The Culinary Treasures of Aksaray

Posted on April 27, 2013

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Aksaray bus station

Imagine taking a bus from Russia through Chechnya or Georgia and across the great length of the Turkish steppes to Istanbul. Well, there are those who do it, and the bus route finally empties these tired smelly travelers in Aksaray. This is a grubby neighborhood on the European side of Istanbul. The name, Aksaray, translates directly to White Palace. For some reason, it seems a fitting name to me for a place synonymous with Russian prostitutes. Tell anyone you are going to Aksaray to hang out and an insinuating jab is sure to follow.

I myself have not spent much time in Aksaray, nor would I want to. However, a great article on Yabangee.com peeked my interest. It promised Uyghur and Georgian cuisine. So naturally, My wife and I, along with our intrepid roommate struck out for the land o prostitutes.

Fun Fact: “Natasha” is slang for a Russian prostitute in Turkey.

Upon our arrival to Aksaray, I was struck by the hilarious business names.

I'm confused

“Fallow Me Disco” Ok, now I’m just confused.

Obama's mom jeans

So Obama opens a “sportswear” shop in Aksaray and only sells blue jeans.

obama_mom_jeans

We knew he liked mom jeans, but seriously?

Arizona Beer

“Arizona Beer House” because when I think of Arizona, I think of beer.

Our first stop was the Uyghur workingman’s lunch spot. Uyghurs are a Turkic ethnic group who live primarily in the Xingjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. They are a major people group in China and they are also all throughout Eastern and Central Asia.

Uyghur Barbers

An Uyghur Barber

My favorite Uyghur from Turkey has got to be Cenk Uygur. Now, do I know for sure that this Turkish American man is of Uyghur heritage? No. But considering that last names are fairly new to people in Turkey (they had none until Ataturk’s “Law on Family Names” reform in 1934), I think it’s a safe bet that his family chose it to reflect their heritage. Anyways, Cenk rose to fame through his underground news show The Young Turks. It became to popular with liberal progressives that he was picked up by MSNBC. However, his stint there came to an end because he refused to stop criticizing the Obama administration with his signature ferociousness. You might find it interesting that he began his political life as a moderate republican.

Cenk Uygur Aggressive Progressive

But enough of this preamble ramble, what about the FOOD!!!!

Well, when you first enter the Tukistan Uygur Lokantasi, they slap down some tea in front of you NO QUESTIONS ASKED. I found that very welcoming. It’s like they are saying “we see that you have come and we are going to take care of you.”

Uyghur bread!!!

The exceptional Turkistan Uygur Lokantasi and their cool bread

The small differences were fascinating to me. Their tea was much weaker than most Turks like it. A few of the workers didn’t speak Turkish, and it was amusing to see that their Turkish translations were grammatically incorrect (my wife pointed that out).

Let me just say that the food was excellent. I can’t wait to go back. It has much more in common with Chinese cuisine than Turkish. We had samsas (meat pies that reminded me of samosas), a dumpling soup, a cold lamb intestines salad, and an amazing noodle dish. The flavors in this place are worth the trip, but the price is really shocking. It is so cheap, you will order way more than you can eat.

After stuffing ourselves, we decided it would be wise to eat yet more food. We hear tell of a good Georgian restaurant in the bus station. If you are not familiar with Georgian cuisine, you have had a far less enjoyable life than I have. It is sublime. They do wacky and wonderful things with food. My friend put it best, “Georgian cuisine is like you took the best chefs from around the world and gave them acid. Then set them loose in the kitchen.”

However, before we could make it to the bus station, we saw a Ukrainian Cafe! This was an unexpected development. Of course, we had to pop in for a borscht and a cannoli. The borscht was sadly not up to snuff, but the canolli was amazing.

I will make this long story short. We did not follow common sense and go home. We soldiered on to the Georgian resturaunt. Again, no one spoke Turkish, but we managed to order khachapuri.

The moral of this story is — get over to Aksaray and eat some great food. But do it during the day, and make sure your wife isn’t blond like mine. I’m pretty sure people assumed I was her pimp. She got many uncomfortable looks, but that’s the price you pay for looking like a Russian in Aksaray.

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