Inciralti Meyhanesi - Gastro Obscura

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Gastro Obscura

Inciralti Meyhanesi

Wash down heaping platters of meze with raki at one of the city's best taverns.  

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Meyhane are Istanbul drinking taverns where diners wash down their meze with the potent, anise-based liquor called raki. These iconic institutions date back to the city’s shady Byzantine portside dens where sailors would come for some booze—and maybe a dame and a haircut. 

In Ottoman times they were run by non-Muslim minorities (mostly Greeks and Armenians) who were allowed to produce and sell alcohol. Originally they only offered rudimentary snacks, then evolved during the hard-drinking early era of the Turkish Republic into proper restaurants. 

Meyhane meze, ritually presented for selection on a commodious tepsi (tray), reflect Istanbul’s polyglot past as the seat of the Ottomans’ multicultural empire: Armenian bean pilaki, Greek taramosalata, Circassian chicken in walnut sauce, fried liver Albanian-style. And while these days many touristy taverns peddle bland dips, Inciralti in the charming Bosporus enclave of Beylerbeyi prides itself on very much more. 

Here you’ll find super-sharp cooking, distinctly gracious service, and such sweet old-fashioned touches as lace booties for the raki glasses at tables filled with boisterous regulars in a covered garden dominated by a gigantic incir, or fig, tree. 

Inciralti’s crowded meze tray is an archival homage to the past, its many recipes from historic cookbooks by Turkish minority writers. Topik a plump cinnamon-dusted ball of mashed chickpeas and potatoes filled with deeply caramelized onions—a traditional Lenten dish of Armenians—comes from beloved Armenian author Takuhi Tovmasyan.

Greek scholar and cook Marianna Yerasimos meanwhile is the source for rare Ottoman treats such as sea bass marinated in vinegar and 14 spices including bergamot and the biblical myrrh, as well as uskumru (mackerel) in a creamy garlicky walnut tarator sauce. As for warm dishes, don’t miss the dalak (spleen!) dolma filled with sweetly spiced rice, or the balik borek, an addictive flat griddled pastry filled with minced fish. 

Then again, even the standard meyhane specials shine here, from the tangy caper leaf salad, to artichoke bottoms braised in fragrant olive oil, to the kofte (meatballs) accented with cinnamon. End with warm semolina helva with a scoop of mastic-scented ice cream. 

Know Before You Go

Inciralti is extremely popular, so make sure to book. The nicest way to get to Beylerbeyi on the city’s Asia shore is by ferry from Eminonu docks. Check the schedule here and arrive early to soak up Beylerbeyi’s authentic waterside charms. 

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April 2, 2024

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