We not only discovered our favorite breakfast dive in Istanbul at Karaköy Özsüt but a new friendship was made between us and Hasan who owns the place. And for that, Karaköy Özsüt will always have a special place in our hearts. The interior is unimpressive in this local dive and the fluorescent lights are dull. But, this is what it gives it soul and for their sake, we hope Karaköy Özsüt remains the perfect way it is.
We arrive in Istanbul the night before and the next morning maKe our way to this breakfast dive. Still trying to get acquainted with the streets and with a map hand, we look hard for Karaköy Özsüt. There is rain-- not hard but irritating enough to get wet with a travel foldable umbrella. Finally we find it-- it actually isn't difficult to locate it but getting used to the curved streets and remembering that not every city is build on a grid like Chicago is part of the fun.
In business since 1915, the dive is officially known as Karaköy Özsüt though the awning at the entrance says Hasan Fehmi Özsüt which reflects the current and third generation owner. Known as having one of the best kaymak [kai-mahk] in Istanbul, Karaköy Özsüt has its own herd of buffalos whose fresh milk is used to make kaymak (Turkish clotted cream) that makes up a huge part of a traditional Turkish breakfast. Hasan frequently drives his truck out to his ranch, 125km away from Istanbul, where he milks the buffalos and gathers the milk to produce kaymak. At one point in conversation, he whips out his cell phone and shows us a short video of his baby buffalo at the ranch.
The Turks eat a lot of bread. A basket of sliced bread is on the table for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. At breakfast, what else could be better with bread than kaymak? As part of the classic Turkish breakfast, a heaping of kaymak and honey are served together on a plate. The combined clotted cream and honey are smeared onto the bread and eaten together. The kaymak at Karaköy Özsüt put us right into a clotted cream high with its smoothness and creaminess. There is something about the Turkish clotted cream that despite its indication of "cream", it does not leave you feeling heavy and sluggish or like one of those feelings where you feel you've really had enough of NY cheesecake. Nope, none of that. In fact, after a breakfast full of kaymak, I dream of eating it again and again.
Another must-have classic Turkish breakfast item is menemen. This Turkish form of scrambled eggs is made with tomato, cheese, and spices. Sucuk [soo-jook], a spicy Turkish sausage, is a common favorite added to menemen so be sure to request for that. The menemen is flavorful while exploding with different combinations of spices which we could not tell what exactly they were except to just savor each spoonful of it.
Hasan makes the best lentil soup, ever. And he knows it. T and I see a man at the next table drinking a bowl of soup which sparks our curiosity because it looks, oh, so good. T asks Hasan what is that man having and yes, we would like a bowl of lentil soup too, please. We are hooked since and that inspires us on a quest to try lentil soup at every restaurant we visit in Istanbul. The result: none of the others can top Hasan's lentil soup. Hasan let us in how he makes this magical soup. Lentil beans, potatoes, green peppers, and butter are boiled together. On the side, buffalo cream, black olives, and red pepper are boiled together to create the "red oil". The "red oil" is drizzled over the lentil soup. Hasan also offered us a side plate of black olives in olive oil and oregano on the house.
Sipping çay [chai] is to be enjoyed all day in Turkey. The Turks drink çay all the time. The simple luxuries of life with excellent breakfast is how one should begin their day. When accompanied with great conversations, that is even better. Hasan speaks perfect English (his two other employees, however, only speak Turkish) and as it turns out, he studied at the University of Arizona in the 1980s. Upon learning T and I are from Chicago, he asks if we follow the Bulls. We have great conversations with Hasan on our first and second visit to Karaköy Özsüt that include his memories of the U.S., his ranch, how Kurdish food is different from Turkish (in his words, the Kurdish people use mainly flour and water as the base of their food and make miracles out of it), etc. On our second visit to Karaköy Özsüt (the morning before we returned to Chicago), Hasan said to us, Too bad you are leaving so soon. I would have brought you to see my ranch.
T and I will be back. You bet.
Yemişçi Hasan Sk. No: 9/11
As the name indicates, Karaköy Özsüt is located in the docks neighborhood of Karaköy which is part of the district of Beyoğlu. The restaurant is located at a small open space or "courtyard". Facing the restaurant, AKBANK is on the left. The Karaköy tram station is across the street towards the right. This is the same line that will take you to and back from Sultanahmet (Old City).