After the recent vivid discussion on my Facebook page I feel relieved and not guilty any more to continue writing about Istanbul food. Because it will not be fare to say that while spending a lot of time at the barricades – physical and literal - Istanbulites have stopped eating and enjoying food. And it is not fair to miss the new places opening their doors to the hungry customers in the city itself and around.
Before my friend Marina, resident of Büyükada, the largest of the Prices’ Islands, left for Tokyo she took me around the island to show the culinary gems that start their full-fledged operation as the season kicks off on the island. And despite the common belief Büyükada boasts quite a few worthwhile eateries that justify a boat trip. A very early morning boat trip if you don’t want to miss one of the best breakfasts around.
Being a food snob I can also call myself a Turkish breakfast snob. More than once I written about Turkish breakfast on this blog. I have even started hosting a monthly Istanbul breakfast club as I am a strong believer that the best breakfast is always at home. So, when Marina told me that a new breakfast place opened in Büyükada I got equally thrilled and skeptical. Every time I hear someone raving about a place I think, “What if I go and it will be a disappointment? How will I explain to myself a wasted meal”. So I subject the person who recommends a place to the elaborate interrogation and try to get a sense of the place and its worth. Needless to say, people are discouraged to recommend anything else next time. But truth to be told, Marina has never let me down with a single recommendation about an eatery in Istanbul, so I got intrigued about an old Greek house with a small yard that the family living there has recently converted into a breakfast salon.
Büyükada minus the weekend crowds is an utterly charming place with its wooden mansions, blossoming trees, looked-after flower beds and phaetons. But I have not developed liking of the island until Marina moved there and I started visiting her. You just need to enter a house, one house, any house on the island to start grasping Büyükada. And this is why Ada Kahvalti, a small breakfast establishment, is already a big success: they let you experience the island living – at least for one breakfast.
We went a Sunday ago. Arriving at 11 am without a reservation was too bold yet our helpful hosts set up a table for us at the balcony overlooking the garden. The breakfast service was running full-speed and the garden was packed with the early-risers. The fuss and our no-reservation show up created a bit of confusion, and it took at least 20 minutes to get our breakfast. Experiencing their first crowded Sunday the family serving breakfast was obviously stressed. “Ah, it is not working out, seems like we are not able to do it”, our host kept apologetically repeating. I thought of the Sunday breakfast rush at our Zeliş Çiftliği in Sapanca and comforted him saying that we didn’t mind. In Istanbul I would have walked off the place in this very situation but here at the island time slows down and you start measuring things with a longer scale. There was so many things to marvel while waiting – the grand living room of the 80-year Greek old mansion and the breakfasting comrades downstairs.
Slowly our breakfast started arriving – a familiar Turkish morning affair with unobtrusive Greek touch. Black and green calamata olives seasoned with the duet of lemon juice and olive oil and sprinkled with red pepper flakes and oregano. Boiled village eggs paired with fresh parsley and olive oil. Indispensable pair of thick clotted cream kaymak and running honey. Çokelek salatası with three types of peppers. Spicy fragrant red pepper paste. Pungent ezine cheese. Rose jam punctuated with lemon and candied translucent bergamot peels: “My mother makes them”, noted our host not without pride. If you have eaten a good Turkish breakfast once you will not be surprised by this list of the breakfast staples. “Why are you taking pictures, may I ask? I think this is just a normal breakfast”, a gentleman sitting nearby and lecturing his female companion throughout the whole breakfast addressed me trying to be distantly polite.
As we were half way through the breakfast freshly cooked pişi started coming to the tables. Pişi is unsweetened doughnut (covered with sesame seeds this time) that is always home-cooked and comes from the hands of the loving grandmother. This small bit of the motherly love dispatched from the kitchen with such urgency was the quintessence of the breakfast at Ada Kahvaltı. I recalled a story told by my husband who during a trip along the Aegean coast managed to have breakfast at the backyard of a local house. He and his friends saw breakfasting people, entered the yard, requested breakfast and were served one. They paid peanuts for the very elaborate affair and then realized – to their enormous astonishment – that they had invaded a private house of bakkal, handy mom-and-pop selling essential grocery conveniently including breakfast items and that they paid for their breakfast by weight without a restaurant markup.
This is exactly how you feel at Ada Kahvaltı: having invaded a private house where its graceful hosts serve you the breakfast they normally have themselves. No commercial cheeses big restaurants would buy from their wholesale supplies. No tasteless tomatoes a restaurant would serve trying to cut down the cost. But instead grandmother’s fresh pastry served at the terrace of her house. For that I could forgive the slow and confused service and that fact that we were served one person breakfast for the two of us. Because at the grandma’s table no one complains.
Ada Kahvaltı: Akdemir Sokak No:6, 34970 Büyükada, Istanbul. Phone: (0216) 382 1662. Breakfast is served throughout the week. Be sure to reserve ahead. Check Mavi Marmara and IDO for the schedule of the ferries departing from Kabataş (Europe) and Bostanci (Asia) to Büyükada.