I first began writing this while sitting at ‘my’ coffee spot (where I’m also sitting right now), reflecting on the end of the school year. Another year of seeing my students grow and then saying goodbye to this special group of people who taught me so much. Of course, they also made me want to pull my hair out… but in the end, it’s always like this, and I love my ‘kids’ even if they drive me crazy. It also signaled an ‘end’ to another year spent living abroad. I couldn’t help but find myself reflecting about all things (good and bad) that went on this year. What a CRAZY GORGEOUS UNEXPECTED year that this turned out to be (link to prior post about life here https://girlmeetsturkey.blog/2020/01/11/life-in-2020-last-years-travels-and-posts-to-come/ )
I was also in a totally different place in terms of life than I am now. Now as I revisit this post, I find myself reflecting once more about all things that happened when the new school term began. Through all of this, I just really find myself wanting to be on the terrace of my fav restaurant here in Istanbul.
Having now just returned to Istanbul after two weeks spent in Southeast Asia (future post disclaimer: love affair with Vietnam), I switched on my computer to find the beginnings of this post unfinished and couldn’t help but be hit with a wave of nostalgia. For summer. For terraces. For looking out at the Bosphorus. For happy times existing of dinners lasting for hours over various meze with drinks and laughter. I love Istanbul, but it really is at its best in warmer months, and I’m really missing it and waiting to welcome it back.
My favorite restaurant, one that has been the scene of many birthday parties and celebrations, end of school year drinks, and meals where you take family and friends to ‘impress’ is Eleos Meyhane in Beyoğlu. It should be stated here that this restaurant doesn’t have food that will bring you to tears or wake you up with the surprise of newfound flavors. However, the food is dependable, never disappointing, and the AMBIANCE can’t be exceeded anywhere else.
Eleos, a ‘meyhane’ style restaurant serving fish and meze, is the only place I want to spend the summer nights here in Istanbul. The restaurant is actually of Greek origins and serves meze found on the Greek islands such as ‘girit ezmesi’ (Cretian Spread) and ‘Midye Saganaki’ (Saganaki Mussels). Both of these supposedly come directly from the island of Crete… however, being that the restaurant is itself in Istanbul, and that Turkey also has a huge meze culture, mezes common to both cultures are offered as well as Turkish raki (not ouzo) being the main drink on the menu. The decor is blue and white, recalling the islands, and the music played overhead is Greek Taverna music. It’s a beautiful mixture of the familiar with something a little fancy, a bit more upscale. Last spring I spent time in Santorini. While Eleos is NOT Santorini, the atmosphere recalls that same feeling of summer and the islands and freshness.
Since finding this restaurant, it’s now become THE PLACE for numerous special occasions (or any occasion I so deem as ‘special’ just so that I don’t feel guilty about going here). Extravagant? Maybe. Worth it? ABSOLUTELY.
I love meze places or ‘meyhanes’ because of this: THE RITUAL. Whatever culture that it arguably originates from, it is something that Turkish culture practices and feels strongly towards. I love sitting down knowing these two standard things will happen:
1) it will be a loooooong dinner with lots of drinking, eating, and talking
2) there will be a minimum of 3 courses if not a million courses… meaning, pace yourself!
The courses go in this order:
- Cold Meze (zeytinyağlı): fava bean puree with dill, yogurt with garlic and chillies, smoked eggplant salad, smoked eggplant with yogurt, sea beans, olives, anchovies, pickled herring in mustard sauce, eggplant with yogurt and roasted garlic tomato sauce. Usually here you would also order ‘barbunya pilaki’ which are beans cooked in tomato sauce and garlic, as well as a salad (usually lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and turkish ezine peynir…like a less mild feta cheese).
2. Hot Meze (ara sıcak): calamari, grilled octopus, mussels, shrimp…
3. Fish (balık): whole grilled or fried sea bass, blue fish, seabream… served your choice of simply grilled or fried with lemons sliced on the side
and white onions.
4. Dessert or fruit (tatlı): ice cream, giant fruit baskets, ‘dondurmali irmik
helva’ (semolina helva stuffed with ice cream).
Another thing that sets Eleos apart (aside from its stunning view over the Bosphorous) is its customer service that caters directly to your tummy. What I mean by this is that the restaurant is a very very clever business marketeer because as you order each course, you are offered ‘free’ items. You almost feel like you are playing some kind of game and with each course you’ve ‘leveled up’ and won a free food. However, this also means you are spending more and more money to get these free items and drinking more and more… again, clever …very clever. And I LOVE IT. I usually look forward to the ‘free’ items more than some of the other menu staples.
For starters, when you sit down, you are brought free shots on the house. That’s my kind of place! It’s a raki lemonade shot. I still don’t actually know what’s in it, only I assume lemon juice and raki. It goes down quite easy though… and is especially great if you are waiting on some friends as the waiters will offer you seconds.
After ordering meze, a round of sizzling sauteed oyster mushrooms is usually brought free to the table. These are the BEST. I swear, if every vegetable tasted this good, I might actually change my carnivorous ways. These oyster mushrooms are not soggy or mushy, and they taste like steak.
The kicker is the free desert. Ice cream stuffed semolina helva (irmik helvası) is always offered for free if you have spent a fortune on the previous courses (which yes, is always the case). However, if you order the helva, then usually a free fruit basket is given as the ‘free’ item. Either way, I’m not complaining. It’s really just the best place to spend hours drinking, talking, eating, and receiving these magical ‘free’ parts of your meal which just adds to happiness and satisfaction with the whole dining experience. And now… I’m just waiting for these gloomy wintry rainy cloudy days to clear up…so that I can go sit on the terrace, look out at that turquoise water that I’m so in love with, and drink and eat well after the sun sets. Cheers Istanbul.