Istanbul Cafe

Words and Images by Pelin Keskin

I walk in and at least five Turkish women analyse my appearance. They know I'm Turkish. I know they're Turkish. We are involuntarily partaking in the Patriarchal Games that our uglier Turkish brothers will never have to volunteer as tribute. I'm in the right place.

Istanbul Cafe is a fairly new spot that has graced midtown Toronto. The 6ix has always repped the Middle East quite hard in its suburb plazas but finding good enough places midtown or downtown has been harder (not counting Iranians, who are everywhere).

The cafe is a fifteen minute walk away from my place so I head on over with my laptop in hand on a Sunday and with hope in my heart, I sit down. The décor inside is unapologetically Turkish - with rugs and lamps and corny etsy prints of the different neighbourhoods of Istanbul hanging on the walls. The owner, a Turkish woman with beautiful dark curly hair, whizzes around ensuring everything is in order.

When I head over to order my coffee and food I scope out the selection and get really, really excited. I moved away from my hometown of London - a city where Turkish food is readily available and good. Worse yet, I moved away from my mother’s cooking. The last time I had sarma was a year ago and my mother made it so when I ordered a portion of that, revani and turkish coffee the standards were set high. Luckily I was not disappointed. The sarma definitely had not come out of a tin. The revani, with it’s fluffy texture was so moist that it duped anyone looking at it into thinking it was just another boring sponge cake.

The Turkish coffee was average but I expect that when it isn’t prepared by anyone Turkish in their home kitchen, so the beautiful way it is presented was enough to make me feel like the owner had tried very hard to give an authentic experience (glass of water with the coffee and a piece of Turkish delight to wash away your palate after you are done).

Some last notes - the WiFi was strong, I found a table well enough and I tried the börek on my second visit and it was amazing. I’m pretty certain they have someone preparing all of the food by hand so a big shout out to them.

Oh, and they played a lot of Sezen Aksu so it's safe to say it's become one of my favourite places in Toronto.