Ceyhan in Tokyo serves tasty Turkish dishes
Turkish food doesn’t always get the respect it should.
The traders that crossed each way along the Bosphorus Strait lent it influences ranging from Central Europe to China. Geographic diversity grants it Mediterranean and Aegean seafood, Middle Eastern livestock and crops grown from its fertile valleys.
Yet for many people — especially those who have been drinking past midnight in Europe or expatriate Asia — all of that culinary history has been collapsed down to the doner kebab, a calorie-filled dive into pita, cabbage and lamp-warmed meat.
I can’t be too hard on the doner, because anything with that much fat and salt ends up tasting pretty good after a few beers. But it doesn’t represent Turkish food any more than McDonald’s represents America’s best (at least it shouldn’t, in either case.)
I haven’t found much authentic Turkish cooking in the Tokyo region, but when I do, it’s worth coming back to. Enter Ceyhan (roughly pronounced Jay-han), a small Yokohama restaurant that hits on the familiar, but also offers some pleasant surprises.
The restaurant serves set lunches for about 900 yen (about $7.40), and they’re fine, but dinner is where you really get a sense of what the place can produce.
Lentil soup is a good start. There’s some pleasant heat, along with a citrus undertone here — perhaps sumac — that gives this comforting soup a lot of structure.
There are several mezze plates available to start, several of which go best with Ceyhan’s steaming, sesame seed-encrusted bread. To accompany it, I’d bypass the hummus and go for the more interesting spinach dip with garlic yogurt sauce.
Hellim, a salty and squeaky cheese that stays firm when grilled, will please fans of Wisconsin cheese curds. Dolmasi, or stuffed grape leaves, are very tasty, but they’re a costly 700 yen (about $5.70) for three.
Any of the mezze go well with raki, an anise-flavored clear liquor that turns white when you add water.
The main dishes include several Turkish riffs on pizza and meat-centric kebabs.
The Lahmacun is a thick layer of spicy tomato sauce, reminiscent of a Chicago-style pizza, on some decidedly not-Chicago-style flatbread. The spinach and cheese crepe is another good bet.
There are several kebab options, including chicken, beef or lamb shish kebab. The lamb comes as six tender chunks with a scoop of rice, some onion and tomato slices. The Iskender kebab, with smaller pieces of lamb in a tomato and yogurt sauce, is another winner.
If you eat meat but aren’t in the mood for kebab, try the guvec, a country stew with lots of vegetables and some meat. It’s the sort of dish you imagine a grandmother making for the family on a cold night.
For the doner faithful, yes, there is a chicken version on the menu. I haven’t tried it, but I’ll bet it’s a lot better quality than the fast-food version.
Ceyhan has four tables and a counter; walk-ins are probably fine early or on a weekday, but reservations are recommended, particularly on weekends.
Location: 2-70, Ishikawacho, Naka-ku, Yokohama-shi, 231-0868. From Ishikawacho Station on the Negishi Line, walk out the back entrance and turn right. Ceyhan is a few minutes up the road on the right. Hours: Lunch 12-2:30 p.m., dinner: 5-11 p.m.
Prices: Dinner appetizers from 600-1,000 yen; entrees average about 1,500 yen. Course menu 3,000-4,000 yen.
Information: 045-633-9566; http://r.gnavi.co.jp/ge2t000/lang/en
WEB HED: Ceyhan in Tokyo hits on familiar Turkish dishes but also offers some pleasant surprises
Photo: The lamb shish kebab at Ceyhan, a Turkish restaurant in Yokohama, Japan. Erik Slavin/Stars and Stripes