August 4, 2020- Continuing our series on Zagreb’s international food offer and the stories behind these cuisines and businesses. This time, the authentic Istanbul experience of La Turka.
My name is Tayfun Azakli. I lived in Istanbul all my life. My mother’s family is from the part of Turkey near the Greek border, but my father’s family all come from the other side, near the border with Jordan. The western side is very close to the Balkan region in terms of food and culture. They like meat and vegetable dishes. On the Black Sea side, near Jordan, the diet is much more based on fish. The climate is also very different. It’s sub-Tropical there. They have tea fields. My grandparents were tea farmers. My mother’s parents were also farmers, but in their more European climate, they grew wheat, sunflowers, like here. They also speak different languages. On the Black Sea side, the people are not ethnically Turkish. They are Laz.
La Turka’s retail manager Fares Hadad and co-founder Tayfun Azakli © Mateo Henec
I lived in Slovakia for two and a half years before coming here. I worked for Cisco Systems for 15 years – it’s one of the top 5 IT companies – and that’s where the job took me. My wife is Croatian and we decided to relocate here. We lived here for two and a half years initially, then we went to Dubai for six or seven years before coming back here two years ago.
I have two sons. I didn’t want them to grow up in Dubai. Dubai is very nice, but there’s a certain life standard. I think that if you get used to that lifestyle, you couldn’t be happy anywhere else. It’s very high end. Almost every house has a maid or nanny. Your income is three to four times what you would get in Europe. This is a huge contrast to my childhood. My mom was a teacher, my dad a civil servant. We had a limited income. Challenges to finish the month. I would work in the fields when I stayed with my grandparents. My kids were growing with a completely different perception of life in Dubai. I don’t expect them to have the same experience as me. Times have changed. But, I don’t want them to be handed everything on a plate.
La Turka © Mateo Henec
Zagreb is a very safe and calm place to live. There is no rush in the day. The pace is quite slow. It can take some getting used to. People are nice. In any big city – be it Istanbul or London – people can be rushing and also quite rude. That doesn’t happen here. There are a lot of opportunities for businessmen here. It’s a good combination, a good place to invest. For me, at least.
In 2012 I met my business partner, Vedi Zarifgil, here in Croatia. He’s also Turkish and married to a Croatian. We started the company the next year. Originally, we were focussed only on wholesale and export. Only last year we decided to go into retail. We partnered with our friend, Fares Hadad, to open this store. It’s gone well. We plan to open two more in Zagreb during the next six months.
Ten years ago in Zagreb, there were only a few Chinese restaurants and a couple of bad Mexican places. Now, it’s very vibrant. The product that we sell is not foreign to people here, but they usually only know the Bosnian version. This is the Turkish version.
La Turka © Mateo Henec
We’re very careful about the quality of our product. For a niche product like this, I believe that you must present it at a very high quality. Then, it will sell. We didn’t expect to be so much of a hit, but we were successful from day one.
The main product we sell is baklava. The Bosnian version is made with walnuts. That’s what grows there. Ours has more finesse. In comparison, we make ours with extremely thin layers of pastry and the main nut we use is pistachio. In Bosnia, they tend to use a lot of syrup. Ours is drier. The syrup must not overpower the flavour of the pastry, the nuts, and the ghee (clarified butter). It’s a very fine balance. You should be able to taste each ingredient.
A selection of halva at La Turka © Mateo Henec
We import our pistachios from southern Turkey. Ghee is quite expensive; it’s rarely used in Bosnian baklava. Certainly not commercially. We have around 30 different variations of baklava on sale. We use almonds, pistachios, walnuts, cashew. For each of those varieties, we also have chocolate versions. For the classic baklava, the amount of nut is set, and it is ground. For alternative versions, we use whole pieces, sometimes with cream.
The presentation is key. It must look good. Classy. We want people to stop and look. We chose this street to open our business because everyone ends up here at some point. All visitors come to register at MUP. Our main client base walks here every day.
Baklava and Turkish coffee, served on the terrace at La Turka © Mateo Henec
We also have around 40 different kinds of Turkish Delight, halva (made from tahini, with different versions using cacao, chocolate). We sell the finest quality coffee available in Turkey. It’s quite unlike anything on sale here. We also have Turkish tea, which we present complimentary to anyone who comes to sit and try our food.
We want to offer an authentic taste of Istanbul. Everything from the interior design to the music we play helps us do this. We’re aiming to be a little like the Grand Bazaar. Except we don’t sell carpets, obviously. Ha!
You can visit La Turka at Petrinjska 47
You can read the introduction to our series on Zagreb international cuisine and the first installment here
To follow our whole series on international cuisine and to follow the Croatian restaurant and gastro scene, keep an eye on our Gourmet pages here