Kalkanoğlu Pilavcısı is a hidden little gem in the backstreets of Beyoğlu. It’s the perfect spot for a quick lunch if you are in the mood for a hearthy full plate. This place won’t nail you to your seat with a heavy meal but it will most likely knock out the snacks before dinner plan. Your body will need some time to take in the pilav cooked with and doused in butter, the salty kavurma and the rich and juicy beans.
Context: Being humble is important when talking about food, especially when comparing similar dishes across cultures. My only exception to this mantra is Turkish pilav. It is by far the most superior white rice dish in the world. Pilav is made of white rice, most commonly the Baldo variety. While recipes change from family to family noone would hang me if I were to say a good pilav is made this way: rice is soaked in water, rinsed, then stir fried until the ends are transparent in a rich dollop of butter; boiling water is added in one and a half times the volume of the rice, rice is cooked gently with the lid on for about 15 minutes and then let to be steamed with a towel on top, the fire off. Kalkanoğlu does this perfectly, perhaps with their own way, but surely with much more butter. So much so that there are little pools of butter at the bottom of the wide plate if the cook is feeling generous that day.
Pilav in Turkey is not a side in the Western or Far Eastern sense: separated in a hierarchy in the menu and put in a small bowl. But rather a dish that needs a buddy to shine. In Turkey pilav has many iterations, most commonly with chickpeas, sometimes with sweetcorn or shredded tomato. Yet pilav is most famously paired with white beans cooked until they are silky soft in a salça-based broth, called kuru fasulye, or kuru for short. Literally meaning “dry beans”, this dish is hearthy, needs to be packed with tomatoey umami and might cause a more bubbly bowel climate. Another nation-favorite rice chaperone is kavurma, braised beef or lamb.
What to order: Get the pilav with kavurma (braised beef) and kuru fasulye. You can omit any of the elements in the trio, but I stronlg recommend not missing the rice. It’s a heavy but quick meal, especially good for a Sunday afternoon as a hangover cure. Not very ideal for a work day lunch, not only because it could be packed, but also because you’ll fall asleep in the afternoon zoom call.
What to know:
A good pilav should be tender, oily and definitely not fluffy. Firm enough but not al dente like a risotto. The rice kernels should be independent enough but also make an easy heap on your spoon nd not glide off. The dish should be rich and flavorful. Good pilavs are made with chicken stock, though this is a rare occasion now, there should at least be a hint of industrial stock cubes.