The mosque, the cats and the kebab – authentic taste of Istanbul at Harab’be

When you visit a new city it is always difficult to decide where to eat. I have this problem every time, and Istanbul in Turkey this week has not been an exception.

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul by night

Hagia Sophia

Tripadvisor, Turkeytravelplanner, some googling and the unmissable bunch of friends: each one of them that guarantees “go there to eat. I have been. It is no doubt the BEST RESTAURANT in the whole city.”

Narrow road near Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque

Neighborhood with restaurants near Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque

So I collected all the info, checked the available menus and eventually picked few I wanted to try. Each one ha something unique: the atmosphere, the selection of dishes, in few cases even the clientele. But among the ones I visited, I would definitely recommend Harab’be.

Just few minutes from the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia is Harab’be, a small restaurant/bar suggested by a friend of mine and double checked on Tripadvisor, where it’s listed as second best place to eat in Istanbul.
Walking along busy roads full of more glamorous restaurants, good attraction for tourists, some friends and I were immediately impressed by the coziness and silence of the narrow little road where Harab’be is.

Interior of Harab'be

Interior of Harab’be

Half dozen small tables outside the restaurant, few steps to get into it and a Mediterranean balcony with cushions where kittens were playing welcomed us. Diffused lights from hanging coloured lamps were the only source of light.
We had the luck to sit and dine on the balcony, relaxing on the cushions and admiring the sky bright with stars that was visible above our heads.

Harab'be balcony with cushions, restaurant in Istanbul

Harab’be balcony with cushions

The menu of this restaurant is very simple and basic: meze as starters, few types of kebabs and other roasted meat or vegetables as main, some turkish sweets, Turkish wines and beers and, of course, flavored narghile.

The atmosphere is really cozy, and soft jazz or traditional music plays in the background.
The meze we ordered include a Haydari (strained yogurt, garlic and herbs), a egg based sauce similar to mayonnaise but with some spices, another with herbs, aubergine and tomato and the typical stuffed vine leaves, served with fresh flat or sliced bread.

I tasted the chicken shish kebab, and it was well seasoned and succulent, with a nice smoky taste. The aubergine shish kebab included meat and a whole sliced aubergine on a skew.

Iskender Kebab at Harab'be in Istanbul

Iskender Kebab at Harab’be in Istanbul

The Iskender lamb kebab was my choice, and it came on a bed of light and creamy yogurt, and spiced vegetables, including tomato and aubergine. The flavours were delicate, fresh and absolutely delicious. The light yogurt perfectly matched the stronger spiced flavour of the skewed lamb, and the turkish red wine we picked was a great choice for the drink to accompany the meal.

Although satisfyingly stuffed, we could not skip the traditional turkish coffee and the mint tea. It was the first time I had an authentic turkish coffee and I was so impressed by how thick and muddy, earthy flavored it was. It didn’t take long though for the coarser coffee particles to decant on the bottom of the cup and transform the coffee into a more filtered but still strong drink.

Turkish coffee at Harab'be in Istanbul

Turkish coffee at Harab’be in Istanbul

With such a good combination of food and atmosphere, if you are visiting Istanbul, Harab’be is definitely a place I would recommend for a casual, relaxed night.

And with the purring kittens, the coffee taste, a nice chat and the background soft music, the evening ended. And we walked back to the main square, looking for a cab to get back to the hotel; knowing that we were going to have an unforgettable driving experience, considering the driving style of Turkish taxi drivers…

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