My Last Meal

December 09th, 2007  | Category: Restaurants, Turkish Cuisine

Kerebic 2

A few weeks ago, Matt Gross of The New York Times asked me THE question:

“If it was your last meal, what would you eat in İstanbul?”

I didn’t need to think twice.

Matt contacted me for a piece he was writing for the travel section. The New York Times chose İstanbul as a foodie destination for 2008 and he wanted to know more about the recent food trends in İstanbul, restaurants, and what has changed since his former visit to İstanbul and volunteer work at an apple orchard in Gallipoli.

And then, he asked THE question.

Here is what my last meal looks like:


(clockwise from top left)

  • Dried eggplants stuffed with a mixture of ground meat and spices
  • Bell peppers stuffed with a mixture of rice, pine nuts, dried currants and spices
  • Zahter salad with onions, red peppers, parsley and the magical ingredient pomegranate molasses
  • Kısır: A salad made with bulgur, parsley, tomatoes, tomato paste, red pepper paste, olive oil, spices and pomegranate molasses
  • Walnut and red pepper spread
  • Hummus

All from my most favorite restaurant in İstanbul: Çiya. Musa Dağdeviren, chefowner, first opened Çiya as a kebab restaurant in 1987. A year later, Çiya Sofrası (serving the above Anatolian dishes) opened its doors 10 meters down the street.

The Çiya Experience

When you enter Çiya, you see the delicious salad bar on your right and the main dishes (menu changes daily) on your left. For a few minutes, you can’t move. You breathe in the heavenly smells and after the first shock wave, you start examining the main dishes.

Then, you start asking questions to the chef behind the dishes, because 80% of the time you have no clue as to what’s going on in those pots – even if you’re Turkish. The chef starts to mention the names of all the vegetables that you’ve never heard of and you just nod and pick a few, feeling confident because you know you can never go wrong. Oh, and if there is meatballs with sour cherries on the menu that day, you pick that one too.

Then you approach the salad bar and start stuffing your plate until you can’t see the plate anymore. After that, you sit down and while waiting the main dishes to arrive, you order a lahmacun (or two) from Çiya Kebab next door.

When the feast finishes, you feel stuffed. But that is just your stomach playing a trick on you. You’re not done – at all. A meal at Çiya is never complete without a dessert.


You order Kerebiç – a doughy dessert filled with pistachios and served with a foam that is extracted from the root of a tree that grows in Antakya. The foam aids digestion, and as I told Matt, after eating Kerebiç, you feel like you can eat the whole restaurant again!

If you ever plan to visit İstanbul, make sure Çiya is on your itinerary. You’ll thank me later (a few people already did).

You can read Matt’s article in full here.

Contact information and address for Çiya Sofrası can be found here.

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  1. 1 - Burcu on December 9th, 2007

    Cenk, it’s absolutely not fair that you have posted those Ciya food photos and I have no immediate access to Ciya. Good choice of last dishes, except for hummus 🙂

  2. 2 - mz on December 9th, 2007

    Peki o yemyesil, icindeki nefis kaymagiyla bekleyen (bazen de beklemeyen) sobiyet! Ah Ciya, ah!

  3. 3 - Laily on December 9th, 2007

    Cenk, you are a food expert who is now being quoted on the NY Times! Wow!

    And that Kerebic looks incredible…


  4. 4 - Cenk on December 9th, 2007

    Burcu – I hear you. That was kind of evil.

    Mz – Düşündükçe benim de aklıma neler geliyor neler!

    Laily – Thank you!

  5. 5 - David on December 9th, 2007

    Cenk: A last meal…without chocolate??

  6. 6 - Cenk on December 9th, 2007

    David – That would be my last meal in Paris!

  7. 7 - mindy on December 10th, 2007

    omg; it’s only 10am where I am but I want that meal now! That looks out of this world. Cannot wait to get to Ist. again!

  8. 8 - Dana on December 10th, 2007

    First of all, congrats on the NYTimes piece! And holy moly, those Kerebiç look a-m-a-z-i-n-g. I want one right now!!

  9. 9 - Rose on December 10th, 2007

    I asked this question to my husband yesterday and he had to think about it. He is still thinking about it.
    I love stuffed red peppers. I wouldn’t think of it as my last meal, but I understand why you chose them. How do they dry the eggplant?

  10. 10 - Cenk on December 11th, 2007

    Thank you Dana!

    Rose – The drying process makes the flavor more concentrated i guess… Like dried tomatoes..

  11. 11 - Hillary on December 11th, 2007

    I love that question – it’s so hard to answer! But your meal does look delicious…I enjoyed reading about it!

    If you’re curious what other food bloggers would say, we actually did a post on it here:

  12. 12 - valentina on December 11th, 2007

    Well, I am most certainly going to visit it. Loved your last meal. I love everything in it. I don’t know al the dishes but the ingredients I identify are favourites of mine.

