Istanbul Konak was easy to find once I walked down the stairs from ground level. The blue and white İznik-tiled wall at the end of the passage hinted at the exotic experience awaiting. On turning the corner from the entrance, I felt I was back in Cappadocia, in one of the underground catacombs. Once inside, I enjoyed spotting the different parts of Turkey represented in the decor: traditional Turkey (kilim, cushions and a low table), rural Turkey (stone wall), modern Turkey accented with various (non-Turkish) paintings, and mosques (arches and cupola dome). Istanbul Konak was established in 1999 as a small restaurant at a time when Kansai had few Turkish restaurants and was expanded in 2003.
As an aperitif before a Turkish meal, I always enjoy rakı, which Japanese often say tastes like medicine or toothpaste. This anis-flavoured spirit fascinates people by clouding when mixed with water. The opaqueness shows how pure the rakı is; the less opaque, more water used in the distilling process. Wanting more Japanese to enjoy rakı, owner/chef Riza Alkoc concocted a cocktail he named after the Mediterranean, Akdeniz, because its colour reminded him of the colours of the sea, especially when held up to the light. Akdeniz has a light, and slightly sweet and sour taste that prepares your taste buds for the awaiting feast.
A visit to a Turkish restaurant starts with the standard fare: cacık (yoghurt, cucumber and garlic dip), humus, baba ghanouj (eggplant dip), kebab and kofte meatballs. But trying the interesting dishes Alkoc offers give you a new perspective on Turkish cuisine. One surprise was the ravioli-like manti, which are stuffed with seasoned ground meat and topped with a garlic-yogurt sauce. Another was İstim Kebabı—eggplant wrapped around savory spiced meat and vegetables. Alkoc also recommends the Haydari yoghurt dip with garlic, and stuffed blue mussels. Not listed on the menu, which has English explanations, are the Specials of the Day: dolma (various stuffed vegetables), stews or casseroles that are guaranteed to warm you on a chilly day.
Turkish cuisine essentially uses salt as the main seasoning, and spices enhance the aroma. Despite certain ingredients being difficulty to obtain in Japan, Alkoc—who also runs the family restaurant business in Istanbul—and his Turkish cooks make every effort to serve authentic dishes by importing these ingredients direct from Turkey. He also grows spring onions, mint, parsley and other herbs for use in his dishes, because he finds the flavour is lacking when using commercially grown produce.
For dessert, I ordered mildly-sweet Kazandibi milk pudding, made with shredded chicken, and a Turkish coffee; the perfect end to a delicious meal that took me back to Turkey. Before you leave home, don’t forget to print the coupons available on the Japanese and English web pages. If you dine at Istanbul Konak on Friday and Saturday night, your experience will be enhanced by the oriental dance show featuring Tania Luiz.
And, for those who cannot come to Osaka to enjoy an evening in Turkey, Istanbul Konak delivers their dishes anywhere in Japan via their online delicatessen, Konak Deli 1. (All major credit cards accepted. Orders over 5,000 yen are delivered free.) Currently, the deli offers a taster special (e.g., chicken kebab, the chickpea stew, prawn and vegetable casserole, the chicken and vegetable casserole, and manti) with soup and rice or Turkish bread for 1,600-1,850 yen (free delivery). Also on special is a party set of nine dishes (3-4 people) for 3,980 yen with free delivery.
Address: B1F, Sankyo Yotsubashi Bldg. 1-11-1 Minami Horie, Nishi-ku, Osaka 550-0015
Access: Subway Yotsubashi Stn Exit #5
Lunch: Mon.-Fri. 11:30-15:00; Sat., Sun., Pub. Hol. 12:00-15:00
URL: http://www.istanbulkonak.com (Japanese & English)
Konak Deli I (Japanese only)
Text: George Bourdaniotis. Originally published in Kansai Scene #128, January 2011.