And Reflections on Ciya Sofrasi, Istanbul

The other night, I did not make toast at 3am. That would be bonkers.

No, I sliced 2 pieces of Turkish bread, covered them in butter and pan fried them, in the still of the night, VH1 playing in the background. I hadn’t eaten a proper meal in three days – bananas, a meal replacement shake, water, strawberries. Not the start of some odd but hopeful diet, but the wreck of feeling horribly under the weather. Very unlike me *not* to eat.

But when I did eat, picking up the hot, crisp bread from the pan with my fingers, licking off the salty butter and devouring the way-too-late-to-be-good feast, standing up in my blue fleecy gown, I felt great. Butter and bread really does make the world go around – Ms Julia, you were right.

I have been thinking a lot about Istanbul recently and our visit there in June. A week before last we went to a local Turkish restaurant with a visiting cousin, it’s a restaurant that has been in Cape Town for well over 30 years and a firm family favourite. It reminds me a lot of one of my most special eating places in Istanbul- Ciya Sofrasi, a twenty minute ferry ride from to the Asian side.

There is none of the glory of elaborate mosques, gold emblazoned shop fronts and throngs of people on this side, but if not for the views of the mainland while on the ferry then go for a taste of authentic dishes from around Turkey. I would not rate it high on service, but we had a lovely conversation with the manager and were rewarded handsomely in smiles by the chef as we asked for a tray of small plates to be filled with as many of the mains of the day as possible.


At the local Turkish spot in Cape Town, we were stunned to find one unassuming dish wow all of us, and even more so that it was a vegetarian number. Note, I was in the company of three carnivores.

This is my interpretation of the layered onion, courgette and tomato dish. It has earthy toasted cumin seeds, musky cardamom, saffron and a hint of paprika. Their’s included heavenly sliced, fried potatoes. And right there is a perfect variation for you to make this dish much more indulgent.

Afiyet olsun! (which is Turkish for Bon Appetit!)

With a vendor at Kadıköy Market, Asian Side Istanbul – he sold best cerignola style olives


For the tomato sauce

8 large tomatoes, skinned  * place in boiling water, score and remove skins when cool*

1/2 medium onion, diced

2 bay leaves

1 T olive oil

6-7 strands saffron

3/4 t sugar

salt to taste

For the courgettes

10 small courgettes (and patty pans, mixed), sliced in disks

2 T Olive oil

1 T butter

3 cardamom pods, crushed

1/2 t paprika

salt, to taste

For the caramelised onions

2 large onions, cut in half and sliced thinly

1 t cumin seeds

2-3 T sugar (depending on preference)

salt, to taste

1 x 440 g can Butter beans, rinsed, drained and lightly salted

4 T butter



Once the skins are removed, chop the tomatoes into roughly 2 cm cubes.

Heat oil on medium in saucepan, add onions and bay leaves and fry, stirring onions occasionally until they are soft and translucent.

Add tomatoes and cook for 6-7 minutes, stirring.

Add sugar, saffron and salt and cook until the tomatoes break down and a thick sauce forms. Use a wooden spoon to help to smash and flatten them.

Adjust seasoning as needed.

In a non-stick saucepan, add oil  and butter on medium heat. When butter starts to melt and sizzle add courgettes and cardamom. Stir and add paprika salt,  mixing well to coat.

Lower heat and cook until they soften  – 4-5 minutes and set aside.

In same non stick sauce pan (wipe down), add oil and fry onions on medium heat. Keep stirring.

After 2-3 minutes, add cumin seeds and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring.

Add sugar and salt and cook until sugar has dissolved and onions start to brown. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius and grease 4 small cocottes or a one suitably sized oven proof dish.

Add layer of onions to bottom, followed by courgette, beans and tomato sauce. Repeat and end with a tablespoon of butter for each cocotte and tomato sauce at top.

Bake with lids on or covered with foil and a little gash in the centre for 20 minutes, leave in oven until ready to serve.

Serve hot as is or with flat breads and a minty yoghurt salad.

Some images from Istanbul

Jelle enjoying the ferry ride to Asian side, Istanbul


Views of the European side from the ferry, Istanbul


Vegetables at the Market, Asian side


Exploring the Market

Discovering the local honey in Istanbul – yum, in a word


Ciya Sofrasi

Guneslibahce Sokak 43 | Kadikoy, Istanbul, Turkey
(216) 330 31 90
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