With each passing year, it seems as if more and more new restaurants keep popping up with the purpose of keeping our taste buds happy. Though the new restaurant chosen for this week’s food review hasn’t been open for very long, the buzz surrounding it in the expat community has quickly turned it into a local favorite. If you already know what this place is, feel free to scroll past the following compilation of random words and letters and enjoy the pictures.
The restaurant I speak of is a small Turkish place called Merhaba. The name is Turkish for “welcome”, which is exactly the type of vibe everyone seems to get when approaching the it. Located near old City Hall (just about a block or so from Wedding Street), Merhaba is a cross between a fast food joint and a full restaurant. I actually found the place when it was still under construction while walking home from another restaurant I had recently reviewed. Assuming it would just be serving kebabs and ice cream, I was interested, but felt no rush to visit. It wasn’t until I learned of the extensive menu that decorated the inside of the small joint that I grabbed everyone I could to learn more about Turkish cuisine.
When we entered, we were greeted by the friendly employees. Though their English was limited, their Korean was flawless. I spoke to the owner for a few minutes, asking for his recommendations while the rest of my friends awkwardly squeezed their way in to find a seat. We each made it a point to order something different, gladly picking from the list of the owner’s personal favorites. Now, before I make any sort of comments about the food, it should be noted that I know little to nothing about Turkish cuisine. While I can’t comment on the authenticity of it, I am always more than happy to review the overall quality and taste to the best of my ability.
After we placed our orders, we sat in the large, bar style chairs. Though the seats themselves were comfortable, it was clear that this was not a place suited to serve large parties (especially if you like to share). Still, it was nice to experience the sights and smells that we were exposed to by sitting just a few feet away from the kitchen. Though having our senses teased didn’t help our aching, hungry tummies during the wait, it was worth it to know that just about everything we got was being made to order.
The first thing that arrived was the Meat & Cheese Pide. True to its name, it was basically a flatbread that was filled with seasoned ground beef, melted cheese, and a light serving of vegetables to add some color and crunch. This dish (as well as all of the others) came with a side of what I believe was some type of yogurt sauce that I would compare to tzatziki (Greek yogurt and cucumber sauce). Whatever it was, it was an addictive addition to this rich, hearty dish. A friend of mine had also ordered the Merhaba Special Pide, which was almost identical, except with the addition of extra ingredients like mushrooms and tomatoes. It also seemed to be slightly less spicy. They were both delicious, and I was surprised at how filling they were.
One person ordered the Chicken Sis Kebap (chicken shish kebab?), which pretty much looked like a deconstructed version of the popular kebab wrap that has become one of the most popular street foods I’ve seen in Korea. A complaint I have heard often regarding the usual kebab is that it’s often made with Korean cabbage when lettuce would be preferred. This dish did not have that problem. It also came with a side of rice and delicious sauces to help round out the meal. Another person ordered the Adana Durum, which was a long, minced meat kebab. Though it didn’t look like anything special on the outside (wraps hardly ever do), each bite was exploding with flavor that had just the right amount of spice. The meat was cooked over a grill mere moments before it was placed in the wrap, giving it that proper, smoky taste that left me wanting more.
One of the dishes I ordered for myself was the Lahmacun, which appeared to be two stacked pieces of flatbead that each had been spread with minced meat and herbs. The whole thing was topped with vegetables and came with a lemon to be squeezed over everything. While it was tasty, the chilly weather from the outside (which had been blowing in through the large windows) had made my originally hot dish into a cold one. The lack of meaty texture (especially after having tried so many others) and the acidic flavor from the lemon left me thinking that this probably would have been a better appetizer. A friend and I also shared an order of Ekmek, which was shaped and baked fresh right before our eyes. What was just a simple piece of dough that had been topped with sesame seeds came out to be one of the best pieces of bread I had ever tried. It was crunchy and slightly charred on the outside while managing to stay soft and warm in the middle. With one bite, I made it a point to remind myself to order this bread with every future visit.
Last, but not least, was a friend’s meal that I wanted to steal so badly. Based on the owner’s top choices, she had ordered the Begti Kebab. It was basically a wrap that had been filled with lamb, cheese, and tomato before being toasted and cut into pieces. Served with rice, herbs, and extra tomatoes, this dish was my favorite of the night. The crunchiness of the wrap combined with the seasoned lamb, melting cheese, and slightly cool tomatoes had me begging for more, despite already being full from everything I had eaten before. While everything I ate was delicious, this one is definitely the one that will keep me returning.
Overall, Merhaba, which actually originated from Seoul, is a lovely little place to get your Turkish fix. While I wouldn’t recommend sitting in with a large party, take-out is both available and encouraged. One aspect I really liked about the choices was the lack of pork. I have friends that can’t eat pork for their own reasons, which can sometimes make meal choices in this city somewhat limited. It was nice to find a place where that was not a concern. Whether you’re looking for a nice, unique meal or something quick to eat after a night of fun, Merhaba is one place worth checking out. Don’t forget to get some of that tricky Turkish ice cream for dessert!
Address: 광주광역시 동구 광산동 92-19 (just a few feet away from the Frypan)
Average Price Range: 7,000-8,500 per dish