At long last, authentic Turkish cuisine comes to town

  • 2004-02-19
  • By Elizabeth Celms
RIGA - TurkuRestorans (Turkish restaurant). It doesn't really get more direct than that. But in a city where half the bars are called "Alus bars" (beer bar) and the stores are named "Veikals" (store), this self-explanatory name comes as little surprise.

But unlike the previously mentioned establishments, Turku Restorans is the first and only one of its kind in Riga, so perhaps we can forgive the owners for their failure in creativity.
In traditional Turkish fashion, the windows are decorated with elaborate hookah water pipes, the walls are painted with geometric arabesque designs and the tables are draped with silk versions of Turkish carpets. Yet, the most authentic addition to the restaurant is a table of three men with distinctively Turkish brows. The men sit hunched over their coffee cups so that their heads nearly touch in shadowy conversation. When these men leave, they will most definitely take the Turkey from the restaurant.
After a few minutes of waiting, I was met by Olga, whose name couldn't be more at odds with her intricately designed Turkish vest, vibrant red shalwar pants and golden slippers. In my mind, she was definitely a Jasmine.
She led me downstairs into a fascinating 18th century brick wine cellar converted into a banquet hall. The brick cavern consisted of two private dining areas and an open sitting area that could easily be transformed into a dance floor. I was soon informed that this is exactly what happens every Friday and Saturday night around eight o'clock when belly dancers give an exotic and enchanting performance. Bedazzled guests can relax on pillows while smoking a variety of flavored hookahs for 5 lats (7.5 euros).
Looking over the photographs in the menu, I almost began to drool. Had I actually found authentic Turkish cuisine in Riga? Could it be possible? Yes, it was. Before my eyes was page after page of kebab, pirzola, guve, humus and gyro. Carried away by my own excitement, I decided to order the most expensive items on the menu. I chose the sarma dolma (rice wrapped in grape leaves) as an appetizer and the osmanli kebab (roasted lamb with vegetables and cheese) as a main course. Despite my splurge, the total was still less than 6 lats.
As I took my first bite into the garlic marinated roast lamb, it was like being reunited with a dear lost friend. I had finally found everything that my taste buds had been tragically denied when I tried to satisfy my desire for Turkish cuisine at kebab restaurants.
The aroma was as seductive as a Turkish man and the flavor as rich as a sultan. Nobody can create a kebab with as much gusto as a Turk himself. I was not surprised, therefore, to discover that the chef, Mehmet Ali Seker, is a Turk who moved to Latvia six years ago.
As I was slowly savoring each bite of my roasted lamb and vegetables, my dinner companion was ravishing down his doner kebab and fries. I begged for a bite and was more than relieved to discover there now exists a kebab sauce that actually meets the definition of "spicy," a term that has been shamefully misconstrued by Latvians.
Neither my guest nor I could finish our meals. He, because his plate was half the size of the table, and I, because there was enough flavor in one bite to linger on my tongue for days.
I could not leave Turku Restorans without giving my compliments to the chef. With traditional Turkish hospitality, he invited me to come back on a Friday or Saturday when there would be belly dancing and Turkish music. His invitation was in vain, however, because I had already decided my order (the humus platter as an appetizer followed by the beef pizola) for when I returned tomorrow and most likely the day after that.

Turku Restorans
4 Marstalu St., Riga
Open: 7 days Noon - Midnight