Edirne, the place for liver lovers
Wilco Van HERPEN
Niyazi Restaurant’s Niyazi usta cultivates the peppers himself; the liver is selected by him and all of this together makes his place a real heaven for liver lovers.When I think of Edirne, two things come to mind. The first is the Selimiye Mosque, designed by the world famous architect Sinan. The second thing that directly comes to mind is the wonderful liver; Edirne is famous for it. Let me put it like this, there are a couple of things that you can wake me up for in the middle of the night, and one of them is to go to Edirne to eat liver.
Why does liver taste so much better here? I do not know. Is it the clean air or is it different kinds of herbs that make liver taste better? Actually, I cannot imagine it is those reasons. There are thousands of places in Turkey that have the same conditions or even better conditions, but there is a difference. One of them, I think, is the way the chefs treat the veal liver. Another reason might be that this is a very traditional and regional food. It used to be palace food and was exclusively prepared for the sultans.
I have tried several liver restaurants in Edirne, and finally I decided there is one restaurant I liked better than the other ones. Do not get me wrong; I am not saying the other restaurants are bad, not at all, but I just like Niyazi Usta’s liver just a little bit more.
It must have been five years ago that I visited Niyazi’s restaurant for the first time. A friend of mine, Ergün, who lives in Edirne, helped me with my show. He was the one who introduced me to Niyazi. If I had been alone looking for a liver restaurant I definitely would not have gone to Niyazi. Why? Because his shop is “far” away from the streets in which you can find all the little cute liver restaurants. Those little liver restaurants are very cute and a bit nostalgic. It is fun to sit there and enjoy your liver.
Whenever you visit these restaurants, especially around lunchtime, these places are packed with clients. Sitting here, eating your liver, looking at the people passing by; the running waiters trying to serve clients as fast as possible, the chef frying fresh liver; it all adds up to an atmosphere that makes those places unique.
Niyazi is situated a bit out of the center. His place has a bit of a modern look; something I generally do not like. When you see Niyazi working, you see an usta (craftsman) who knows what he is doing. He loves his job; he treats the liver as if it is the most precious thing in the world. Together, with his staff, they work like crazy; every day 80 (!) kilos of veal liver goes through the chefs’ hands. In the basement, two chefs are constantly cleaning liver. Nothing is prepared beforehand; everything is as fresh as it can be.
When I entered Niyazi’s restaurant the first time, I was kind of skeptical about the food. It looked more modern then the “authentic” places I saw down the road. In general, for me, this is a reason not to enter a place. In Turkish, we have a beautiful word: salaş; and many times those places take you by surprise, to put it very bluntly it means, a mess on the outside but beautiful on the inside. You do not expect anything from those kinds of places but then, when the food arrives, it turns out to be so delicious. On the other hand, you have the “modern” places. They try to impress you with the, often very modern, look of the place, but the quality of the food is far below zero. Niyazi’s place is a modern place, but still has its own character and more importantly, the food is amazing. Eating here means you can have a choice between liver, liver and liver. It’s the only thing he sells and he knows what he is doing.
Cleaning the liver
Down in the basement, two men are cleaning the liver. All the veins, muscles and membranes are carefully removed. At the same time, while removing everything that can make the liver hard or unpleasant to chew on, the butchers are cutting the liver as thin as leaves. Slice by slice, they cut the veal liver and put it in metal dishes that, once the dish is filled, directly go up to the chef. A little bit of salt, pepper and flower and the veal liver is ready to be fried in oil that is changed every day. The liver sizzles in the hot oil and with a very elegant move, he removes the liver from the oil; puts it on a little metal plate and then… it is ready to serve. The table is filled with fresh onion, tomatoes and big, dried red peppers which are also fried in oil. They are crispy like chips, spicy as pepper can be, but it is a nice hotness and the smell of the pepper when you put it in your mouth… Niyazi cultivates the peppers himself; the liver is selected by him and all of this together makes his place a real heaven for liver lovers.
The next day, I did not have time to visit his restaurant. We were too busy filming another episode of my show, but we were hungry, very hungry. Ergün came up with a magnificent plan. He phoned Niyazi, and for once in his life, Niyazi made an exception and prepared to bring us loafs of bread filled with liver. Twenty minutes later we heard the sound of a little motorbike. There he was, wearing a thick coat, and in his hand he had a big bag. At the banks of the Meriç River we ate our lunch. Nobody spoke; everybody was enjoying the view and the food. What more do you want from life?