had ordered, our Turkish friends said “you should order a noodle dish and an entrée and split them, that’s the best way to do it!”
Straight out of the mouths of Chinese food newbies of the 1980’s. I was touched.
The ginger pan fried chicken (zencefil soslu çıtır tavuk) featured delicate pieces of chicken that were moderately breaded and moist yet crunchy for perfect mouth feel. The noodles that we ordered were less memorable, they had pieces of vegetables and the noodles had the same coarseness as the ones found at little noodle places here…or maybe it’s because my wife is on a low sodium diet so I can’t drown food in soy sauce.
After we polished off our meal, the fortune cookies arrived, pre-wrapped in plastic. “Trust your instincts” my fortune said, in English and Turkish. My instincts said this place was less than ok, but we came anyway, and were moderately surprised. Thanks, instincts.