Poor Edmund. I’ve always felt sympathy with the child villain of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe who risks the horrible deaths of his friends and family all for the sake of one more chunk of Turkish Delight. We all have our weaknesses. But for millions who grew up with CS Lewis, the sweet is a powerful synonym for pleasure and punishment.
I had a similar feeling upon discovering Street 172’s own Turkish Delight: a corner-cafe on a street behind Wat Ounalom. The neon glow of a bar district didn’t bode well for my appetite. Nor the caterwauling live band a few doors down. But the lure of the kebab is strong.
There’s not much competition: it’s the only Turkish in town, and the places toting Middle Eastern fare can be counted on one hand. But the distinctive flavour is thanks mostly to the charismatic owner, Antonio. He’s one of an eclectic collection of restaurateurs who come from faraway kitchens to bring international home-cooking to the capital. He moved here from Turkey’s Turquoise Coast a few months ago, and soon spotted a gap in the market.
Don’t expect to be waited on.
As is common in Turkey, you order from a canteen-style counter, where falafel, babaganoush, hummus, and glistening rows of baklava are on display.
When we visited, the small staff meant that the food wasn’t immediately forthcoming, but the lavish decor provided ample distraction.
The place is an Aladdin’s cave. Multi-coloured glass lanterns hang over tables covered with Turkish carpets. The walls feature a nationalistic painting of a brawny Turk astride a stallion. It’s a bit camp, a bit gaudy and quite wonderful.
The same goes for the food. Plates of shawarma came dressed in an artful smattering of sour cream, and sprinkled with parsley. On the side was a generous helping of babaganoush, and sun-dried tomato. The quantity is staggering, but welcome.
There are few things in life more pleasing than a lamb kebab ($7).
This one had that meaty sweetness that lingers in the mouth. Two vegetable falafel balls were juicy and flavour-some ($6).
To finish, we ordered cups of Turkish coffee ($2) and baklava ($3).
Homemade blackcurrant ice cream served alongside the pastries was a misstep. The papery purple concoction bore little resemblance to any dairy product I have ever tasted. But the almond-dusted baklava was sticky sweet heaven, and the coffee as strong and aromatic as any I’ve tasted in the Middle East.
I went home with spice and sugar still on my lips – a distinctively Turkish delight.