“Traffic congestion that occurred at noon a few days ago was all because of the queue of this pilaf maker. You have to fight through a lot of traffic to get this pilaf, but his pilaf is really delicious.”
“He makes great pilaf and there is an incredibly long queue before his pushcart.” These are just some of the entries written on social media sites for pilavcı (pilaf cook) Master İhsan Göktürk. If you are able to make your way to his spot in Maslak, you will see pilaf, chicken and chickpeas being sold on a pushcart, chili pepper in brine and ketchup, if you so desire. A wonderful smell surrounds you and you are served a glass of ayran (a diluted salted yogurt drink), if you like. And of course you will witness an ever-growing queue.
Göktürk migrated from Mardin to İstanbul when he was very young. In those years his family along with a relative used to sell pilaf on a pushcart. He went on in this way until he had to stop in order to fulfill his military duty. When he returned from military service, he quit working with his relative and started to work on his own. Now, 13 years later, he is still selling pilaf in the same place that he started out, and just like in the old days, long queues grow in front of his pushcart.
Except for Sundays, Göktürk gets up at 5:30 a.m. every day. He cooks 30 and sometimes 40 kilograms of rice for his pilaf, and is ready to start selling at 10:30 a.m. Even at that early hour, the queue starts growing slowly and then keeps growing until 2 p.m. Göktürk steadily works in the same way for four hours. While he’s working, not only does the length of the queue increase, but so does the traffic congestion. Especially when the cars of pilaf-eaters block two lanes of road, people stare at his pushcart curiously. Everybody is curious and they all have one question: Why does the excessive demand for his pilaf remain steady after 13 years? Why after all this time will people still wait in line until he runs out of pilaf. Actually, Göktürk says he does not know the answer to that question either.
“Honestly, I really don’t know how I ended up with regular customers. There is an incredible demand. So far, there has not been even one single day that there was pilaf left unsold. Most of the time there isn’t enough pilaf to meet the demand,” he said. When we ask him what is so special about his pilaf, just like all masters, he answers, “Let it remain my secret.”
I always have a substitute pushcart in case city police sequester mine
Pilaf without chicken is TL 2.50, pilaf with chicken is TL 3 and ayran costs Kr 50. Upon the demand of his customers, he buys yogurt from a trusted store and makes the ayran on his own. It is evident that carrying all of his materials on a pushcart, six days a week, is difficult. When we ask him whether the thought of setting up shop crosses his mind, he first says “maybe,” then adds: “But this is the way people enjoy eating pilaf. I really don’t know how it works in a shop. I am content with myself as it is.”
For now he says his only concern is city police, who have given him numerous warnings about his operation. According to Master İhsan, the warning involves police running his pushcart off the road. He says he’s had so many pushcarts broken by them that he can’t remember the exact number. However, these warnings have not made him give up his passion for cooking for his customers. The pilaf cook says whenever they break his pushcart, he gets a new one made, and he always has a substitute pushcart in case of anything happens to his current one.
‘I don’t even eat the pilaf my mom cooks’
Sinem Güden, Cihan Kankılıç and Ümit Güven are sophomores at the civil engineering department of Yıldız Technical University. At least once a week they head to the pilaf maker. Sometimes they call Master İhsan in advance and ask him to prepare take-away pilaf for them so they won’t be late for class. Actually, pilaf is a dish that Cihan doesn’t like. He dislikes pilaf so much that he doesn’t even taste the pilaf his mother cooks at home. “Two years ago passing by this place, we saw there was a tremendous crowd here. We got curious and approached and then saw that he was selling pilaf. We tasted the pilaf on that day and we have been his regular customers ever since. I don’t eat pilaf, except from here,” says Cihan. They say they sometimes come here with their classmates, but add that they are generally late for class if they come here as a large group.
‘I have been coming here for 13 years’
Barbaros Kırtay is 41 years old and works as a driver for a private firm. Whenever he comes to Maslak, he eats lunch at Master İhsan’s place. They have known each other for 13 years and Kırtay says the reason why he has been a regular customer since then is first because he trusts Master İhsan in terms of fulfilling hygienic requirements and second because of the taste of the pilaf. Although he is generally met with a long line when he comes here, he isn’t bothered about it. He gets acquainted with the other customers while waiting in line. Kırtay says the time flies when they are chatting and waiting for the pilaf.