FOOD MATTERS | Let’s talk Turkish

FOOD MATTERS | Let’s talk Turkish

FOOD MATTERS | Let’s talk Turkish

There are more than a thousand pizza joints in Seattle and literally hundreds of restaurants specializing in Italian food. But barely a dozen call themselves Turkish, and half of them are basically falafel stands in suburban malls.

Then there’s Bistro Turkuaz, squeezed into a shoebox of a space at 1114 34th Ave. in Madrona. Bistro because, well, the previous occupant was a French café, Bistro Mazaran.

There are still some traces of French décor here and there in the narrow dining room, prints and lithographs of Parisian street scenes, along with pieces of Turkish copper. Mostly, though, the atmosphere is the sunny calm reflected by golden-yellow walls, and the aromas of Turkish and German cuisine emanate from the kitchen.

German? Yes, German. Not unlike the migrations of Mexicans, Chinese and Japanese workers into the far corners of the United States, Germany has, for decades, welcomed Turkish citizens to its cities as “guest workers.” And just as, say, the taco or chop suey or sushi rolls have become “American,” so has the doner kebab become a staple in the streets of Berlin, Cologne and Munich.

In fact, the owner of Bistro Turkuaz, Ugur Oskay, spent nearly 30 years in Germany, in the country’s northern industrial heartland. Born in Istanbul, she arrived in the city of Münster at age 11, learned to cook from her Turkish grandmother and went on to study tourism. As a bilingual travel agent, she had a ready-made clientele and traveled widely throughout the Mediterranean. With her brother, she also opened Münster’s first Turkish restaurant.

Eventually, she married and followed her husband to Seattle, and here, she had the life-defining realization that she and her family could work like beavers for some unseen boss or jump into the restaurant business together as a family.

Oskay (she’s just as happy being called by her German name, Uschi) herself started in the kitchen of the little bistro, with her oldest daughter (now a geriatric nurse in Germany) as server. A younger daughter (recently married, back in Turkey) took her place. Two sons followed; the older now works for a tech company, and the youngest, Tayfun, 24, is at the stove. 


Familiar, yet authentic

Now, Turkish cooking is not as rigid as, say, French or as free-wheeling as Italian. And the tradition of formal restaurants is less codified. Turkey adapts. Appetizers, called mezze, are sold in sit-down cafés, as well as in open-air market stalls. The menu offers two sampler plates, but I recommend ordering a half-dozen or so dishes for the table. If there are four of you around the table, you won’t regret it.

Most Americans these days are familiar with baba ghanoush, the roasted eggplant dish enhanced with garlic and yogurt. And tabouli: crushed wheat with tomatoes and parsley. And, of course, hummus: mashed garbanzo beans. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Acuka (pronounced “ah-ZOO-kah”) is a smooth dish of roasted red peppers with walnuts, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. Saksua consists of lightly fried eggplant cubes covered with a yogurt and garlic sauce. The best-selling appetizer, though, is called mucver: zucchini-scallion pancakes with more yogurt-garlic sauce.

Lamb provides the most popular cuts of meat at Bistro Turkuaz: skewered kebabs, marinated chops, and a bone-in shank with tomatoes, onions, carrots and potatoes.

“It’s probably more German than Turkish,” Oskay admits, though it’s no less delicious for being of mixed heritage.

And, yes, there are also grilled patties and Turkish-style ravioli called manti, filled with ground meat. Plenty of mint is showered over everything.

The wines of Turkey — indeed, the wines of the entire Caucasus region — are, historians acknowledge, grown in the very birthplace of vitis vinifera (same latitude, roughly, as the Napa Valley). Shiraz is one name that seems to have survived the vine’s westward migration intact, but there are plenty of indigenous varieties and blends worth sampling. Emir produces whites similar to a California chardonnay, for example, and the red from Kalecik Karasi grapes starts out soft, like a pinot noir, but becomes more heady and tannic as it sits in the glass.

Bistro Turkuaz gets its Turkish wines from a local importer, VinoRai, whose founder, Olga Rai, enthuses, “Ugur’s menu is authentic and delightful. A true Mediterranean experience!” 

The clientele here is pretty much from the Madrona neighborhood: friends, casually dressed couples and a few families with children.

The musical backdrop for your dinner is eclectic. There’s a sort of Turkish assimilation of western harmonies, but also central Asian folk music, Greek bouzouki, even Ladino melodies from the Spanish diaspora at the end of the 15th century — a reminder, in other words, that hospitality transcends the boundaries of politics, even as it reinforces the traditions of a regional culture.


Moving on

Let’s venture up the hill along East Madison Street for a moment and peek in at the Kingfish Café (602 19th Ave. E.).

The owners, twin sisters Laurie and Leslie Coaston, surprised Seattle in January by announcing that the beacon of Southern soul food would close be the end of the month. The wails of woe were mitigated when they suggested they would most likely start another sort of venture: a half-dozen or so small, to-go venues around town (Pioneer Square being the first). Keeping fingers crossed.

RONALD HOLDEN blogs at His new book is “HOME GROWN SEATTLE: 101 True Tales of Local Food & Drink.” To comment on this column, write to