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What: For this classic Ottoman dish, chunks of stewed lamb are served on a bed of smoky, roasted pureed eggplants, thickened with cheese and a little milk, and topped with a tomato-based sauce. The dish, whose name (pronounced “hoon-kar bay-endi”) translates to something like “the sultan enjoyed it,” has more than one potential origin, but it is likely native to the palace kitchens of Istanbul (one popular story says it was prepared for Empress Eugénie de Montijo, wife of Napoleon III, at Topkapı Palace in the late 19th century). Rich and flavorful—and, yes, fit for royalty—thisis an Istanbul must.
Where: You can shell out for a meal that includes hünkar beğendi at one of the city’s pricey “Ottoman restaurants,” or you can sample royalty in a more down-to-earth setting at Karaköy Lokantası (Kemankeş Cad. No.37, map), in Karaköy. It’s routinely voted one of Istanbul’s best lokantas, or “tradesmen’s restaurants,” places where workers go for a fast, fresh, home-style Turkish lunch. Don’t be fooled by the modern, airy interior—the lunch menu is all traditional, down-home Turkish food.
Good to know: There’s a nine-bedroom boutique guesthouse upstairs, Karaköy Rooms, should you not want to stray far from the kitchen here.
When: Mon-Sat for lunch, noon-4pm; dinner 6pm-midnight; Sun dinner only, 6pm-midnight. This dish is served at lunch only. (While the atmosphere is lokanta during lunch hours, at night the restaurant feels more like a meze-and-rakı meyhane.)
Order: The hünkar beğendi (15 TL), which appears as “Sultan’s Delight” on the English lunch menu, is offered with lamb or chicken (the latter costs 2 lira less). It’s a wonderful dish, earthy and creamy and toothsome with tender lamb and charred eggplant—a winning combination. Here it’s served with roasted green pepper and tomato, as well as a helpful basket of bread, lest you let any of that puree escape your fork.
Alternatively: Another well-liked lokanta known for this dish is Hünkar (two branches including Mim Kemal Oke Cad. No.21, map) in Nişantaşi, an upscale shopping district, though its prices do reflect its fashionable surrounds. If you decide to splurge on an Ottoman meal, consider the highly rated Asitane (Kariye Camii Sokak No.6, map), where staff have dug up lost recipes from imperial Ottoman cooking using a number of sources, including kitchen ledgers from three palaces (Topkapı, Edirne, and Dolmabahçe). In line with this academic approach, regional ingredients are used where dictated and dates of origin are assigned to many of the dishes on its seasonal menus; hünkar beğendi appears on the summer menu.
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