Istanbul is a city where the restaurant scene changes at the thunderlight speed, while many new venues open every year and many are closed. Very few stay forever. Pandeli is one of those culinary “institutions” of the city that has been around for more than a hundred years. Pandeli was an Anatolian Greek who came to Istanbul at an early age to work as a porter around the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar in the old city. He first started as a street vendor and then opened a small eatery where he sold meatballs to the porters. His place soon started to attract journalists, writers and politicians including Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founding father of the Turkish Republic. After surviving through the hardships of two world wars and the 6-7 September pogrom of Istanbul targeting the non-Muslim communities of the city, Pandeli moved his restaurant to its current premises on the second floor of the Spice Bazaar.
Pandeli Restaurant has always been a tourist magnet and hosted many celebrities from Queen Elizabeth II and Audrey Hepburn to Sean Connery, Robert de Niro and Sarah Jessica Parker. Today, the third generation is still at the helm. After a brief social and economic crisis in 2016, it reopened its gates in 2018 with the support of new investors and continues to live as a testament to the traditional food culture of Istanbul, hosting visitors in an airy, museum-like dining hall covered up with amazing blue tiles.
Pandeli’s menu offers some of the all-time favorites of Istanbul dwellers. The restaurant’s döner kebab is exemplary, as they still cook it with charcoal fire. Make sure to try eggplant pie with a leaf of döner kebab on top; Kastamonu pastrami with keşkek wheat stew; Hünkar beğendi (Sultan’s delight, a typical lamb stew served on mashed roasted eggplant) or pilaf with Black Sea anchovies. The dessert selection here is also unmissable with classical fare like Kazandibi (caramelized bottom milk pudding of chicken breast) and Ayva tatlısı (oven-baked quinze in thick syrup with clotted buffalo cream).
Make sure to try eggplant pie with a leaf of dönerkebap on top.