A ‘merchant restaurant’ offers a whole different set of tastes

August 29, 2012, Wednesday/ 15:05:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

There is a certain warmth, familiarity and even sincerity that is unique to the “merchant restaurants” (esnaf lokantaları) of Turkey. And for whatever reason, the food you get at these simple but dependable restaurants is always memorable in taste.

One example of a classic merchant restaurant is the little known Özcanlar kebab and lahmacun Salon. It is located on a small backstreet in the Karagümrük neighborhood of İstanbul's Fatih district and offers a menu that has not changed at all in the past 28 years. It is a quiet and simple place, but one whose tastes pull you in should you happen to venture through its doors. Aside from the menu, another thing that has not changed much over the years here at owner Cemal Kaban's restaurant are the customers. People whose fathers would eat here years ago now find themselves coming in for dinner. The head waiter here is Yüksel Polat, and he is also another constant factor: He has worked here for 22 years! With his gentlemanly attitude and kind ways, he makes customers feel a sense of old-style İstanbul.

There is nothing particularly attractive, aesthetically speaking, about this establishment. Those searching out a memorable ambiance are forewarned. There is a small indoor fountain in the family section of one of the two small salons that comprise the restaurant. There is a curtain that separates these two salons, and the balcony section of the salon can be thought of as a spot for special meetings. From the pictures that hang on the walls here to the lights on the ceiling, the atmosphere here is absolutely reminiscent of a classic Anatolian restaurant. When the curtains are drawn shut from the indoors, you cannot look into the restaurant from the street outside.

Setting aside the atmosphere for a moment, let's focus on the tastes offered up at Özcanlar Kebab and Lahmacun Salon. The most special item here is certainly the döner, and it is one that is always available in plentiful amounts. Sliced thin and wide, this place gives even the most famous döner spots a run for their money. But now is the time to warn you that the döner here tends to run out in the evening, so definitely stop by earlier if you want to try some of the delicious döner.

Another of my favorite dishes from this spot is the lahmacun. The meat used at Özcanlar comes from sheep from the Balıkesir area, and the ingredients used in the lahmacun here are generous and balanced. If you are getting the lahmacun, be sure to try the Antep-style lahmacun with garlic. The mixed grill platter is also worth a try, though watch out for a strong aroma from the lamb, probably because of the season. Those who are wary of gamey aromas would do best to avoid the pirzola and the ground beef kebab as well.

Özcanlar opens every day at 8 a.m. with lentil soup service and keeps its doors open until 11 p.m. It has room for 150 people. There are nine people working at this unchanging restaurant, which also delivers to residents of Fatih.

Döner and lahmacun were our favorites here

Özcanlar Kebap and Lahmacun Salon has been serving up delicious food for the past 28 years on a small backstreet in Fatih and it appears that Özcanlar will be open for many years to come. You must definitely try the döner and the lahmacun if your journeys should take you here. The döner is absolutely wonderful, although one can't help but wonder if it would be even better if it were cooked over a coal fire.

When the curtains are drawn in this small restaurant, passersby cannot see inside. This is a small but telling detail about the pleasures of eating that awaits you at this quiet and unassuming spot.

Lots of variety, great prices!

Lentil soup: TL 3

Döner: TL 10

İskender, yogurt kebab and Aleppo-style kebab: TL 12

Adana, Urfa kebab: TL 10

Chicken şiş kebab: TL 9, mixed kebab: TL 20

Şiş, meat sauté, bonfile, beefsteak: TL 12

Bursa kebab, beyti kebab with ezme: TL 13

Brick baked şiş with eggplant and tomato: TL 13

Antep lahmacun TL 4, lahmacun: TL 2.50

Lamb chop, Alinazik, lamb tandoor: TL 13

Meat bread: TL 8, pide varieties: TL 8-9

Salads: TL 3-4

Çiğ köfte: TL 4

Desserts: TL 3-4

Address: Özcanlar Kebap ve Lahmacun Salonu

Fevzipaşa Cad. Kanaat Sok. No: 5/F Karagümrük, Fatih/İstanbul

Tel.: 0 (212) 631 04 21, 621 25 70