Like any native Californian, the burrito holds a special place in my heart. Before coming to Turkey, while giving my dear brother one last hug goodbye in front of the airport security check, I noticed him trying to slip a cylindrical packet wrapped in tinfoil into my jacket pocket.
‘A little something from Los Poblanos,’ he said, fighting the tears. ‘I hope the carnitas stay crispy through the flight.’
As security swiftly confiscated the burrito, my heart sank with the foreboding that my destination -my new home in Istanbul- would most likely be unable to satisfy my appetite for Tex-Mex.
Then, a few days after arriving in Istanbul, I learned that the Turks also wrap meat and veggies into a something resembling a tortilla. It was called dürüm and after my first attempt at eating one I vowed never to eat another.
Overtime I encountered a few establishments in Taksim and Caddebostan purporting to serve real Tex-Mex, but found, to my chagrin, that they were really just serving dürüm slightly dressed up to resemble a burrito. The spice, the flavor, the heartiness of a real Californian burrito, with its layers of beans, cheese, rice and seasoned meat, lay somewhere beyond the imagination of even the most ‘innovative’ restaurant.
Then one day, after having given what seemed like an endless private English lesson, I decided to try TacoFit in Etiler. I had noticed the restaurant’s colorful exterior before, but my cynicism had always gotten the better of me. I had assumed that it was just another elaborate hoax.
As I sat down at their high wooden counter and began perusing their menu I noticed a few irregularities. Under the description of their burritos they had words like ‘Barbaqua’ and ‘Chipotle biber’.
‘Interesting,’ I thought. “Where are they going with this.’
After fighting my cheapskate impulse, I decided on the ‘et’ Burrito -at 24 lira. The cook, who had been making a grilled cheese for the only other customer, asked me if I wanted it ‘acı’. I craned my head toward him and furrowed my brow thinking I hadn’t heard him right. Then he repeated it in English: ‘spicy’?
‘Hell yeah, I want it spicy.’
I then turned completely around and studied the kitchen. The cook was moving a huge tin tray from the counter. It contained something dark, dank… delicious.
‘What is that?’ I asked
‘This is the meat.’ he said. ‘It’s like… roast beef.’
It certainly was.
‘To most Turks, this probably doesn’t look so appealing,’ he said. ‘But I think it might remind foreigners of home.’
It certainly did.
‘What inspired you to open up this place?’ I asked.
‘I’ve travelled a lot. I’ve been to Canada. I spent many months traveling through Argentina. Then I went to Brazil.’
I nodded, waiting for him to mention Mexico, California, or somewhere in the South-West. He admitted he hadn’t been anywhere near the humble origins of the burrito. I almost stood up and walked out. Fortune smiled on me though, and my patience prevailed.
When the burrito was placed before me, I took a moment to examine it.
The portion of meat was large. The proportion of meat to rice and beans was well balanced. there appeared to be some sort of sauce. the Tortilla looked firm. It was wrapped in tin foil. I proceeded with tempered optimism to take my first bite.
I’m not going to say that that first bite was like a triumphant return to the beloved taquerias of southern Cali. It was not quite that. However, the burrito was undeniably tasty, well composed, and the roast beef -obviously not the first type of meat that comes to mind when thinking ‘burrito’- was a creative solution to the scarcity of suitable burrito fillings. The only real complaint I had was the level of heat; it was not spicy, not even acı. It was then, upon this realisation, that I noticed the bottle of Siracha sauce next to my plate.
‘Oh Siracha, where were you when I needed you?’ I waxed lyrically. ‘All those times I cooked ramen, tried my hat at South East Asian Cuisine. All this time you’ve been by the side of a monster roast beef burrito?’
It didn’t seem worth trying. I knew what I needed. Tapatío, Tabasco, Cholula!
Still the burrito was tasty. I devoured it in a few minutes. So many napkins were used to daub my greasy face that the concerned cook brought me a separate bowl for my trash. I thanked him. I walked away cooly from TacoFit, patting my belly.
‘I would have to write home,’ I thought, ‘Brag about the first burrito belly I’ve had in five years!’
How to Get There:
Take the metro to Levent. Then take the M6 Metro line to Etiler station. When you exit the station, on Nisbetiye street, instead of making a left toward the Akmerkez shopping center maker a right. Tacofit is at the junction where the two directions of Nisbetiye splits off.
Address: Levent Mahallesi, Nisbetiye Cd 42/A, 34340 Beşiktaş/İstanbul
Phone: (0212) 284 1117