When I was in Istanbul a few days ago, I took the opportunity to visit a Circassian restaurant that could easily be missed in a narrow street off İstiklal Caddesi. Because Istanbul is such a cosmopolitan place there are a ton of different cuisines represented in outlets across the city. There’s a good number of Bosnian restaurants, an old Albanian meatball restaurant and recently established Syrian places set up by refugees. There’s a new Lebanese restaurant called Tahin, and the city’s only Yemeni establishment: Hadramot. There’s somewhere called Stone House which is Kurdish and a few even specialising in the food of East Turkestan (an area of China inhabited by the Turkic speaking Uyghur people). I could go on but hope this gives an impression of the diversity of Istanbul’s culinary offering.
So, why did I specifically single out a Circassian restaurant? Basically, it’s a rare opportunity. It is not easy to visit Circassian homelands in the North Caucasus region of Russia and even if you could how freely do the local Adyghe, Kabard and Cherkess tribes of Circassians feel they can express their cultural identity. Similarly, when I was in Tbilisi, Georgia, I made sure I took the opportunity to try the Ossetian version of the Georgian khachapuri (Georgian: ხაჭაპური) because the likelihood I would ever find myself in North or South Ossetia is very slim.
Fıccın sprawls across numerous buildings in the narrow Kallavi Sokak which runs between İstiklal Caddesi and Meşrutiyet Caddesi in the Beyoğlu area of Istanbul. It is run by a very friendly Circassian lady who obviously takes great pride in what she does. To broaden its appeal, her establishment also offers a number of Anatolian staples, but that doesn’t mean it’s short of authentic Circassian offerings. The name of the restaurant comes from a well-known Circassian meat pie which features on their menu and they also do the famous Circassian chicken (Çerkez Tavuğu) which has become of staple of Turkish cuisine too.
I chose the velibah (a cross between a thin bread or pie, one filled with spinach and one with potato) and the peynirli gabın (cheese dumplings, a bit like a larger cheese version of Turkish mantı). Not surprisingly the food was excellent, a small hint came beforehand from how busy it was. The place was full but the kind owner made room for me inside. It was a great experience, maybe the only opportunity to try authentic Circassian food produced by Circassian people.
It is a shame Circassian food is not better known. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post [here], Circassia had a great reputation for the quality of their products including their wine and their intoxicating honey (historically much prized in Istanbul as well as Tehran) and their cuisine is a unique mix of food from the Caucasus. It is great to see places like Fıccın in Istanbul keeping Circassian tradition alive. Thank you for your hospitality and I’m sure I will return one day soon.