A day trip to Istanbul from Ankara is generally a crazy idea but when very special, beloved people are in town and you’re invited to dine at an organic vegetarian cafe, you just decide to go and sort out the details later. Our whirlwind trip began just as Urbndervish ended his work day on Monday. We scuttled off to the airport through insane traffic, just in time to catch an evening flight to Istanbul. We stayed with friends that night and pushed off in the morning to trek across the city, from the Asian to the European side. By metro and Marmaray, an underwater rail tunnel, we reached the heart of the old city in time to meet our respected teachers and beloved friends. We connected and caught up in a hotel lobby before relocating to a breakfast diner. We were nourished by conversations that included topics of parenting, migration, community building, and a Montessori approach to Quran education. With time bullying us to part, we finally did but not without feeling an assuring peace that coming was the right decision.
In the afternoon we retraced our steps back to Asia to reach Üsküdar. On a side street lined with restaurants and cafés, green footprints led us to a white building that read Masum Mutfak. Up the colorful, painted steps, a narrow staircase opened to spacious rooms. The pure white walls, tables, and chairs were simply accented by small cacti centerpieces, wooden decorations, and the cleansing citrus colors of yellow, green, and orange. With the constraints of time bossing us around once again, we scanned our vegan options swiftly and placed our order.
While we waited for our meal, our host, Merve, told me about her awakening as a graduate student in London. A formerly careless eater, she became enamored with organic, whole food cooking and found options abundantly available in the UK but hard to find in Istanbul. Pairing her training as a marketing specialist and her passion for vegetarian cooking, she opened Masum Mutfak where she showcases seasonal, local foods that are either certified organic or grown organically. Another staple on her delicious menu is homemade, sourdough bread which is used to make sandwiches and pizzas in her breadmaking workshops. At nine months old, she describes her business as a “crying baby”. In all of its beauty and newness, it is still challenging to attract diners beyond her niche while others turn their heels when they realize her menu is meatless. We, on the other hand, fell in love with her food from Facebook and were ready to taste it for ourselves.
Our entrees arrived hot and freshly prepared: Veggie Burger, Falafel Platter, Veggie Dumpling Platter, and Samosa Platter. We were all anxious to taste each other’s dishes. Lil’ Z was generous but quite attached to her veggie burger. I can’t blame her because it is admittedly one of the best I’ve had in a long time. The combination of chickpeas, lentils, and chickpea flour made the burger filling yet perfectly sized for the sourdough flatbread it laid between, topped with mashed avocado, sliced red onions and a smear of spicy tomato sauce. The purple cabbage salad that accompanied it was flavorfully dressed though fresh and crunchy alongside turnip slices garnishing the plate.
Falafel is always a winner, especially if you can manage to cook the inside properly and avoid it tasting old and oily. Masum Mutfak succeeded on all accounts, making the familiar falafel feel as innocent as the menu promises. The veggie dumplings were soft and filled with mildly curried veggies. The samosas were unlike the fried Indian turnovers they are named after but heartily filled with lentils, as opposed to potatoes and peas. Each dish was served with dipping sauces and fresh dill and parsley salads. Once we finished swapping bites of each of the dishes, we wrapped up our meal and prepared to jetset again. Before bidding farewell and thanking our kind host for an incredible feast, we gave time one last shove, and ordered dessert for the road: a raw dark cocoa tart and a cherry chocolate muffin.
With only about two hours until our flight departure, we hailed a taxi and practically flew to the airport just in time to pray and board. The one-hour flight was brief but all the sweeter once we unpacked our dessert. Though a first attempt, the raw dessert was made like a pro. The texture of the creamy filling was impressively smooth and subtly sweet. Its date and nut crust was finely ground and firmly pressed, like a solid baked crust. The cherry chocolate muffin was delightful; fluffy without feeling empty. Both were a sweet ending to a tasty meal and blessed day in Istanbul.
With special thanks to Masum Mutfak for hosting our visit.