Oh, to be full – that glorious feeling of profound tautness across your middle section. I love everything about it: the light-headed rush of the food high, the subtle burps, the inability to hold your torso upright without support, and the final surrender to unbuttoning a notch on your belt if not your pants. Let’s be clear, this is not the sick feeling one gets after having consumed a crappy double cheese burger and large chocolate shake at three in morning in a parking lot. No, this is the drowsy nirvana experienced after leisurely hours of consuming fresh, well-prepared food hopefully with friends or loved ones and maybe with a good bottle of wine.
I am tired of eating with twenty-something girls who put their fork down after the appetizer and deeply dismayed at how unhealthy and unrealistic Western trends concerning women’s eating habits appear to be slowly seeping into Middle Eastern societies. Of course, while standing at barely five feet three inches and on a strict budget, I can’t experience luxurious gluttony all the time. It’s a special feeling not to be taken for granted. But I fundamentally believe that all people should be able to enjoy the bliss of gut-busting utter fullness from time to time.
And so began an evening in Istanbul of two, back-to-back, very delicious dinners. The first restaurant was recommended by a local food blogger, Istanbul Eats. I am beginning to sound like one ridiculous advertisement for his website, but all of the restaurants that he has recommended have been outstanding. This restaurant, Furreya Galata Balikcisi, was no exception. It served the best sea food that we ate in Istanbul.
Only five tables and a seven seat (non-alcohol serving) bar fill the cosy, contemporary interior of this restaurant, one side of which is completely open to the crowded streets of raucous tourists and Turks, beginning their Saturday night in Beyoglu with food and the licorice flavoured liquor, raki. Furreya’s menu is simple â€“ salads, specials, seafood soup, a variety of prepared shellfish, and whole fish either charcoal grilled of lightly fried. I started with the waiter-recommended seasonal salad. Mixed greens, purple cabbage, shredded carrots, and lots of fresh mint combined with a lemon vinaigrette to form a wonderfully simple salad. I devoured it quickly and then used the provided fresh baked bread to mop up the extra vinaigrette.
For my “main course” I ordered the balik koftesi – fish patties and the kalamar izgara â€“ grilled calamari. Both dishes were light, fresh, and unbelievably tasty. The fish cakes were topped with mild gooey cheese and fresh parsley. I appreciated the carmalization on the outside of the patties and their flaky interior. The grilled calamari was resplendent â€“ glazed with a thick pomegranate molasses mixture and served with creamy garlic sauce. Never have I tasted calamari â€“ grilled or fried â€“ that was so tender. It melted in my mouth with not a single trace of the rubbery like texture that usually characterizes squid.
Very satisfied but not inappropriately full, we left Furreya Galata Balikcisi amazed at how little we paid for such a wonderful meal and walked quickly to our second dinner, enjoyed at near-by restaurant, Sofyali 9. This is but one of the many meyhanes resturants that spill out onto the winding streets of Beyoglu. In the evenings, they are crammed with people looking to become full and probably drunk. All the guidebooks recommend trying one of meyhanes restaurants while visiting Istanbul characterized by their endless arrays of mezze sampled by patrons in between rounds of raki.
At Safyali 9, benches and long wooden tables crowd the streets outside the restaurant while the relatively small interior of the restaurant boasts more formal white tablecloth draped tables and warm beige walls covered with art. Outside, cigarette smoke clings to the air, fogging the soft light of the street lamps. The waiters carry selections of mezze on log wooden trays weaving in and out of the resturant’s patrons. Turks laugh boisterous rolling chuckles while sipping raki and pointing deliberately at the mezze that they desire. It’s also possible to order a couple of dishes off the menu, but it’s best to wait and see which mezze looks the tastiest.
We weren’t inappropriately full after the light seafood dishes of Furreyya, but we were after Sofyali 9. We feasted on chili spiked anchovies, cold mezze salads, a selection of cheeses, and anavut cigeri – Albanian fried liver. The food was delicious, although not quite as sensational as the food at Furreyya. In particular, I enjoyed the piping hot, oil oozing deep-fried feta which I smeared on their crusty whole-wheat bread and topped with an anchovie. Ironically, the only dish we didn’t love was the dish that we specially requested from the menu, the Albanian liver. It was under-seasoned and, according to my boyfriend who is somewhat of a liver fanatic, it desperately need some spice or a sauce. But at Sofyali 9, you are paying for some much more than the quality food, your pay for the experience of a meyhane.
After our two dinners and a couple of lovely Turkish beers, fullness took over. Slumped we waddled from place to place, vision fogged. Time slowed down and eventually, we slipped into the complete serenity of fullness.
Originally written for Food Jihad