ANKARA: The Turks have a special aficionado for soups and there is a select number that are quite unique and part of a constant repertoire at any soup kitchen, which are cornerstone eateries for Turks at all hours of the day. A recent survey conducted by Slingo of the top cities that operate 24/7 placed Istanbul 11th in the world for having the most going on in the wee hours of the night. Nearly making the top ten of a list, which led with the cities London, New York and Chicago, Istanbul is indeed the liveliest city in the country when it comes to after-hours. Still, the lesser-known truth is that many cities, towns and certainly summer resort destinations also continue to have a pulse well after the clock strikes midnight. This is because once all of the cafes and clubs have closed, there is always one type of venue that remains open throughout the country: Soup restaurants.
Don’t get me wrong, while the soup is certainly popular to cure that late-night craving, whether it be summer, fall, winter or spring; soup is also consumed for breakfast, lunch and occasionally even as a starter for dinner. While Turkish cuisine has a wide range of soup variations, spanning from cold yogurt-based garbanzo soups in the summer to tarhana, lentils, chicken soup and a variety of stewed offal soups, there are roughly a half-dozen steadfast soups that are available nearly 24 hours at ubiquitous “Çorbacı” restaurants.
What you’ll get at the table
Çorbacı restaurants are simple but comfortable and usually have ample seating with wide tables adorned with the obligatory spices of red pepper flakes and usually a bowl of fresh pickled green peppers. There will be baskets of Turkey’s signature fresh-baked and sliced white loaf of bread, and in most cases, bottles of water will be brought to the table as an immediately available option. Çorbacı restaurants are pretty much exclusively non-alcoholic, but they have a wide range of beverages available, including the yogurt drink Ayran and şalgam, which is fermented turnip juice. The service is fast and slick and most Turks will not even need a menu as everyone has their own particular favorite flavor-craving, which these soup vendors cater to.
What kind of soups are served…
One might be surprised that among the array of soups on offer, from offal to chicken soup, the most popular variety is the lentil soup and sometimes there are even two different kinds.
“Mercimek Çorbası” is a classic plain blended creamy-Esque simple soup of lentils served with a dollop of sizzling butter.
“Ezogelin,” on the other hand, is a lentil soup prepared with tomatoes, onions, rice and Turkish spices. Both soups are entirely vegetarian and, in most cases, even vegan; however, sometimes butter is included in both the base and as a topping.
“Tavuk Suyu” is Turkish for chicken soup and it is served up plain and simple as a broth, but sometimes there may be vermicelli in the base, which is “Tel Şehriye” in Turkish and of course, the soup is also adorned with a drizzle of sizzling butter and chili flakes.
“Kelle Paça” is the most impressive, while “Ayak Paça” might be more daunting. Kelle Paça consists of a sheep or goat’s head stew, while Ayak Paça is a stew made from sheep or goat’s feet, which in English could be referred to as Trotter soup. In either case, these soups are laden with shredded meat and occasionally chickpeas as part of the base. These more stew-like soups can come with tomato and onion-based thinner broth or a “Terbiye,” an egg-lemon Avgolemono sauce used to thicken the meat broth, which results in a creamier consistency. With either soup, a bowl of garlic juice made from chopped garlic, lemon, vinegar and oil is brought to the table and added by a spoonful to the soup as a flavoring.
Işkembe is Turkey’s beloved variation of Tripe Soup and is served up surprisingly creamy due to the incorporation of the egg-yolk and lemon thickening sauce. “Tuzlama” is another Turkish variation on tripe soup, but in this case, larger pieces of the intestine are served in the soup. “Damar,” which means vein in English, is another Turkish tripe soup variation, but in this case, the veiny section of the tripe is used, making it one of the most appreciated offal soups out there.
Other late-night healthy delights
While soup will always take center stage, in soup restaurants in Turkey, you may also have the option of ordering a plate of traditional tomato-stewed beans referred to as “Kuru Fasulye” or the chickpea variations, simply referred to as “Nohut.” These two classic Turkish comfort dishes are usually served with butter white rice.
It’s a wrap!
If you’re lucky, you may even get to order a lavash wrap, referred to as “Dürüm” in Turkish cuisine also. It consists of a lavash stuffed with sauteed and cubed meat wrapped into a warm flatbread with onions and tomatoes.
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