We caught up recently with the Adventurous Ladies' Dining Club, which we've heard is the hottest new eating trend in the greater Galata/Cihangir area.
Why the Adventurous Ladies' Dining Club?
The mission statement of ALDC is "To stop complaining (as much) about the homogeneous monotony of dining in Istanbul, locate pockets of immigrants and eat the food they make for themselves." Despite enormous barriers to entry (both literal and figurative), groups of permanent or temporary migrants have settled in Istanbul's outlying neighborhoods (i.e. the cheap ones) and they have to eat. We are going to find them and make them feed us in exchange for money.
We also appreciate how hard life in Istanbul must be for the non-European/North American yabancı, especially those with dark skin. We want them to succeed. For example, we don't know how you run a place like the amazing Ethiopian Habesha when locals don't patronize it. Maybe it's a money laundering or trafficking front, but the food is delicious, service friendly and atmosphere authentically Ethiopian, so we go there with enthusiasm. And they have a ballin' nightclub.
The name of this group sounds very discriminatory. Did you frighten all the men?
We like to think of the name as misleading rather than discriminatory. While it is true that a group of ladies conceptualized the club, we frequently accept applications from qualified male diners to join us. We really aren't that adventurous either. A restaurant is a candidate for the ALDC if it requires us to take public transportation (though we're allowed to take a taxi home if it's hot or we are really irritated or it's a day that ends in "y"). This, by most definitions, is not adventurous. But, since at least one member typically refuses to leave Beyoğlu or go anywhere she can't walk to, we view the name as positive reinforcement.
How do you identify restaurants?
Of course, we rely on Istanbul Eats to do the hard research, as everyone who wants to get beyond the kebab/mezze axis in Istanbul does. In normal cities, we would ask cabdrivers of varying ethnicities where they eat, but that's not fruitful in Istanbul because there aren't any. When we run out of dining ideas, we'll ask the West African watch sellers on Galıpdede, or the Filipino dogwalkers in Cihangir. Sorry, but "Chinese," "Italian," "Thai" or "Mexican" restaurants run by Turks for Turks may have their charms but they don't qualify for ALDC. After some internal debate, neither does Eataly, even though the local Italian immigrants love it. It's in a shopping mall. That's not adventurous!
Where have you eaten so far?
We're working our way through Aksaray. So many Syrians have moved there we wonder if there's any room left in "Küçük Halep" for the Russian and Moldovan prostitutes. The welcome we received at the delicious Şam Şerıf was enthusiastic bordering on mania. We've spotted a number of Arabic places near it, including one called, promisingly, "Beirut." [it's a Turkish restaurant with a Lebanese name] Our two Georgian favorites, which may have real names but are fondly referred to as "Bus Station Georgian/the one with dirty astroturf," and "The Other Georgian, the Nicer One, you know, the One with Wine" are in that area as well. We've had to physically restrain a founding member from entering the nearby Pamir Disco, but at least we'll know where to look first if she ever goes missing.
Zeytinburnu, home to Uzbeks, (already approved by ALDC), Uyghurs and other Turkic diaspora is another promising neighborhood. It's on the ALDC's August agenda. We've heard rumors the old Aksaray Turkmen Carpet Bazaar has moved out there as well, which adds extra incentive. Maybe we'll create a franchise: The Adventurous Ladies' Carpetshopping Club.
But Istanbul is so cosmopolitian, a bridge, it's been said, between east and west! Why is it so hard to find these restuarants?
Our response is "cosmopolitan doesn't mean what you think it means."
It doesn't, actually, mean "big, loud, dirty, overdeveloped, overtouristed with shitty infrastructure." In fact, when people describe Istanbul as cosmopolitan we assume they don't know much about Istanbul because it's just not. A cosmpolitan city encourages and embraces diverse inhabitants and cultures. Istanbul used to be very cosmopolitan, with many different nationalities and religions living together, but it isn't anymore and hasn't been for many years. If you don't know why, here's somewhere to start learning. Istanbul is an overwhelmingly Turkish city. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's hard to make a convincing argument otherwise. Its slim selection of non-Turkish food is just one example of a dominant culture that offers very little breathing space for others.
Our hope that one positive outcome of the terrible regional upheaval is that all the displaced people who settle in Istanbul do what immigrants everywhere have done: Resist the dominant culture, both its scorching prejudices and its sly temptations, to carve out a little bit of home. Adventurous Ladies' Dining Club is here to support them and eat their food.
Got a restaurant suggestion for ALDC? Tell us in the comments!
The views herein may, or may not, represent the views of all the members of ALDC. But they don't all have blogs so you'll never know for sure.