Before I ever set foot in Istanbul, my friend Tim raved about Çiya (pronounced Chia, as in Chia Pet). He told me if I do one thing in Istanbul, skip the historic sites and go eat at Çiya. He was definitely onto something. I wouldn’t exactly skip the historic sites, but if there is one restaurant that you cannot miss in Istanbul, it’s Çiya.
Çiya is our answer to everything. Had a bad day? Let’s go to Çiya. Are we celebrating something? Let’s go to Çiya. I’m bored. Let’s go to Çiya.
Çiya specializes in kebabs. They do kebabs and they do them better than anyone in Istanbul that I know of. But that’s not all they’ve got. They also have several dishes from the most delicious region of Turkey, the Southeast.
There are three locations of Çiya, all located right next to each other in Kadıköy. They all have the same food, so don’t stress over which one to walk into.
How does it work? Kebabs are ordered off the menu. The daily specialties are ordered from a chef at a buffet line. You tell the chef what you want, he marks it down on a slip of paper which you give to your waiter, and a few minutes later, your mouth will be filled with some of the best flavors ever imagined. If you don’t know what the foods are, the chefs and waiters speak enough English to explain them. The best part is, every day there is something different! Check out the menu on the website for an idea of what you can expect to eat.
If you order at the counter from the chef, I have one word of advice: ask about price! Things that may look simple and cheap could end up being very expensive. On a recent excursion to Çiya with Tim, we ended up paying about 40TL more than expected for a plate of simple stuffed zucchini and two bowls of what we thought was yogurt soup with meat and veggies (şiveydiz). We thought it wouldn’t be more than 20TL for everything, but it ended up being 60! Delicious, yes, but too expensive for our budget that night.
There is also a self-serve dips and salads line. You put the food on your plate, the chef weighs it, and then gives you a receipt to give to your waiter for the final bill. A full plate of these dips and salads would usually cost me between 10 and 15TL.
If you do the self-serve lines, don’t overdo it. The kebabs are big and you will definitely want to save room for dessert (trust me). Everything is delicious, but my favorites are the perde pilavı (curtain pilaf – rice, bits of chicken, and nuts baked in a “curtain” of dough, hence the name), içli köfte (fried kibbeh, sold by the piece), falafel (sold in portions), and any of the stuffed vegetables. For two people, two of these dishes are more than enough.
Now the kebabs. You will not be disappointed with anything you order. There are several of the typical kebabs you will find at any restaurant, like the Adana (spicy) and Urfa (not spicy), but I tend to order off the “special kebabs” menu. All the kebabs are priced somewhere between 18 and 30TL. I’ve narrowed it down to four favorites.
My top choice: Halepişi – a spicy kebab with tomatoes in onions in a dark sauce, served on a bed of pide bread.
Tim’s choice: Gülbahar kebabı – a cheesy kebab with tomatoes, walnuts and peppers, served on top of yogurt.
Other favorites are the: şeftali kebabı – diced meat with spices, parsely, and onions (not as good as when I ate it in Cyprus, but still good), and the Çiya kebabı – kebab wrapped in bread with walnuts, mint, parsley, and spices, served with yogurt.
For dessert, I have two recommendations. First, the delicious künefe – a cheese dessert pan-fried and topped with a sweet syrup. My favorite is by far the katmer. This is a small pancake filled with buttery pistachios and topped with kaymak, cinnamon, and honey. One dessert is enough to share, but I like to eat the katmer on my own.