As one of my favorite songs goes, “Istanbul was Constantinople. Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople. If you’ve a date in Constantinople, she’ll be waiting in Istanbul.” 

click to enlarge Clockwise from upper left, Adana kebab, mille-feuille dessert, the Istanbul Sampler, and a cup of Lentil soup, at Istanbul Turkish Cuisine restaurant. (Mark Hancock)
  • Mark Hancock
  • Clockwise from upper left, Adana kebab, mille-feuille dessert, the Istanbul Sampler, and a cup of Lentil soup, at Istanbul Turkish Cuisine restaurant.

As one of my favorite songs goes, “Istanbul was Constantinople. Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople. If you’ve a date in Constantinople, she’ll be waiting in Istanbul.”

We have a local version, too. But it’s slightly less catchy. In OKC, Istanbul was a place called Taste of Egypt. And if you’ve got a date at Taste of Egypt, she might be trying to get rid of you.

But even if you head to Istanbul Turkish Cuisine, 3604 N. May Ave., alone, you’ll still have a good time.

I mean, companionship is nice, but is it better than food? A lifetime of overeating tells me no.

To start off, I think the Istanbul Sampler ($9.99 for a small, $13.99 for a large) is a great introduction to the differences between Turkish food and other, similar cuisine. Don’t go in expecting it to be completely exotic. If you like gyros and hummus, they’ve got you covered.

The falafel ($5.95)? It was kind of dry. Istanbul’s version is more like a chickpea patty, whereas I’m fond of the spherical falafel, which is both tender and crispy. A bit better was the falafel durum ($5.95), which is a sandwich. The crushed falafel mixed with creamy sauce and crunchy vegetables is an enjoyable combination.

I liked the flavor of the lentil soup ($3.99), but it was too thin. I had hoped for more lentils and less broth, but you might feel differently.

click to enlarge Istanbul Turkish Cuisine restaurant owners, Khadija and Rachid Ayare. (Mark Hancock)
  • Mark Hancock
  • Istanbul Turkish Cuisine restaurant owners, Khadija and Rachid Ayare.

When I ordered the Istanbul doner ($11.95), I somehow glossed over the description in the menu and was ever so slightly surprised to find out that this is a gyro plate. “Seasoned ground beef and lamb combination, marinated overnight” — of course it’s gyro meat. And if you think I’m disappointed by that, you are wrong. As a platter, it comes with lots of meat, some pita bread pieces, grilled vegetables and a really flavorful Turkish rice pilaf. It’s a lot of food. And that’s coming from me.

The Adana kebab ($11.95) is a ground lamb and spice meatball threaded onto a skewer and grilled. With rice, tomatoes and peppers, it’s plenty filling and quite tasty.

One dish that had me puzzled and intrigued was the Kiymali Pide, a ground beef crust pizza for $10.95. It’s a pizza in a very “well, that’s technically one way to define a pizza” sort of way. Which isn’t a complaint. It’s got a tender crust folded up around the edges and cut into strips. The seasoned ground beef is both sauce and topping, but there’s no cheese. Instead, you taste the full force of the tomatoes, peppers, onions and garlic.

If you get the baklava ($1.50 per piece), it’s good. It’s flaky and covered in honey and crunchy and soft all at once; it’s baklava. Have you had baklava? It’s mandatory.

Istanbul is an exotic little treat. Not all your old favorites are just the way you remember them, but it’s the differences that make trying new places exciting. Go. Sound like an idiot trying to pronounce a new word. Smile and look a goon when you take a bite of your new favorite Turkish dish.

Print headline: They might be giant (dishes), Sing a song and do a dance for a great taste of Istanbul. By Greg Elwell

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