It's nice to be recognized. "Heeey -- how are you?" said the woman behind the counter when we walked through the door this evening at Datli Maya, a little cafe in Cihangir that we've been visiting since it first opened just about a year ago.
Yes, we're back in Turkey, in Istanbul for now, and we ate our first proper dinner at Datli Maya because it's become habit and it's good to be recognized and -- most of all, absolutely most of all -- because we always leave satisfied, rubbing our bellies and lamenting that we ate too much but, if we were to be honest, not regreting a single bite.
What we like about the place: the wood-fired oven that you can't miss as you walk through the door. The casual friendliness of the staff. That you have to walk through the teeny-tiny kitchen to get to the just-as-tiny dining room. Sitting by the window, right in sight line with the minaret of Firuzaga Mosque, and watching the sidewalk traffic as we wait for our order. Self-service tea, as strong or as weak as you like, pulled from an old samovar on a little table in the corner of the dining room.
And the ever-changing menu. There are always lahmacun and pide and desserts, but what is cooked long and slow in the wood-fired oven revolves according to what's in season, what's good, what's at the market, what inspires the cook. Today's specials are displayed on the counter, there for your perusal when you walk in the door.
Tonight we ate woodsy, meaty mushrooms with bits of strange but deliciously bitter green chilies, blanketed with mild, oozy cheese and reheated in a guvec (a clay baking dish) in the wood-fired oven. Also, "village chicken", a lovely stew of a zucchini-like summer squash, potato and chicken in what tasted like the richest bird broth ever (enriched with butter, perhaps?), and a guvec of sweet pumpkin stewed with red peppers and onions. There were chickpeas stewed with onions and peppers, and a salad, always a salad. Datli Maya excels at them -- they're generously proportioned, include a variety of greens and usually house-pickled beets and just-sprouted mung beans, and are dressed with a lemony pomegranate molasses and cumin "vinaigrette". We often end up ordering a second salad to avoid fighting over the first one.
Mung beans? Chickpeas? Is this really Turkish food? some may ask. Let's call it Turkish with a twist. The ingredients are good, the execution is inspired and the result makes us happy. We are quite happily off to other parts of Turkey in less than 36 hours but, for now, it's good to be back in Istanbul