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Mar 15, 2009 06:22 PM

Çiya Sofrası

Last week after class I hopped a ferry with some friends from Kabataş to Kadıköy. Our destination wasÇiya Sofrası, a place that had been recommend to me by friends, colleagues, and fellow food bloggers, and is invariably named as one of the best restaurants in the city. Considering that Changa, Mikla, Lokanta, and other high-end hot-spots are also on this list, I was expecting Çiya to be a much more formal affair than it is. I was pleasantly surprised to find an simple cafeteria offering around 20 hot dishes and a variety of salads and pickled vegetables to a varied clientele.

When we entered Çiya Sofrası, we were a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of tantalizing dishes displayed behind the hot and cold countrs so we sat down, ordered 3 karadur suyu (mulberry juices), collected our thoughts, and plotted our next move. We decided to order a number of dishes:

Intestines stuffed with rice, herbs, and offal
Eggplant stuffed with lentils, peppers, and onions
Hot and sour bread ball soup
Flatbread stuffed with onion and chard
Yogurt, meat, chickpea, lentil and mint soup
Chestnut, meat, apple, baby onion and chickpea soup
Pickled seawood
Pickled beets
Olives with walnuts
Cured capers
Yogurt with barley

The plan was to follow all this with lahmacun and a kebab or two, but we reconsidered in favor of dessert:

Candied olives with walnuts and tahini
Candied green walnuts
Candied minieggplant stuffed with walnuts
Kaymak (clotted cream)
And sort of cream filled shredded wheat

The lahmacun and kebab may have been postponed until the next trip, but I have a hunch that it is not very far off.

Çiya Sofrası
Caferaga Mh.
Guneslibahce Sk. No: 43A

For a bit more on Çiya Sofrası, consult my blog:

Afiyet olsun!

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  1. We just returned from Istanbul and Çiya was certainly one of the highlights of the trip, if not two of the best meals I have ever had. We loved Sofrasi so much that we returned to Kadıköy two days later to go Çiya Kebap.

    At Sofrasi I basically filled my salad plate with a little bit of every offering (yes all 20 or so)...the plate cost 9 YTL. The fresh herb salads were fantastic, some with wild greens that looked like dandelion or purslane. I believe one salad was mung beans; I loved the stuffed hot peppers.

    There were four of us so next we tried nearly every stew available, including the stuffed lamb intestine you mentioned. Highlights: a lamb stew with fresh green garlic; smoky eggplant stew; stuffed eggplants...everything was great. We had mulberry juice and also sumac juice, nicely sweet/sour.

    Those candied fruits and vegetables were a revelation, so delicious, beautiful and unusual. We later learned that they are first soaked in limewater (as in the alkali, calcium hydroxide) which makes then keep their color and makes them transparent, and then they are washed and then candied. We had orange peel, olives, tomato, pumpkin with tahini and ground walnuts (interestingly crispy), eggplant stuffed with walnuts, and those amazing green walnuts. We were served sage tea and after that, a tea made from just mulled spices with crushed walnuts floating on top.

    At Çiya Kebap two days later, we started with fabulous red lentil soup (2 of us) or yogurt soup (the other 2); fresh thyme salad, eggplant salad and ezme (the spicy gazpacho); and each had a different and wonderful kebap.
    --Çiya kebap: beef kebap rolled in lavash, with mozzarella, walnuts, mint, dipped in thick yogurt
    --Sour kebap: lamb, eggplant and pearl onions grilled then served over bread in gravy flavored with pomegranate molasses and sumac
    --mixed kebap: two kinds of köfte, spicy chicken wings, lamb, beef, etc
    The fourth was a delicious kebap served in gravy over a bed of eggplant/garlic/yogurt but i can't remember the name.

    Again we had to try desserts: şörbiyet, a green smooth bahklava filled with clotted cream; teleme, an amazing fig and cream pudding; kalamer (sp?), a thin baked pastry filled with pistachios, cut into squares, served with butter. Given our feasting we were brought some candied green walnuts and little glasses of mulberry and sumac juice on the house.

