Tag Archives: Turkish Food

Istanbul Cafeteria is NOT Istanbul Restaurant

Unfortunately, whether it is comments on this blog, Wechat messages, conversations at a bar, I have gotten this a lot over the past year or so:

I read a post you did about eating doner kebabs and Turkish food, and I tried to find the place. It doesn’t exist! Google Maps had me wandering all over Xinbei Central Park!

Google and Baidu Maps sometimes can’t be trusted. I have had a long history of looking for things those apps say exist but actually do not when you investigate further. However, to people relatively new to Changzhou and China in general, they may not realize about their cell phone maps. So, allow me to unpack the issue.

Istanbul Restaurant exists. I know this. I had lunch there, recently. It’s on Taihu Road 太湖路 in Xinbei. It’s walking distance from Wanda Plaza’s BRT station and is near the media tower. The exterior looks like this….

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Instanbul Cafeteria was a kebab stand this restaurant tried to open in Xinbei Central Park. Both shared the similar food items, but he shack location in Xinbei Central Park had a much more limited menu. For a number of reasons I do not know, Istanbul Cafeteria shut down and closed shop. That was more than a year ago. However, the shack is still in the park awaiting a new renter.

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However, it should be noted that Istanbul Restaurant and Istanbul Cafeteria are NOT the same thing. You can find the restaurant on the Chinese language Baidu Maps, but it’s not on English language Google Maps. However, Istanbul Cafeteria still appears on these maps when you search for the restaurant. I know, it can easily be confusing, but trust me, Turkish Food does exist in Changzhou, and it is worth finding.

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Two Delicious Things at Istanbul Restaurant

Longer term readers of this blog might know two things about me: 1) Istanbul Restaurant is one of my favorite places to eat in Changzhou — even though I rarely go there, and 2) I am categorically insane about eating sandwiches. I blame New Jersey for that, because, like pizza, it’s nearly a fanatical culinary religion in the Garden State.

You can also say that maybe this is a case of like father like son. My dad also likes sandwiches very much — especially a good Philladelphia cheese steak. My dad also appreciates Greek, Turkish, and Middle Eastern food. After all, here is a man who spent his decades-long career as an educator with the US Department of Defense traveling through Europe and Asia.  So, while he has been visiting Changzhou recently to see me, taking him to Instanbul Restaurant in Xinbei was a complete no-brainer. It was the second “must go” place to drag him out for dinner.

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My dad had the iskander kebap. He ordered it by mistake. He thought he was getting standard doner kebab. Instead, he got a Turkish version of an open-faced sandwich. This includes spiced beef doner meat and a vegetables served on top of bread — which Istanbul bakes itself. You never eat an open faced sandwich with your hands. It’s meant to be consumed with a knife and fork. On the side, there is a thick pool of yogurt. This is for glorious dipping purposes. I have had this dish before and have privately recommended it to others in the past.

As for me, I was a little surprised by the menu. Perhaps it’s because I don’t eat here as often as I would like to? Every time I visit this place, the menu is always slightly different. There always seems to be something new and something missing. This is always a positive. It shows the owners and management not only want to keep what their customers like, but also try new things and eliminate the things that do not draw interest. This is something I deeply respect. The last time I visited this place, they had introduced felafel. But, it was only as a sort of appetizer that had thousand island salad dressing as dipping sauce. This time, I noticed they were offering these spicy chick pea balls as a wrap. I found that alluring, but something novel-to-me caught my attention: a köfte styled hamburger.

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Köfte is a Turkish meatball. It is a blend of meats, and depending on where you eat it and who made it, it can involve ground beef, lamb, or veal all mingled together. Istanbul serves their own blend between the same bread they use for their doner kebabs, and when it is combined veggies and a yogurt sauce, each bite tastes better than the last. This is a credible alternative to a doner at Istanbul if a patron wanted to eat something like a hamburger that had some shreds of Turkish identity.

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Seriously, Istanbul Restaurant is the only Turkish restaurant in Changzhou. They could very easily rest on that as a “novelty act.” They currently have no competition when it comes to the cuisine they serve. And yet, they still experiment. They still edit their menu. They try new things.  In that regard, I hope the köfte hamburger stays.

Istanbul Restaurant is on Taihu Road and is between Wanda Plaza and the Changzhou Media Tower. 

More Vegetarian Things at Istanbul Restaurant

When I was a vegetarian, Turkish and Greek places were usually a staple of eating out. It was for one simple reason: falafel. This involves ground chickpeas formed into balls and fried. My experience eating this usually involved having a few of them shoved into split pita bread with lettuce, tomato, and tzatziki sauce.  Sometimes, hummus would be used as a condiment instead if tzatziki. Both options suited me just fine. Honestly, it really was the veggie alternative to a gyro or a doner for me. So, you can imagine the excitement I felt recently when I walked into Istanbul Restaurant for lunch recently and saw that they added falafel to their menu.

