I ate my first lahmacun in Kadıköy in January of 2014. It was one of my first days studying abroad in Turkey, and along with a few of my classmates, we somehow managed to tell the servers using zero Turkish words that we wanted to order the lahmacun "combo" meal, which included 2 lahmacun, 1 plastic cup of ayran, and a tiny clear box of wilted salad and a lemon wedge- all for 4 Turkish lira (~$2). Together we all sat in our hotel, eating our lahmacun out of paper wrappings and plastic bags. I thought it was one of the best things I had ever eaten.
After spending more time in Turkey, I came to realize that that "amazing" lahmacun was actually not so amazing (although I still look back fondly on those first few days in Turkey). I've eaten more than my fair share of lahmacun, so I am writing this post to help out anyone who might not be as lucky as I was to be able to spend multiple years in Istanbul in search of the best one. Before beginning my own search, I read multiple news articles and blog posts on the topic (from both Turkish and international sources), and tracked down the top places to see if they really lived up to their standards. Many people have named Borsam and Halil (both in Kadiköy) as the best, but after trying them both, I was not as impressed as I was by the places I have included below:
In the end, I was able to come up with what I believe are the best lahmacun in Istanbul. And while I highly recommend trying to get your hands on these ones, if you end up eating a weird lahmacun combo meal from a somewhat sketchy source, I am definitely not in a position to judge!
If you want to eat lahmacun as your main course...
Çiya in Kadıköy is hands down my personal favorite. In fact, it served as a benchmark during my entire year of trying to find the best lahmacun; almost every time I tried a new lahmacun place, I would ask myself "is this better than Çiya?" and the answer was always no. I tried to fight against it at first because I know this restaurant is already famous, but there is very good reason for that. I believe they do everything right here: a perfect ratio of dough to meat mixture, a fresh, crispy crust that retains chewiness, plenty of fresh parsley and lemon, with deliciously creamy homemade ayran to drink it all down with.
Suggested order: 2 spicy lahmacun (acılı lahmacun) with a glass of homemade ayran (açık ayran)
If you want to enjoy lahmacun as an appetizer along with mezes, rakı, and kebabs...
Şanda Tiryaki in Arnavutköy is the place to go. Their miniature lahmacun (aka fındık lahmacun) come as an appetizer, but you'll be wishing you could eat them as a meal on their own. I think the secret to their lahmacun is actually in their kebabs. This place has some of the finest quality kebabs in the city, and that same meat is used in their lahmacun. The second you bite into it, you can taste a difference. They also use a lot of fresh vegetables in the lahmacun (as opposed to being heavy on the tomato/pepper paste), which gives the lahmacun a lighter flavor. Another important factor is that the lahmacun come to the tabling piping hot. When it comes to lahmacun, the faster the service, the better. Even lahmacun that has been sitting on a plate waiting to be delivered for as little as a minute or two begins to quickly cool down. On another note, make sure you leave room for dessert while you are here- the katmer is actually to die for.
Suggested order: everything on the menu (mezes, lahmacun, kebabs, dessert- just go for it and enjoy your unobstructed Bosphorus view from the deck- you only live once anyway)
If you're interested in a slightly healthier version (nutrition is my profession after all)...
Köşebaşı offers a whole wheat lahmacun!!! And I am not just including them on here for the fact that they have whole wheat dough. Köşebaşı is a famous high-end kebab chain that has a reputation for high quality food, and they have multiple locations around Istanbul (and the world). I love that they offer whole wheat lahmacun as a healthier option, and the nutty flavor of the whole grains just makes the whole thing taste even better.
If you're vegetarian or vegan but don't want to miss out on lahmacun...
Datlı Maya has vegetarian and vegan lahmacun that are so delicious. Rather than using meat substitutes, they have come up with ingenious vegetable combinations (like beet and Jerusalem artichoke puree) to create an exciting new plays on lahmacun. Even if you eat meat, I would suggest trying these out some time!
Below are just a few pictures of the many lahmacun I ate to find the best one (from left to right: Nakkaş Kebabı, Borsam, my first ever lahmacun with weird salad on top, Çiya (the winner, although not the best photo) with a side of içli köfte.
