Çiya: The Laboratory of Anatolian Cuisines
Çiya, starting off in 1987 as a kebab restaurant in Kadıköy, went on to fuse various ethnic cuisines of Anatolia, chiefly the cuisines of Eastern and Southeastern Anatolia. Now its menus have been nicked, its personnel is secreetly offfered to be transferred to its copies opening almost everyday.
The secret of Çiya is embedded in the skill of the owner of Çiya Sofrası and
Çiya Kebab, Musa Dağdeviren who devoted his life and inspiration to food and
its tales. Anatolia is ready to pour its heart out, because it's been there
for thousands of years...
If you're asking about that herb, it grows at the intersection of fresh and salty water, it comes from Antakya Samandağ. This one here is a wild herb from the regions of Muş, Van and Bitlis and is cooked with curdled yogurt. Mahammara is made by crumbling a type of simit (ring-shaped pastry covered with sesame) that's been baked seven or eight hours in the oven and added to a mixture of olive oil and spices. Different versions are cooked in various places, but the main purpose is to make use of leftover bread. Moving on, here's an appetizer produced by coarsely grounded wheat and goat yogurt; if you dilute it, it becomes ayran (a cold drink made with yogurt and water) soup.
Now we're telling you all about this, but see if you can find the same when you go to Çiya Sofrası in Kadıköy for Çiya presents fifty different varieties to its customers every day including soups, all kinds of rice (pilav), desserts and so on. Generally, people demand the meal that they had tried and savored before, taste a new one and leave having relished that one as well.
Musa Dağdeviren is Çiya's owner, source of inspiration, chef and public relations director who provides information about the food to whoever wishes... He describes the way the food is cooked in different localities, the fine details of the ingredients and the legends of the region so exquisitely that the food on your plate is magnified, with its meaning modified to something else; you can barely bring yourself to eat it. Actually, Çiya is a laboratory and he is a professor of food. The foundations of his knowledge rest on his childhood in Antep, Nizip.
Dağdeviren accounts for the roots of this interest in his joy of spending time with his mother and her female friends. He always viewed the food on his plate with curiosity, always asked loads of questions about it. As he grew up, spent time in different areas of Eastern and Southeastern Anatolia and had to drop by Istanbul in 1979, where "he would not come for the whole world", he found himself running after restaurants and markets in each new city and learning new recipes in friends' houses. His mother's side of the family, being bakers and his work at the bakery-cum-restaurant of his uncle in Çağlayan, were the first steps into professionalism. On a few occasions, at the "other" restaurants he worked, there were times when he witnessed the use of poor ingredients or a dish not prepared according to rule and then he warned his bosses. No, nobody ever showed him the door, he somehow always had himself accepted.
First, in 1987, with his wife, he opened "Çiya Kebab" which is ten meters down the street where Çiya Sofrası now is. Don't underestimate the kebab, in Çiya Kebab, operating today across Çiya Sofrası, where more than a hundred types of kebab can be found. In order not to let down that single person who does not eat meat as his friends wrap and gobble up lahmacuns (a kind of thin-crust pizza baked with mince, onions and tomatoes) one by one, so that he can enjoy the delights of lahmacun together with the rest, Mr Musa was the first to invent the "vegetarian lahmacun". There are also kebabs without meat, for those who are interested.
In 1988, having elicited much more attention than expected, Çiya became too big and "Çiya Sofrası" was opened. At the moment, Çiya is a place where "secret agents" turn up to take "inspiration" with the thought of investing in this business on their minds, where menus are nicked and chefs are secretly offered money to defect. There were even those offering "transfers" to Mr Musa who did not look at all like a "boss" because he mingles around a lot and chats with everyone. According to him, imitating Çiya requires courage. "Who is to go and bring grape leaves from Tokat and a certain eggplant from Nizip, marinade white cabbage with unripe grapes for a single dish, boil ayran to make "kurut"...Some of these are dishes even forgotten in their own locality. When I go shopping in the market in different cities, they see that I know those herbs better than the person who sells them. Let them heat their pide's (a type of flat bread) in the microwave, put cream and stuff in here and there, concoct coriander rice (pilav) or this and that..."
At times, Mr Musa also plays with recipes, but this is out of necessity. For example, there is no point in feeding people who live in the city, go everywhere by car and almost don't move at all with kidney fat. What truly fascinate him are the dishes created out of scarcity. He talks about dishes that are made from tree roots, desserts from cheese, eggplant dishes cooked with lentils when there's no meat and pots that simmer simply with bone marrow. As a life philosophy, this bewilders him. What most vexes him is when people attack food with greed, with the habits in the open buffets of fast food restaurants, to fill their plates with olive oil stuffing below and thousands of salads above to bury them in, to insist on unlikely combinations like two different eggplant dishes.
"If they ask me, I would explain for hours, but we can't grow out of our habits. Rice is not necessarily eaten with kebab; tomatoes are not to be on the table every season. This is partially because in the Muslim culture, there is no culture of eating at a restaurant or managing one. Of course this also has to do with the consuming habits and the feeling of alienation of our age."
In the restaurant there is nothing untouched by Mr Musa, but at the back works a monstrous army divided into casserole people, mumbar (a type of appetizer) people, salad people, etc. Just like the dishes and the ingredients from all over Anatolia, the "hometowns" of waiters and kitchen staff working at both Çiyas is a mosaic of its own. Although the concentration is on the East, the Southeast, in part the Meditteranean and in part the Blacksea (Armenian, Syriac, Kurdish and Circasian cuisines are included), the chefs coming all the way from the bosom of the Aegean add their own color to the steam of the simmering pots. The activity in the kitchen starts at six in the morning, and until twelve all fifty varieties are almost done. The clientele of Çiya are mostly urban people interested in dining and new tastes. One day an 85-year-old lady broke-down weeping and saying, "this is the dish of my grandmother". A 70-year-old veteran remembered a meal he last had when he was five. Such are unforgettable events that brighten up the heart of Mr Musa.
Among his prospective projects is a food culture magazine to go out twice or quarterly every year and opening a small shop to sell their ingredients for the purpose of enlightening the consumer. He already has a book file under hand where he has put together all his recipes, but he finds a magazine more meaningful.
"Çiya" means mountain in Kurdish, in Persian it is a love flower cited in the ruba' iyat of Omar Khayyam. In the Laz (Black Sea culture) language, it means the spark emitted by the cherry tree when it burns, and in an American Indian language it means, elixir. We could not wangle a recipe from Mr Musa who believes that no dish can be cooked with a written recipe; to grasp what we mean and to discover what "Çiya" means in the language of your taste buds, you have to step in through that door.
Güneşlibahçe Sokak, 44 Kadıköy
Tel: (216) 418 51 13
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