The Pudding Shop on Divan Yolu in Sultanahmet, officially known as the Lale Restaurant, is directly opposite the Byzantine Hippodrome—where it has been for half a century—and a convenient place for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
The Pudding Shop has all the virtues of a good Turkish restaurant: pleasant decor, experienced waiters, good food, and an open kitchen so you can see what’s cooking and easily choose what you’d like to eat.
The only problem with an open kitchen, in my opinion, is that it all looks so good you tend to “over-eat with your eyes“—or at least I do.
Not only that, but they have free Wifi wireless Internet access, good Tuborg lager on draft (fıçı birası), and quite delicious strawberry cheesecake.
So the Lale is convenient, and open for all three meals every day, and that might be enough for any normal Istanbul restaurant. But this is the Pudding Shop, the most famous restaurant on the entire Istanbul-to-Kathmandu Hippy Trail of the 1960s.
I was there. I arrived in Istanbul in 1968, when the Hippodrome was parked solid with Volkswagen microbuses heading east. The Pudding Shop was the most obvious place to grab a bite to eat, and its creamy sütlaç (milk-and-rice pudding) and other Turkish delights were tasty, filling and cheap. (Read all about Istanbul’s Hippie years in Turkey: Bright Sun, Strong Tea.)
The Pudding Shop soon became the social and communications center of the Hippy Trail, its bulletin board sprouting layers of leaves like a sycamore in spring.
The Lale’s owner likes to tell the story of one microbus driver who didn’t have enough seats for all the young people who wanted to share the ride to Kathmandu. He said “Here, take a chair from the restaurant. Drop it off on your way back through Istanbul.”
So you get a nice bit of history and the romance of the open road when you dine at the Lale Restaurant. But—even more important—you get good food well served at decent prices.
By the way, the same people that has owned the Lale since its establishment in 1958—the Çolpan family—owns the nearby Mavi Ev (Blue House) Hotel, with fabulous views of the Blue Mosque. (When you’re feeling flush, you should din at the Mavi Ev’s rooftop terrace restaurant with the illuminated Blue Mosque looming magnificently just across the street. That’s when there’s no mistaking that you’re in Istanbul!)
—by Tom Brosnahan