Having gone to Istanbul a few years ago, I was pleasantly surprised by my experiences there. Sadly I didn’t actually want to go there, but was coerced by my wife. What resulted was a new found appreciation of Turkey as a center of Islamic history, culture, arts, and of course, cuisine. I stayed in Istanbul, saw the Topkapi Museum, Hagia Sofia, and the Blue Mosque, but what really stood out to me was the pride, love, and respect I saw as a general part of the Turkish culture. This was encompassed in many things, most strikingly the Jummah Prayer at the Blue Mosque. I recall the serenity upon entering the Blue Mosque, the impeccably clean and plush carpets, perfectly proportioned calligraphy, and overall vibe that permeated this place and this time. Then through the crowds I see two security personnel wading through the crowd wearing black suits, sunglasses and ear pieces; they are escorting the Imam to the front. It really was a sight to behold, the impeccably dressed imam with his neat and crisp white turban around the traditional Turkish red kufi, and intricately embroidered overcoat (jubbah) walked towards the minbar. As he approached closer he paused. I could see him supplicating before putting his right foot forth to ascend to the first step. This process continued for many more steps as the imam treated each step as a blessed act. It really made me reflect on the Islamic culture of Turkey and the deep rooted respect, and veneration it has within it. It seems like every detail was considered on that day from the Imam’s clothing, to his ascension on the minbar, to even the condition of the carpets. Much like many of us consider when planning a wedding or any other event that is important to us.
Just an aside, I always like to recall my experience in Istanbul because under the surface I feel like I learnt a lot from it and benefitted from it just through observing the fine details this beautiful culture has infused within it.
I also learnt a lot about Turkish food, which is a brilliant and diverse mix of flavours and textures. I had some previous experience with Turkish food here in Toronto prior, but when I came back from my trip I approached things with a little more focus. I had tried the standard Iskander Kebab, Adana Kebabs, and other fare before. But I found new interest in the popular “Turkish Pizza” called Pide. Luckily upon my return to Toronto I was happy to discover that Pide was gaining traction in the city because of the general appeal, a mixture of oven baked flat bread, cheese, and a multitude of toppings has on people of all backgrounds.
Briefly, the Pide is a long flat bread turned up on the sides that resembles the shape of an oval with more pointed ends. Its center is filled with any variety of cheeses, beef, lamb, chicken, vegetables, or sausage. Some even have variations of eggs as a topping. Most Pide come accompanied by some fresh cut lemon, onion, and tomatoes, or a salad depending on the restaurant and type of Pide.
Of the five Pide serving restaurants I have tested in the GTA, I would have to say my personal best has been at a place called Sofra Istanbul. Unlike other restaurants in the GTA that serve just Pide as their focus, Sofra Istanbul offers a full assortments of Turkish fare, which by logic may make one question their focus and expertise with the Pide. But for me, the texture of the dough (very thin and light), the variety of flavours and the quality of the overall experience puts it on the top of my list so far. In an ideal world they would be using a wood burning oven, but for practical reasons their work with a conventional baking oven has been impressive. They serve eight varieties of Pide, but my personal favourites here are the Turkish Sausage and Cheese, and the Konya which is a tangy mixture of feta cheese with beef. The Pide itself will come served sliced into about 6-8 pieces and should be more than enough for one person to be full with. Add some of their exceptional hummus mixed with tahina and red pepper flakes, and you will be well on your way. Sofra serves their traditional Turkish tea at end of meals that are dine-in so make sure you stay and have some to help “digest” your meal. The restaurant has a small and very casual dining area and is exceptionally clean in my experience. Service is prompt and my numerous questions were handled well. So they have patience . It’s a little more expensive than other establishments I am comparing to and an average Pide meal with drink and tip will cost you in the $18 dollar range. Well worth it though.
Sofra Istanbul is located at 3330 Steeles Avenue West. Just where Highway 400 meets Steeles on the boarder of Vaughan and North York.
You can find more info on Sofra Istanbul Restaurant here.
Disclaimer: I cannot vouch for the halal authenticity of the restaurants I review. I encourage you to verify the details according to your preferences.