Kanaat Lokantasi in Istanbul, Turkey

A big bustling place in the staunchly Islamic municipality of Uskudar on the city’s Asian shore, Kanaat belongs to a cardinal genre of Istanbul eating establishments known as esnaf lokantasi. Roughly translated as “tradesmen’s canteen” and ubiquitous throughout the city, esnaf lokantasi are Istanbul’s answer to diners, providing homey, affordable sustenance to city shopkeepers and workers. Ordering at an esnaf lokanta is easy: just point to the cold cases and warm pots arrayed on or near the counter, and nod. 

At Kanaat everything you ever wanted to know about Turkish cuisine is here—somewhere. There are the gleaming chrome cases of zeytinyağli—green beans, artichokes, leeks, or other seasonal veggies braised in olive oil until silky and luscious—and every kind of stuffed vegetable: cabbage, peppers, and grape leaves filled with meat or spiced rice. 

In the glassed-in kitchen, cooks make yahni (vegetable casseroles), Uzbek lamb-and-carrot pilaf, all manners of kebabs, and six kofte (meatball) varieties. By the entrance, candied pumpkin and quince glisten in syrup, and the Ottoman pudding selection ranges from sütlaç (rice) to aşure, aka’s Noah’s pudding, studded with dried fruit and nuts. 

Kanaat was opened in 1933 by the Kargili family who still run the place. Their Albanian clan came to then Ottoman Istanbul from Skopje, in what is now North Macedonia, in 1915 during the reign of the last sultan, and peddled helva and goat milk ice cream from pushcarts. 

Back then, Albanians in Istanbul were known for their dairy treats, such as muhallebi (milk pudding) and kaymak, a thick clotted buffalo cream. Many of today’s regulars still swear by Kanaat’s goat milk vanilla ice cream, which derives its elastic texture from sahlep, the powdered root of a wild mountain orchid. 

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