    The inexpensive and casual nature of the Çiya restuarants is what makes the experience so special. The chef searches Anatolia and the surrounding region for down to earth peasant food and I believe he feels that serving these dishes in a fancy place would be inappropriate. Still the service was gracious and patient with our questions and photographs. Extremely special place, absolutely not to be missed in Istanbul! Kadiköy itself is also charming...cafes, bookstores, a great food and fish market; nearby Moda Cad leads to a hipster nightlife area, try the Karga bar, where we retreated to sip Efes and digest our food and relax before taking the ferry back to Kabataş. You can also get there from Eminönü!

    6 Replies
    1. re: kenito799

      "The fourth was a delicious kebap served in gravy over a bed of eggplant/garlic/yogurt but i can't remember the name."

      That should be Alinazik (or Ali Nazik). And the thin pastry dessert is called katmer.

      Thanks for a droolworthy report. You have reminded me why I love this place. The owner, Musa Dagdeviren, is probably the best gastronome of Turkey. A total non-poser with curiosity and respect for the authentic. Not many people in Turkey bother with the limewater desserts, or indigenous herbs these days.

      I need to book a flight, now!

      1. re: emerilcantcook

        I LOVE Ali Nazik kebabs. I would have really loved to try Ciya Kebab, but it's hard to get a large group to go back to Kadikoy twice in a short trip!

        Ciya Sofrasi is really excellent...I recommend it to everyone going to Istanbul but thus far (I'm 0 for 3) not one group has deigned to cross to the Asian side. Considering it's fairly quick and easy from Eminonu, it's disappointing...I wish more people tried it!

        Another gem in Kadikoy: Eta Bal, some of the best honey I've ever tasted, with a rather goofy but friendly proprietor. Admittedly, it's simpler to buy good Turkish honey in New York ($6.99 vs. 9YTL plus carting it back in your luggage) but it's more fun to buy there. Oh, and Gaziantep Baklavacisi, while not the absolute best I've ever had (that would be in Gaziantep!), has ridiculously friendly staff as well...lots of free samples and happy smiles, and still pretty damn delicious.

        1. re: NancyC

          One way to convince your buddies to pass to the Asian side is (especially they are not chowhound types) is sell the ferry trip, not the meal. The trip gives them the ability to see astonishing views, and nothing beats sitting on the outside deck, enjoying a tea (there are usually vendors) while watching the city pass by.

          1. re: emerilcantcook

            Hehe, I remember growing up and my mother not allowing me to have those teas.

            1. re: emerilcantcook

              Yes, the ferry itself is a great Istanbul experience. If you are coming from Beyoğlu, the morning/evening ferries from Kabataş are gorgeous and modern with wide flat screen TV showing news, very pleasant!

              1. re: emerilcantcook

                Out of the 3 groups I've tried to send, 2 never came close to the ferry. The only one that did was the group including my brother, who was the most recent traveler and I was practically begging at that point...someone I know MUST go to Ciya Sofrasi! Alas, he and his friends took the ferry round-trip, never got off in Kadikoy...that's the closest I got!

        2. The original comment has been removed
          1. Dang...that sounds delicious. By the way, since so many people here seem extremely familiar with Ciya...does anyone remember the one waiter who speaks fluent English and calls himself "the Turkish John Travolta?" He was such a sweetheart.

            That website is drool-making. Really need to plan another trip.

          2. The original comment has been removed
            1. I'm in Istanbul now and visited the restaurant for late-lunch / early-dinner. I enjoyed the food very much but people visiting need to keep in mind there's little service offered by a waitstaff. "Cafeteria" might be a very good description to affix to the operation. Here's a link to my meal comments, and comments about other restaurants I've been visiting durikng this 10-day visit:

              2 Replies
              1. re: gomexico

                I'll be in Istanbul in about 3 weeks, in a group of 4 (or possibly more, if we can persuade others from the meeitng to join us). I've already told my friends about this place and they're up for going, but I woud love to get some detailed directions about how to get there. We would be leaving from the Hilton at Taksim Square. Can anyone help?

                1. re: Missy

                  Many of the restaurants reviewed at the Istanbul Eats website are plotted on a google map and you can view the map - including a "close up" of each location, when you click on this link: