When abroad, we have a bit of a habit of constantly returning to our favourite eateries. I think it’s safe to say that we first developed this habit in 2007, in Istanbul.
It was our first overseas trip ever, and we were traveling for only two weeks: two nights in London, four nights in Paris, two nights in Amsterdam, and then… eight nights in Istanbul. We were traveling greenhorns.
Our first two nights in Istanbul, we dined at fantastical rooftop restaurants with stunning views of Hagia Sophia… and while we throughly enjoyed these experiences, they were pricey. We knew we didn’t have to be eating like kings every night… or paying like kings, either.
And so, on our third night, we dined at the Lale Restaurant for the first time. AKA: “The Pudding Shop”.
It’s right there in the Sultanahmet District, just around the corner from Hagia Sophia. Because of this central location, tourists would frequently arrange to meet up there. They often couldn’t remember the name of the restaurant, but did remember the place sold a lot of puddings, so they just called it “the pudding shop” and the nickname stuck. Back in the 50s beatniks would meet at The Pudding Shop. In the 60s, hippies would meet at The Pudding Shop. It was THE place to meet. And as such, they even put up a bulletin board, which people would leave messages for each other… and probably also handy tips for obtaining drugs. I’ve never watched “Midnight Express”, but I’m sure a scene in that movie took place at The Pudding Shop.
So, because of this fame, we figured we’d try it out. We found it to be reasonably priced, really good food — just fantastic. I had eggplant and lentils with bulgher rice, and couldn’t get enough of it.
The next day, we returned. OF COURSE WE DID.
This time, we took note of their interesting choice of placemats. You know, most places will naturally use their placemats for self-promotion. That was probably their intention, too… but anyway they had two newspaper articles reprinted on their placemats, and we obviously read what was right in front of us. The weird thing is, these articles were all about how The ‘World Famous’ Pudding Shop has gone downhill since the 60s.
Well, that’s certainly not self-promotion, that’s for sure.
We suspect they may have posted those articles because of the words ‘world famous’, not knowing English well enough to realize those articles were somewhat negative.
I suppose if we had been at The Pudding Shop in its 1960s heyday and were now only returning in 2007, we too may have been disappointed.
BUT! We had never been there before. We really had zero expectations.
We found the food to be super-delicious, service friendly, and the rice pudding downright fantastic.
We’ve talked about it a lot, and I’m pretty sure that the next time we’re in Istanbul, you’ll find us heading directly back to The Pudding Shop once again.
Sooooo…. to sum it up, I totally recommend The Pudding Shop/Lale Restaurant. It’s a cafeteria-style restaurant, which works for me for a casual lunch and/or early dinner — you can point at what looks good to you, ask questions, etc. I feel like the reason the reviews on those placemats are less-than-flattering is simply because yeah, the place is “world famous” now and less personal. Also with the advent of the internet, and the decline of hippie culture, you won’t find counter-culture folks meeting up for jam sessions and leaving personal messages there anymore. It’s too bad… I get it… but yeah, times have changed… but the place still serves delicious food. I’d say The Pudding Shop is singlehandedly responsible for me thinking eggplant is actually delicious. Or can be, anyway.
We were there in 2007, so who knows what it’s like now. If you go and check it out, let me know!