  13. 13 - Naz on December 11th, 2007

    NY Times!! Cool:) Congratulations:)

  14. 14 - Sonali on December 11th, 2007

    I have to repeat what Burcu said, it’s literally not fair on us more so coz we are like half way across!!! will have to take in the sights and smell virtually … what a pity 🙁

  15. 15 - Anja on December 11th, 2007

    This looks absolutely mouthwatering! They sell dried eggplants in Turkish stores here in Berlin and I always wonder how to prepare them. Can you give me a hint?

  16. 16 - Britt-Arnhild on December 11th, 2007

    I think I will put Istanbul on top of my list of places where I want to food travel 🙂

  17. 17 - Cenk on December 11th, 2007

    Thanks Hillary! It was interesting to read other people’s last meals 🙂

    Naz – Thanks!

    Sonali – Sorry!

    Anja – As far as I know you first soak them in warm water and soften them. Then you make a filling with ground meat, rice, spices and fill them up. Then you transfer them to a pot and pour in a bit of water and cook on low heat until fully cooked (once the rice is done you are finished).

    Britt – Yay! One more Turkish food fan!

  18. 18 - Anja on December 12th, 2007

    Thank you so much, I’ll definitely try that!

  19. 19 - Zeynep Seda on December 12th, 2007

    Two of my friends have been nagging me for a loooong time about Ciya saying “how come you haven’t been there, yet” or “you have eat nothing until you eat at Ciya” 🙂 And after your nagging ( 😉 ) I think I should definetely pay a visit to Ciya next time I’m there. Ohh, how am I supposed to wait now??

  20. 20 - Mansi on December 12th, 2007

    wow! those kebabs look too inviting man! its nice to know you are pretty sure about your last meal! I have so many favorites I’m not sure if I could pick one thing!! maybe I’d need something like “last one month of food”:)

    Nice post!

  21. 21 - bakingfairy on December 12th, 2007

    and I am just sooo lucky to have this dinner already with you! I guess my life is complete! I miss you soooo much!

  22. 22 - Aimee on December 14th, 2007

    After an extensive RTW backpacking trip 8 or so years ago, I cam home declaring that Turkey had my favorite food. I’m glad to see that nothing has changed!
    Excellent blog, BTW. I’ll be sticking around.

  23. 23 - Khursten on December 14th, 2007

    Wow. What a great question. At the same time very difficult to answer. For me at least. Your last meal looks great. I’ve never tasted such combinations and hopefully, when I get to Istanbul someday, I’d get to have this as my last meal.

  24. 24 - Shaun on December 16th, 2007

    Cenk ~ It is wonderful that you were consulted for a piece in the New York Times, a great newspaper in general, though I must say their food section isn’t as good as the Los Angeles Times (I understand, though, that you were interviewed for their travel section). I have long wanted to travel to Turkey.

    I adore kisir, and I’m glad that you included it as part of your “last meal”.

  25. 25 - Tartelette on December 17th, 2007

    Kinda creepy to say,but your last meal looks delicious. I love the dessert portion, especially with such “medicinal” properties! I was tickled pink to see you in that article…!

  26. 26 - Gizem on December 17th, 2007

    The pictures look sooo attractive for a ‘homesick’!
    Kerebic? It is worth experiencing… I will/should try asap..

  27. 27 - B5 on December 18th, 2007

    It looks delicious!
    I think most of them belongs to south of Turkiye.
    I am an Italo-Turk. My Turkish side comes from Istanbul. Therefore I would like to add a typical Istanbul dish to the list:

    “Hunkarbegendi!!!” (Would you try it once for us? Maybe a new recipe?)

    and maybe my grandmother’s:
    “Kestaneli Lahana Dolmasi”?
    The Old Istanbul has so many dishes. Doomed to be forgotten? It’s pitty that only the south rules. Same thing happens in Italy too…

  28. 28 - Steamy Kitchen on December 22nd, 2007

    What a gerat food for thought question. I’m going to think about my last meal, make it and photograph it. I wonder in my lifetime, how often would this menu change?

    xo, jaden

  29. 29 - daniesza on December 26th, 2007

    delicious choices for your last meal… but it looks like it could really be the beginning of something grand!

  30. 30 - daniesza on December 26th, 2007

    p.s. i am so very impressed you were asked this question… one which is circulating as what could be regarded as a Proustian question of sorts among chefs.

  31. 31 - Luloah on December 30th, 2007

    Not a bad choice for a “last meal”.

    That Ciyak dessert sounds interesting; I’ve go tto try it out sometime.

  32. 32 - Kathleen on March 9th, 2008

    I ate at Çiya last year and had the zahter salad. Ever since, I’ve wondered whether there is a way that I can make a similar salad here in the US. Do you know whether it’s possible? I couldn’t quite figure out what the main ingredient was…maybe fresh thyme? Would I need zahter powder? I do have a bottle of nar ekşisi…any thoughts you have on how I might reproduce this salad would be much appreciated!

