Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Mısır Çarşısı No: 1, 34110 Fatih, Turkey
+90 212 527 39 09
This meal took place prior to the COVID travel restrictions.
One of the best known Istanbul restaurants is located in the space above the main entrance of the Egyptian (Misir) Bazaar, one of Istanbul’s most highly respected retail venues.
Pandeli is a known business lunch hotspot; every guide book regarding the city of Istanbul has a paragraph about this restaurant.
Pandelis Çobanoğlu, a Greek from Anatolia, began selling piyaz – a salad of boiled white beans, fresh skinless tomato chunks, fresh chopped parsley and sweet onion, sprinkled with very fresh extra virgin olive oil, from a street cart in the same area where he would eventually open his eponymous restaurants. Later, he opened a köfte (meatball) shop in Çukurhan, serving to the locals the classic Ottoman duo of köfte and piyaz. Çobanoğlu started making a living from selling the meatballs and bean salad to Eminönü merchants, and I don’t think he could ever have imagined that the same bean salad and meatballs would be eventually enjoyed by royals on the upper floor of the Bazaar. The “Father of Turkey” Mustafa Kemal, a young officer serving in the military, seemed to have an open account with Pandelis, to pay later for his meals, when he received his salary at the beginning of each month. Years later, after establishing modern Turkey from the remnants of the Ottoman Empire, Atatürk returned many times to eat at Pandelis’ as the president of the country.
During the 1930s and 1940s the Panteli restaurant was frequented by the Istanbul Greek community as well as the city’s literati; it became a meeting ground for writers, poets, journalists and politicians, and Western travelers that came in on the Orient Express. After half a century of operating eateries Pantelis Çobanoğlu and his family opened the current restaurant on the floor above the entrance of the Spice Bazaar, a location allocated to them by order of the state, after the previous restaurant was looted during the pogrom against the Greek Istanbul community of September, 1955. His son, Hristos Çobanoğlu, a graduate of medical school, chose to stay in Istanbul in 1957 and help his father, giving up his dreams of higher studies to become a doctor. He became primarily responsible for making Pandeli a must-go place when visiting Turkey. The restaurant became a spot where West meets the East, with locals and foreign visitors ordering from a menu reflecting an eclectic mix of Western influenced dishes and old Ottoman favorites.
Even now, to eat at Pandeli is like taking a step back in time. Ottoman turquoise tiles adorn the walls and floor as they did hundreds of years ago; the views of the Golden Horn, the Bosporus and the Galata Bridge from the windows, and the sights and smells of the Spice Bazaar below, make the atmosphere delightful. I had to go there at least once during my last visit to Istanbul, since Pandelis was a friend of my uncle George Hajioannou (Hatzioannou in Greek), and our family used to go to Pandeli for numerous plates of meze and raki that Pandelis would personally bring to our table from the kitchen. Nowadays, no alcohol is served at Pandeli.
Hardship have always been part of Pandeli’s life and the restaurant closed down in 2016 because of economic difficulties. Now, thanks to new investors, the Istanbul icon has once again opened its doors and is looking as good as ever. Abdullah Sevim, its chef of 20 years, is once again back at the helm of the kitchen.
The fish and seafood selections at Pandeli, are exceptional, starting with the lakerda appetizer and the sea bass en papillote, main course. Pandeli’s hünkar beğendi, slow-cooked lamb served on a bed of eggplant purée, remains unparalleled in the city.
Round it off with the oven-baked quince, which comes slathered with thick syrup and clotted, double condensed cream (kaymak) and you have an excellent lunch.
Lunch is the only meal at Pandeli at this time. For any other meal you have to look elsewhere. Fortunately, there are numerous exceptional restaurants in the city and if you wish fish or seafood you should try the establishments along the Bosporus, such as the seafood restaurants in and near Bebek harbor.
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