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I really enjoyed the falafel — it was crispy on the outside and moist on the inside, and it wasn’t too spicy. Falafel usually fails for me when it tastes gritty, and this had a very smooth texture.  However, I have to say I didn’t enjoy having thousand island salad dressing as a dipping sauce. But, that’s easily fixed. I ordered a delicious “usual.” Whenever I go to Istanbul Restaurant, I have to have …

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Hummus. I found myself dipping my falafel into my hummus and ignoring the thousand island altogether. And let me be honest. I like thousand island sometimes on a salad, but not with Turkish food. Not at all. The two just don’t go together in my head at all. Istanbul does so many other good and saucy appetizers that it would be a good idea to pair their falafel with any of those while ordering. A few other new menu also things surprised me.

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The place now has a Turkish version of cheese sticks. This particular item has a very soft cheese mixed with parsley. Then, it’s wrapped into thin pastry dough and fried. This is a stark reminder, though, that just because something is “vegetarian friendly” doesn’t make it quite “health food.” I noticed one or two more veggie friendly things on the new menu, but I didn’t have the time or money to try them all.

One things I love about Istanbul Restaurant is that they always seem to be willing to try new things while keeping the items their patrons love, like the pide, or Turkish pizza as it might be more commonly called. That bit of yumminess is always a reason for a return visit.

Istanbul Restaurant is Slightly Vegan Friendly

Changzhou isn’t the most accommodating place for vegans or vegetarians. Some dishes may look like it contains only vegetables, but quite often pork stock may be used while the dish is being stewed or stir fried. Quite often, people with special dietary needs are often stuck with either Kaffa in Wujin or Indian Kitchen in Xinbei. So, when a restaurant changes its menu to include something friendly to vegans, it should be commended.

Such is the case with Istanbul Restaurant in Xinbei. Yes, the place is more well known for donor kebab dishes and other Turkish specialties. Upon my last visit, I noticed that some of the menu pages have been pulled out and replaced. Three of the new items are indeed vegan friendly — as in not only is meat not involved, but diary has been excluded as well.

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This includes a warm white bean appetizer. The legumes are served in a thin and light tomato sauce with bits of garlic. Another side dish includes cold green beans with onions in a lemon based sauce. Plus, there is now an entree of saute mushrooms with green peppers and rice. This, like the white beans, comes in a tomato based sauce.

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There are still salads available from the older menu. Also, the red lentil soup hasn’t gone anywhere. Of course, there is vegetarian pide (Turkish pizza) for those who can eat dairy and gluten. If there were one thing to be constructively critical about,  its that some of these menu items tend to be a little pricey compared to portions of what is actually being served. And while it might not be the most awesome vegan food around, it is still a new option in a city where the pickings are slim at best. After all, Changzhou is not Shanghai, and western options are more limited, comparatively speaking.

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Istanbul Restaurant is conveniently located on Taihu Road 太湖路 and in walking distance from the Wanda Plaza BRT stop. If you pass Zoo Coffee, you have walked too far.

Turkish Pizza at Xinbei’s Istanbul Restuarant

Istanbul Restuarant’s Slightly Oblong Pizza.

Pizza is something I am passionate about. What can I say? I am from New Jersey, a surreal place where intense Facebook drama wars can, and have, broken out over this subject. Do you love Pizza Hut? Never say that in Jersey! You will likely get lengthy list of locally owned pizzerias in response. This list will also be given to you with a bunch of exasperated sighs and eye rolls. Add to this that I am half Italian-American, and the pizza I grew up eating was home cooked and made by my mother.  And if you say anything is better than my mom’s cooking, I will fight you!

Simply put, my standards for judging  pizza quality are absurdly high — to the point where  personal, cultural, and ethnic issues are all in play. Not to mention the memory of my late, dearly departed mother. The worst thing you can do, if you are sharing a pizza with me, is to ask what I think about it. You will get a lengthy, dramatic monologue, with footnotes. And digressions, too! Wild gesticulations might also be possible. After all, I might need to empatically prove a point. Your non-spoken response might be,:”This guy is a bit loony.” You wouldn’t be that far from the truth. We are only talking about pizza after all.

And even despite all of this personal baggage, I can say I have eaten some of the best pizza in Changzhou, recently. For me, it also came from a surprising place: Istanbul Restaurant. I only have a passing knowledge of Turkish cuisine. Sure, I have eaten my share of Donor Kebabs and hummus, but I never knew the country had it’s own, unique heritage when it comes to pizza.

So, Istanbul Restuarant’s pizza doesn’t share the circular shape of it’s Italian and Italian-American. You could say it’s in the shape of an eye, but one were the eyeball is yellow and filled with chunks of meat. Let’s set the surreality of that one side for a moment. The crust is thin, which is a relief. Most of the pizza you can find in China tends to be thick. And for a guy from Jersey, that’s just bad. Very  bad. Pizza should not taste like bread with pizza toppings on it. The greatest thing though, is the beef donor kebab toppings.  That was a first for me, and while the thought sounded alien at first. Actually eating it on a pizza seemed like an absolute no-brainer after the initial first bite.

And so it comes to this: Istanbul Restaurant simply makes pizza you just cannot find anywhere else in Changzhou.