Turkish Meze: Small plates, big flavor

I’ve eaten my fair share of grilled or fried fish by the docks of Karaköy, the saucy, garlicky Islak (Wet) Hamburger walking down crowded Istiklal street in Istanbul, and even the perfect drunk food of kokoreç, a spicy concoction of lamb intestines and other innards that make for an offal combination.

But up until now, there was still something I had yet to enjoy Meze. The sharing of small plates accompanied by wine or more popular in Turkey, Rakı, is something seen in every culture. It’s the tapas of the East, or  the Dim Sum of the West. In the city that straddles two continents, it only makes perfect sense that the traditional flavors of Asia and Europe come together in one delicious, albeit small, plate.

After lollygagging around the bustling Taksim area trying to figure where to eat, we settled upon Ficcin, only a block away from Istiklal on Kallavi Sokak. 

The restaurant serves specialties of the Caucasus region, which encompasses Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, among many other countries. And while the smells and sights of the dumplings and the namesake dish, a ground meat-stuffed pastry, wafting from the kitchen certainly were appealing, the long list of meze was the choice.

Only a few minutes after ordering our spread, a platter of food swiftly arrived to the table.

The Spread: (Clockwise from top left: Hummus, stuffed grape leaves (well, what was left of them), fried eggplant with yogurt and red pepper, arugula and beyaz peynir (white cheese) salad, whiting salad and chicken and walnut salad.)

On the very warm day that it was, the cool, light dinner was perfect. I would recommend them all, but the whiting salad was simply extraordinary. Firm, yet equally tender, it was served with an olive oil and basil sauce that tasted more Italian than Turkish. Actually, it reminded be very much of an Italian baccalà salad, but, dare I say it, even better.

Using the dried and salted and reconstituted cod in the traditional Italian salad results in a nice, strong fish flavor in the dish. But while I almost expected the whiting to be on the milder side, it was a far cry from that, packing tons of fish flavor without being overwhelming.

Though it was only three of us, every last morsel was scooped up and when the food was gone, calls for Zeytinyağlı (Zey-tin-yah-luh) (Olive Oil) were made; anything to eat with the platters of bread that had to be restocked many times throughout the meal, a request the wait staff was more than happy to oblige.

 Stuffed, but not weighed down, I was ready to take on the rest of a Friday night in Istanbul.