Thursday, August 20, 2009

Istanbul, Yurakucho

Ethnic food is a source of continued confusion to me in Japan. In my mind, it doesn't include Japanese, Chinese, Korean, French, Italian and American. And it definitely includes Thai, Vietnamese and other, rarer, Southeast Asian foods. Things get fuzzy when we talk about Eurasia, as I think the actual cultures do as well. Istanbul (not Constantinople) being the meeting point of East and West, cultural mishmash, etc., it's perhaps most fair to call Turkish food Ethnic.

But the odd thing about ethnic food is the value implication. This may be a result of growing up in New Jersey, where Greek food is fairly common (cooked by Greeks running faux-Italian restaurants, in my case) and Mexican food at low, low prices has become common. The Japanese have a different perception - it's exotic, and that means you can get away with charging a good bit more for it. I think you see where I'm going with this, so I'll stop (and this was the interesting observation for this post, BTW).

Istanbul is located in the middle of Yurakucho's Corridor Street, which forms the Western border of Ginza. Despite the weak experience I had last time I went to a restaurant in the area, I'm forced to admit that it's a cool, cool street - lots of interesting and reasonable places to eat (the Spanish place and the new bistro look especially promising, as does the budget-priced washoku course place at the north end). But for this evening, it was Turkish.

They have some funny stuff - high-end Turkish wine plus the more expected low-end Turkish liquor arak. With apologies to the Turks (and the Iranians, and anyone else who drinks it in this form), I'd have to say that I prefer my anise-based liquors to be smoother and sweeter, be it in pastis or sambuca. The arak at Istanbul was noticably harsh even when mixed with soda. But hey, what's ethnic food without ethnic drinks?

The food here was very enjoyable. The dolmades aren't called dolmades, because it's a Turkish restaurant, but they're still grape leaves stuffed with flavored rice and soaked in something yummy. The assorted dips were also good, especially with the fresh pitas that you can order up at will. The piece de resistance, as it were, was the Iskender Kebab, which is a whole buncha grilled lamb sliced off the skewer and topped with yogurt and sauce. It's definitely the way to go if you can't get a gyro.

When in Turkey...
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