Dough + filling recipes make enough for 8, 6-inch lahmacun
With this recipe, you have a lot of options. The first choice you should make is whether you want to make homemade dough, or use pre-made yufka (thin sheets of dough that can be found at any middle eastern grocery store). Both options are delicious, but the final products come out slightly different. For a very thin and crispy crust, yufka is a better option; for a slightly thicker crust, use homemade dough. Of course restaurants use homemade dough (not yufka) to make lahmacun, but they roll it extremely thin and bake the lahmacun in an scorching hot brick oven, which many home cooks do not have access to. I prefer the yufka version at home because I can never get my homemade dough as thin as the restaurants. I've included pictures of what mine came out like using these different methods. The next choice you will make is what to include in your meat "filling". Use my recipe as a guide, but feel free to make any changes to suit your tastes. For example: use fresh peppers rather than pepper paste, add in some different spices, change the % fat in the meat you use, etc.
Step 1: Prepare your dough base
To make homemade lahmacun dough:
1 package instant yeast (8 grams)
1 cup warm water (240 mL)
1 teaspoon sugar (5 grams)
1/2 cup masa harina (corn flour) (78 grams) I like the extra flavor that this adds, but feel free to sub with whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour (155 grams)
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon whole wheat flour (90 grams)
2 tablespoons olive oil (30 grams)
1/2 teaspoon salt (5 grams)
- In a large bowl, combine yeast, warm water, and sugar. Let sit for about 5 minutes until the yeast blooms.
- In another bowl, mix together all flours (corn, AP, wheat).
- Add olive oil and salt to yeast mixture.
- Slowly incorporate flour mixture into yeast mixture.
- Knead dough for about 2 minutes, using additional flour as needed to keep it from getting too sticky. Try not to add too much flour to avoid drying out the dough.
- Allow ball of dough to rest in oiled bowl for about 1 hour. It should at least double in size.
- Punch down the dough with floured hands, and split into 8 equally sized balls (~70 grams each).
- Use a rolling pin to roll the dough into thin, round circles (~2-3 mm thick)
To use yufka:
2 packages yufka (1 kg)
1-2 tablespoons olive oil (15-30 grams)
- Since one sheet of yufka is too thin to make lahmacun, we will be connecting 2-3 sheets together with some oil.
- Lay out your first sheet of yufka on a large, clean surface. Brush it with olive oil and sprinkle some water on it, then lay your second sheet of yufka directly on top of that one. Using kitchen scissors, cut out circles in the size of lahmacun you would like to make. To make miniature lahmacun, you can use a cookie cutter!
Step 2: Prepare your filling
1 medium white onion (~225 grams)
1/4 cup fresh or canned tomatoes, pureed (125 grams)
1 handful of parsley (25 grams)
2 tablespoons sweet red pepper paste (30 grams)
1/2 tablespoon red pepper flakes (4 grams)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (1 grams)
1/4 teaspoon salt (2 grams)
1/2 pound ground beef, 92% lean (225 grams) *Variations: add in a 2-inch piece of spicy Turkish sucuk, use lamb, etc.
- In a food processor, finely chop the onion.
- Add in the tomatoes, parsley, red pepper paste, red pepper flakes, ground black pepper, and salt. Pulse the food processor to thoroughly combine everything into a uniform mixture (not totally pureed, but it should not have large chunks either (see picture). If you're using sucuk, you should actually add this into the food processor too and let it be finely chopped into the mixture (do not put the ground beef in the food processor!)
- In a large bowl, use your hands to knead the vegetable mixture with the ground beef.
Step 3: Put it together, bake, and serve!
Dough base (either homemade or yufka)
2-3 lemons, cut into wedges
- With a pizza stone inside your oven and the rack positioned in the middle, preheat your oven to its highest temperature- 500-550 degrees F.
- Transfer either your rolled out homemade dough or your cut yufka round onto a piece of lightly oiled aluminum foil.
- Using a spoon, spread the uncooked meat and vegetable mixture in a thin layer onto the dough, going all the way to the edges (do not leave a crust like you would in pizza).
- Transfer the piece of aluminum foil with 1-2 lahmacun into the oven directly onto the hot pizza stone.
- Allow lahmacun to cook for ~4-5 minutes, or until the edges of the dough are crispy and the meat is fully cooked.
- Remove from oven and repeat with remaining lahmacun.
- Serve hot with plenty of fresh lemon, parsley, and a big glass of ayran.