My favourite place to eat breakfast in Istanbul— other than at my dining table, is the oh so delicious Van Kahvaltı Evi in Cihangir. With a cosy atmosphere and a great team of waiters who fly through the packed room balancing trays of tea glasses and burning plates of menemen, the scene is set for a great experience. Typical Turkish breakfast plates of cheeses, tomatoes, cucumbers and olives, with a few extra yummies like bal kaymak (thick clotted cream drowning in honey) and cevizli çemen (a tangy walnut and fenugreek paste), make up most of the menu. You can also order eggs cooked in a copper dish with sausage, or a variety of gözleme, which are crêpe-like folds of dough filled with your choice of potatoes, cheese, or spinach.
The best, best part of the experience is being served by the most intense and dedicated waiter Turkey has to offer. I don't know his name, but each time I go, I cross my fingers that I'll get seated at one of his tables. With the utmost seriousness, he'll look you dead in the eye to tell you that the bread is fresh baked, special, and only available at Van Kahvaltı Evi. And it's not a lie— the bread really is that special.
"This olive oil— is ONLY for the salad. You understand?"
Why yes, I do understand, and I would never, ever use the olive oil for anything other than its intended purpose. Never. Time after time I have wanted to sketch him, as he is so integral to the whole Van Kahvaltı Evi experience, but his gravity and quick movements intimidate my sluggish hands. This weekend however, I got the nerve.
As per usual, my sketch was discovered by one of the waiters and whisked away amid good-natured laughter and grins. Every staff member was asked to guess who, and when the man himself saw his portrait, he remained unmoved, and as stoic as ever. I began to worry that I may have offended him, and desperately hoping that I hadn't, I searched his face for any shred of a reaction.
Upon leaving, he came to us, shook my hand, and thanked me.