As Arabs, we boast ourselves for having the best food in the world. Our Turkish relatives, who many of us can historically find roots from, have graced us with their presence to remind us that they too, can play our mouthwatering mezza and mashawi game. At Hatay Sofrasi, a popular Turkish Restaurant franchise in Istanbul stemming from Antakya, the capital of the Turkish province Hatay, the familiarity of Arabian classics with a Turkish twist never cease to amaze you. Throughout your meal, you’ll constantly be raving to your fellow diners that certain dishes are cooked in ways you can relate to, as your grandmother had made it or are reminiscent to your family’s kebab barbecues – but the Turkish taste prides itself with originality.
Huddled in the upscale Murouj complex at the Sahara Resort, this classic Turkish restaurant serves up a taste of home with a side of flair, and a dash of Turkish history and architecture. The menu, laden with information about the province, its history, art and architecture, provides educational literature for diners to understand the rich culture behind the food they’re eating. With an interior staged like a simple Turkish home, and simply set tables reminiscent of Friday lunch at your grandmother’s house, we knew we were in for something cozy and special.
They welcomed us warmly with a basket of Hosheldn Bread, a take on traditional pita, that has been warmed to a puff and sesame encrusted, deflating as the temperatures cool but maintaining its lovely moisture. This bread is glorious to munch on with classic dips such as Babagannuc, the Turkish take on our traditional Babaghanoush, with diced tomatoes and eggplant mixed with olive oil, seasoned with lemon and sumac to form a perfect puree, and Mutebbel, similar to our favorite Levantian eggplant puree, but with added laban yogurt, drizzled with olive oil. Another show stopping starter was the traditional Levantian Zahter Salad, made with thyme leaves, tomato and spices.
Did you know the traditional Antakian way to cook chicken is in a burning mountain of salt? Neither did we! We gawked in awe over the smoking plate containing a large salt mound-turning blue from heat – as our waiter expertly chiseled through to reveal a perfectly cooked whole chicken. As the waiterseared the chicken and promptly deboned, a piled of seasoned rice was revealed through its steaming carcass.
We were surprised that the chicken was perfectly salted and flavorful, as anyone would be convinced that piling a hard mountain of salt atop a whole chicken would send our sodium levels through the roof. However, the salt only added succulence to the Tuzda Tavuk that we knew we wouldn’t find anywhere else. We also noted that this dish reminded us so much of favorite childhood dishes, such as Machboos Diyay, but cooked by the standards of a completely different culture.
Next, we were graced with the glory that is the Meter Kebap. This extra long kebab measures a meter long and is enough to feed three people, and the menu also offers a meter and half kebab that’s long enough to feed five people. Presented by a sword-like metal skewer, it is expertly removed by the chef himself as he asks you to hold the kebab in place with loaves of bread. Served atop spicy pita with dollops of grilled onions, greens and tomatoes, the presentation of the dish was absolutely divine.
When you cut into the kebab, perfectly roasted shelled pistachios peek out and contribute to the taste of the meat with a bit of sweetness and crunch. We paired this beautifully grilled kebab with a side of crunchy golden French fries and a plate of Fistik Li Humus, a Hummus dish that’s topped with perfectly toasted, crunchy pine nuts and drizzled in pomegranate molasses.
After such a wonderful meal, dessert was a must. We were gifted a beautifully intricate portion of Akdeniz Fistigi, which was a Baklava-esque pastry smothered in filo and honey, encased in a vanilla ice cream shell and topped with crushed pistachio. The first thought that came to mind upon taking the first bite was the Mediterranean shore – feelings of home and serenity. Then, we kid you not, the waiter explained to us that the name Akdeniz Fistigi translates to Mediterranean Pistachio! It’s safe to say that the creator of this dessert knew their audience, and what they were doing. Pairing this with a traditional cup of Turkish tea made for a truly delightful end to our meal, and we left Hatay Sofrasi with our tummies satisfied.
So if you’re looking to take a break from home cooking, or want to chase those “I want to go back to Turkey!” blues away, Hatay Sofrasi is the perfect place for you. Promising great food, service and a touch of history, this establishment pays homage to our Ottoman counterparts, and we thank them for joining us in Kuwait.
Hatay Sofrasi is located in the Murouj Complex next to the Sahara Golf Resort off of 6th Ring Road. Call them at 1850 005 (ext. 3060) or visit their website at www.akdenizhataysofrasi.com. Follow them on Instagram @HataySofrasi_Kw. Photography by Muneera AlKhulaifi.