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Interview with Mehmet Karanfil, Subaşı Restaurant

Mehmet Karanfil doesn’t look his age, but he has worked at Subaşı Restaurant for 45 years! A passionate videographer in his free time, he’s one of the best locals to chat with to learn about someone who is been in this area for quite some time. We hope you enjoy our interview with Mehmet Karanfil.

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SoUL: Please tell us a bit about yourself?

MS: My name is Mehmet Karanfil. My ancestors are from Skopje and I was born in Aydın but I’ve lived in Istanbul for 48 years.

SoUL: We know you’ve been at Subaşı for quite some time. What was your profession before you joined Subaşı?

MS: I was in the yoghurt business before. I used to produce yoghurt and cheese. That’s how my childhood and adolescent years, really. Then I came to Subaşı to work at the age of 14 and since then I’ve been working here except for the break I took to do my military service. It’s been 45 years at this restaurant. I’m actually retired but I continue to work.

SoUL: Tell us a typical day at Subaşı?

MS: I come to work quite early, as I’m an early riser. I get here around 7:30 or 8:00am. I’m responsible for all deserts. So, I check the tastes and the textures of the deserts such as sütlaç (rice pudding), şekerpare (soft pastry in thick syrup) etc. Then we prepare the display. Before you know it, it’s 10am. That’s when I get my breakfast and I shave, I change my clothes and we start the service. As you know we get a lot of customers, so our day is quite hectic. And it’s like that until 5pm. That’s when we wrap.

SoUL: Who makes up your clientele here?

MS: I’d say it’s about half Turks and half tourists. Tourists make us happy as they eat more food and less bread. Which is good for our business. And Turkish cuisine is very different for visitors. So they like to sample more and end up eating more than a regular Turkish customer.

SoUL: Anything you’d recommend from your kitchen?

MS: You know we have a spinach puree, that we call bottle green. It’s extremely hard to make so a lot of other venues don’t get it right. We make a very nice one here. I highly recommend it. Also our Beğendili kebab (kebab with eggplant puree), kuzu islim (steamed lamb), and kuzu kapama (lamb stew) are really well done. An American magazine asked for its recipe and they published it. As you know our kitchen is famous in Turkey, we were awarded a few times for our food.

SoUL: You’ve been in the service business for 45 years. Tell us what makes a high quality service?

MS: I have a few simple rules: I take care of my customers. I smile and try to provide a good service. I give serve them tea or coffee after a meal. I never rush. But I never let an empty plate sit too long once my customer finished eating. I ask whether there is anything else they need. I chat with them. That’s about it.

SoUL: Tell us how you spend your personal time in this neighborhood?

MS: I love going to restaurants. I don’t work Sunday so I go out. I check other restaurants and see what they are doing. I check what other places like ours do. Compare the food, the prices. As you know Sultanahmet is popular and we have a köfte (meat balls) shop that I frequent. I like their köfte a lot.

SoUL: And how about outside of this neighborhood?

MS: I am a videographer. That’s my hobby. Since 1988 I shot films of my family. It’s a big archive. I also shoot about every town in the Aegean region: Kuşadası, Didim, Milas, Bodrum. I made a documentary of Subaşı. I have footage shot at the Spice Market, Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi and the whole street, our street here. I archived them all. I used to shoot with large Sony cameras; but nowadays my camera is much smaller.

SoUL: Which places are must see in Istanbul?

MS: I’d say Sultanahmet and the Spice Market are a must. Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi should be a stop to buy some Turkish coffee. Süleymaniye is a must. And of course, Subaşı is a must.

SoUL: What should they eat?

MS: Karnıyarık (eggplants filled with minced meat), iç pilav (a special rice with nuts, liver, currants and other spices). We have the famous tel kadayıf (Turkish desert). They should eat these and learn about them.

SoUL: What should they drink?

MS: Turkish coffee.

SoUL: What should they buy?

MS: A water pipe.

SoUL: Where else other than Istanbul is a good place to visit in Turkey?

MS: Fethiye is really nice. I recommend the Saklıkent Canyon. What an amazing place to go see.

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