  33. 33 - Cenk on March 9th, 2008

    Hi Kathleen – Glad to meet another Çiya fan! Zahter refers to two things: the spice mix you’ve mentioned and wild fresh thyme (so yes, you guessed it right). You don’t need zahter powder (the spice mix) to reproduce the salad. You only need the following: 1 medium-sized white onion (diced), flat leaf parsley (a handful, chopped finely), red pepper flakes (1 tbsp), olive oil (2-3 tbsp), fresh thyme (2 handfuls, chopped finely) and pomegranate molasses (nar ekşisi – 1 tbsp). I am not 100% sure about these proportions but you can always experiment and adjust according to your taste. Enjoy!

  34. 34 - umami on March 26th, 2008

    Cenk, because of what you wrote about Ciya I scheduled a day to explore Kadikoy and eat there. It was unforgettable , thanks very much, and if you have time to visit my blog you’ll find I couldn’t stop raving about Ciya too.

  35. 35 - Lorin on April 3rd, 2008

    Being married to a Turk, I thought I’ve tried everything Turkish cuisine had to offer. You’ve proven me wrong… Amazingly enough, my husband is in Istanbul now and I will recommend a trip to Ciya this weekend. Perhaps he can enjoy these lovely dishes for me. Now, I can’t wait for our annual family trip to Istanbul-Izmir-Bodrum this summer!

  36. 36 - malvestita on July 9th, 2008

    Cenk, your food blog is fabulous, I’m glad the SFGate introduced me to it. However I should like to point out that kerebic, or properly karabij halab, is as Syrian as Antakya itself.

  37. 37 - Kamren on August 21st, 2008

    Just discovered your website with those wonderful recipes. However, there seems to be problem with some of the text at your website. Some of the text does not seem to “translate”. For example, the name of this restaurant that you mentioned was not understandable: Çiya. What is the correct spelling of this name? I would be interested in going there when I visit Istanbul. There are other such instances where I can not understand what is being written. Is there some way to fix and correct these occurrences that are there now and to prevent them from occurring in the future? Thank you.

  38. 38 - Cenk on August 21st, 2008

    Hi Kamren – Thank you! Yes, I am aware of that problem. It happened when I upgraded to a newer version WordPress (publishing program). I am still trying to fix it. Hopefully, everything will look normal soon. The restaurant’s name is Ciya (pronounced chi-ya). Hope you enjoy eating there. Cheers!

  39. 39 - Nicole on March 31st, 2009

    Hi from Sydney!! I found your website tonight and I have been scribbling recipes down all night. I can’t wait to start cooking your recipes. I have to tell you that I am enjoying your website soooo much!! Thank you for sharing and I look forward to tasting many of your recipes. Cheers 🙂 Nicole

  40. 40 - Mark on December 29th, 2009

    Hey – thanks so much for this post and blog. I am visiting Istanbul in January with my wife and have been doing a little bit of research around where we can eat. No doubt about it – Ciya is top of my list, thanks to your post. Can’t wait to get stuck into the Turkish food and Istanbul vibe. Happy holidays!

  41. 41 - LukaP on May 16th, 2010

    Dear Fernando, While doing resarch for my visit to Istanbul I found your website and this recommendation for Chia.
    I immediately decided that we had to visit Chia Sofrasi and so we did 3 days ago.
    It has been absolutely the best lunch of our stay
    in Istanbul!
    We had a mixed plate from salad bar, mixed plate of main dishes and Kerebich – everything was delicious and totaly eyeopening to me! With the bill they treated us with two small glasses of spinach juice (Do you maybe know a recipe for it? :).
    Thanks for the recommendation!

  42. 42 - Cenk on May 17th, 2010

    LukaP – Glad to hear you enjoyed the meal. Spinach juice? Are you sure it was spinach? I’ve never heard of it. Have to check it out and will let you know.

  43. 43 - LukaP on May 17th, 2010

    They said it was spinach juice and it tasted like spinach.

  44. 44 - Cenk on May 18th, 2010

    LukaP – Very interesting. I’ll definitely give it a try.

  45. 45 - Lien on September 9th, 2010

    Such a pleasure to find this article since i just sent you an email regarding my solo lunch at Ciya Sofrasi in 2007 … i was overwhelmed with the selections too and i just tried a little of everything 🙂

  46. 46 - Lien on September 9th, 2010

    The kerebic looks sooo yumm, i sure miss the food at Ciya!

  47. 47 - Cenk on September 9th, 2010

    Lien – Great minds eat alike!

  48. 48 - Ferda... on October 22nd, 2010

    Hi Cenk! I found this old posting and really enjoyed reading it. Totally agree with you on Ciya… The problem is I live far away from Turkey and now craving for Ciya food, it will be difficult to wait until December for my next visit 🙂

    Regarding desserts, in addition to kerebic I love their walnut dessert too…

    Love your blog, keep posting tasty recipes and beautiful photos…

  49. 49 - Pamela Garelick on October 19th, 2011

    This is so wonderful. I am so excited about my first visit to Istanbu and will definitely visit Ciya. I can’t wait. I love your website and will hope to contact you in the future for research for a possible TV programme we may film in Turkey.
    If you can think of any other places we can go if you have time I would appreciate it. I loved your article on Chez Pannisse and their 40th anniversary. Thank you.

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