Ara Güler | Monocle

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“The idea of having a last meal makes me think of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. I would love to have my final feast with him and (why not?) Jesus Christ too. Just like me, Jesus was a fan of fish and was also a fisherman – a very important job here in Turkey. I chose to come to Kiyi because the owner is an old friend of mine. He’s an amateur photographer and he appreciates my work, some of which is hanging on the walls. I always stopped here on my way to taking pictures along the Bosphorus.

A dish that I can’t miss when I come here is the lentil soup; you won’t find it on the menu because it’s only for the staff. I always had my suspicions that the staff would eat better food than the patrons, so one day I asked and they served me a plate of this delicious soup. I always have it before ordering the mezzes and my favourite main course, the sole. I love the way it’s made here, very simply, and it’s a good size. The fish should always cover the whole plate from one edge to the other. Some restaurants like to serve just a piece of the fish, but I don’t like that because you can’t tell what part they’re giving you.

There’s a special way of eating the sole. You must run your knife through the middle of it – through the backbone – and then carefully lift the meat off the bones; it will give you an idea of how much lemon and olive oil to put on it depending on how meaty it is. Sole shouldn’t have too much meat, it should be very thin and delicate – that’s the tastier kind.

Nowadays I have to eat a lot of vegetables and fruit for health reasons, but I’m a seafood lover. In Turkey we have a saying for those passionate about fish and shellfish: ‘Even if my father came out of the water I would eat him’. But I’m not a fan of fishing – I’m lazy, I prefer to wait for everything to come to me. A few of my pictures were taken in Istanbul’s fish markets; they’re places with a great aesthetic composition and the movement of fishmongers and fishermen is like the movement of an orchestra. Everyday life is a part of a big symphony, one that I can hear, see and capture.

When I was a kid we had a woman who cooked for us – my mother wasn’t too fond of the kitchen. But for me eating was always a nuisance. It kept me away from life, from playing with my tin soldiers, so I would just fill my mouth with whatever was served. I didn’t really develop a passion for food but I did grow to become a man that can eat very fast.

When I take pictures I forget about eating – food for me is an obstacle because you have that feeling that the moment you sit down to eat something magical is going on and you’re missing it. Whenever I went on assignment I would eat a light breakfast in the morning and by the time I was hungry again it was already dark.

I’ve travelled around the world and always found it difficult to find good food. I went to India 30 times and would always eat a lot of chicken – too much of it. I didn’t grow feathers but I do remember flying! I wouldn’t recommend India’s street food, although you do get used to it. Japanese food is also difficult to eat. I was once invited to a Shinto monastery near Mount Fuji, where I stayed a month. I nearly starved because I wasn’t familiar with the food they were serving and didn’t fancy it. But I would secretly escape to a nearby market and eat sausages there.

Turkish food doesn’t really exist; what we have in this country is Ottoman cuisine. It’s a mix of dishes from all the surrounding countries, like mussels with rice (Armenian) or the lakerda (Greek). It’s a very rich cuisine. I used to drink raki with every meal, but now for health reasons I have to stick to red wine. In Turkey you always eat fish fresh and any fish that isn’t sold on the day is given to stray cats. The sole at Kiyi is always the catch of the day.

I’ve taken pictures of Picasso, Dalí, Tennessee Williams and other big personalities. I hate celebrities, though. That’s why I kicked out Liza Minnelli from my studio. I remember shooting Bertrand Russell in his home outside London. I took a portrait of him serving English tea. I’m not really a portrait photographer, I’m a reporter, and so I would make myself invisible when I was shooting them. I don’t like to carry too much equipment – only two or three Leicas and plenty of Kodak chrome rolls, my favourite film. I’m always ready to shoot.

Dinner is my favourite meal of the day; it’s the one that leaves you most satisfied. In the evening you can take your time, sit down, unwind and spend a while focusing on the food. I love to eat a lot during dinner, I like to end the day satiated. I know it’s healthier to eat lightly before going to bed but I love to fall asleep feeling full.”


Ara Güler is Turkey’s most prominent photographer. Born in Istanbul in 1928 to Armenian parents, he’s worked with the Yeni Istanbul newspaper, Time-Life and Paris Match, among others. In 2000 he was named Turkey’s photographer of the century and in 2002 he was awarded the Légion d’Honneur by the French government. His works have been exhibited at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Photokina Fair in Köln.

The venue

Kiyi restaurant
Nestled on the shore of Istanbul’s suburb of Tarabya, Kiyi was founded by Todori Rizo in 1966 and is now run by his nephew, Yorgi Savuncu. The restaurant’s interior, though not as striking as its food, houses works by Turkish artists ranging from Ara Güler’s photographs of scenic Istanbul in the 1950s to paintings by Bedri Baykam and contemporary artist Faruk Akbas.


Dover sole
Serves 1

350g Dover sole
50g flour
150ml sunflower oil

The method

  1. Dip the thin slices of dover sole into a plate of flour.
  2. Shake off the excess flour.
  3. Fry in sunflower oil until the outside is crisp and golden but the inside is still juicy.
  4. Serve immediately.


Fasulye pilaki
Dried beans garnished with tomato sauce and olive oil.

Dubbed Turkish sushi by foreigners, lakerda is salted, raw bonito fish.

Midye Dolma
Mussels filled with rice.

Kozde kirmizi biber
Roasted red peppers.

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