Anyone who’s ever walked through Istanbul’s Taksim Square and Istiklal shopping street after dark knows that the city only really comes into its culinary own at nightfall. Lights lower, people gather, and the number of street food stalls and carts suddenly quadruples.
The best part of the night is when the mussel traders appear, supplying their protein-rich wares to intoxicated night owls until late in the evening or – depending on your perspective – early in the morning. Mussels are to the Bosphorus what oysters are to Brittany or the Côte d’Azur.
Mussels are to the Bosphorus what oysters are to Brittany or the Côte d’Azur.
This mussel speciality is called Midye Dolma. It consists of a mussel stuffed with rice, spices and, of course, the mussel’s own meat, cooked and then sold cold with a squeeze of lemon to be eaten as a meze, or a street snack. This Istanbul icon was invented by Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. Today, the streets of Istanbul are full of traders with roots in the Anatolian province of Mardin.
The Kreuzberg barbecue restaurant Mardin is named after this province. So it’s probably no coincidence that Mardin is now also home to the city’s first midye bar.
Under the name ‘Midye 47’ (what the 47 refers to remains unclear even when asked – perhaps the postcode of the opposite side of the street in Neukölln?) hundreds of mussels are filled by hand every day, the meat enthroned like a jewel on a curved, mildly spicy morsel of rice. But because the Spree is not the Mediterranean and Kottbusser Brücke is not that of Galata, there is of course also a vegan alternative with Çigköfte appetisers for all those who don’t care for seafood.
The meat enthroned like a jewel on a curved, mildly spicy morsel of rice.
Restaurants, snack bars and stalls serving only one or two perfectly executed specialities – the case with Midye 47 – is a phenomenon that, until now, was more likely to be found on the culinary maps of Bangkok and New York, London or Beijing. It’s still rare in Berlin. The exceptions we’ve seen so far include the broiler institution Henne on Leuschnerdamm and kebab specialists such as Imren or Mustafa’s Gemüse Döner, who can afford to eschew schnitzel and pizza.
With the success of places like Chungking Noodles in Kreuzberg, Wen Cheng in Prenzlauer Berg and the many Neapolitan pizza parlours, the idea of doing without endless menus is slowing seeping into the city.
If you squint both eyes on late summer nights, Hermannplatz still doesn’t look like the Bosphorus – but it tastes like it, and that’s worth something too.
- Midye 47 Kottbusser Damm 36, Kreuzberg, open daily, 12:00-2:00