Istanbul diaries: Crazy love for Desi food

Food was the first thing that came to our mind after getting on the bus and my husband suddenly remembered his cravings for Pakistani food. And thus began our search for Pakistani restaurants in Istanbul. We found a place on Four Square called Pakistanli, which was about a 10 to 15-minute-walk away from the Square. It was still very cold and the wind hit us the moment we got out of the bus. We started walking towards the restaurant as per Google map’s directions. On our way, we did some window shopping, took photos and eventually reached a market – which was huge. There were shops as far as the eye could see. We, later, learned that it was the famous Grand Bazaar of Istanbul.

Grand Bazaar

We walked for at least 20 minutes in anticipation of finding Pakistani food but a big disappointment greeted us as there was no such restaurant there and no one even knew about it. Tired and frustrated we turned towards the main road and realized that we had come down the street and now, with all the wind, tiredness and hunger, we will have to go back up the inclined streets. It wasn’t exciting anymore. I just wanted to go home and lie down in that cozy bed and sleep. But my husband didn’t want to give up just yet. Dragging each other and taking turns to push the stroller, we eventually reached the main road. We were in the middle of deciding whether to take a taxi back home or just walk when my husband suddenly got an idea that we should cook chicken karhai at the apartment, since it is easy to make and we have all the utensils available too. He even offered to cook for us but I kept persuading him to just grab something on our way and cook it tomorrow. There was also the fact that where would we find raw chicken at 9pm but he was persistent and was already asking a guy on the street if he can find uncooked chicken.

The guy pointed to a shop on the other side of the road and before I could have said anything, my husband was already trying to cross the road while telling us to wait right there. Since it was too cold for us to just stand and wait there, we went inside a café and ordered a ‘kehva’ and a ‘Sutlac’ – Turkish rice pudding. I was half way through the rice pudding when I saw my husband looking for us, empty-handed. He came towards us really disappointed and said. ‘It was a bloody chicken broast shop’. So I asked him to chill out for some time and have the dessert and then we will figure out what to do.

Turkey is a very customer-friendly country. The businesses usually go to an extra length to make their customers happy and satisfied –McDonald’s there on the Sultanahmet Square was a totally different story though. So we enjoyed our ‘chai’ and the rice pudding and left to look for some desi food to satiate my husband’s cravings.

Standing on the signal of the main road waiting for it to turn green so that we can cross it to reach the tram station, we searched again for a restaurant – Pakistani or Indian – in the nearby areas. We found one about eight minutes’ walk away from our current location and decided to explore it. This time we landed at the right place – an Indian restaurant that offered non-veg food.

Two of the servers were from Pakistan, so we asked them for their recommendations on the dishes. They told us not to expect the karhais and handis or even naans – brick-oven-baked flatbread – to be as good as we find in Pakistan. Even daal – lentils – are made differently in both the countries, ours is better. I will quote an American colleague here who, during her visits to Pakistan, would order daal and naan for lunch on a daily basis, and would say, ‘When you can have the most authentic taste of the dish here, which you can’t get anywhere else in the world, then why not have it as much as you can?’


So my husband also ordered daal and naan, which were acceptable enough to fulfill his desire and cravings. While he was at it, he interviewed the two servers about their experience in Istanbul. They had entered Istanbul illegally, were there for the past two years and hadn’t seen their families for that time. We even got the leftover food packed for breakfast, thanked the servers, tipped them well and left for home.

By the time we reached, we were so tired that we passed out immediately.

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