meet the sweet face of tatavla: ÜSTÜN PALMİE

Tatavla (Greek: Ταταύλα) is one of the refined neighborhoods of Istanbul, where the ethnic and religious communities such as Greeks, Armenians, Kurds and Jews are located. Despite the turbulance that occured due to several wars, this region has continued to retain the majority of its Greek residents with modest income until 1955. As part of Tatavla’s unique culture, Üstün Palmie Patisserie keeps standing both as a representative of old traditions and a gathering point for special occasions such as Easter period.

We took a trip down memory lane of Tatavla with two brilliant women, Banu Yıldıran Genç and Hülya Yıldıran. Currently, both of them are in charge of the family business in collaboration with the founder and head chef of Üstün Palmie Patisserie (Fehmi Yıldıran).

👨 FEHMİ YILDIRAN (FEHMİ USTA)

When he moved to Istanbul in 1952, he began living with her friends. As a young guy who came from a village, he was willing to educate himself on his own. He and his friends were used to see plays together in their off days. Since 1960s, when being sophisticated was considered above all other things, he has been improving himself by reading books and newspapers.

Fehmi Usta
Visual Credits: Banu Yıldıran Genç

🍰 ABOUT THE PATISSERIE

When Fehmi Usta arrived in Istanbul, his brothers were already settled there. While one of his brothers were a chief, the other one was mastering in pastry. During his first years as an apprentice for several places such as Lozan Patisserie, Dezire Patisserie and Rönesans Patisserie, he was trained by Rum, Jewish and Armenian chefs. Afterwards, he had joined the army to perform the military service for two years and worked there as a chef as well. When he was back in town, he took over the business from his friend Yorgo. Although they were manufacturing in Beyoğlu, he was always dreaming on having his own patisserie one day.

“Both Turkish and Rum people were used to live together in Tarlabaşı so that both Ramadan and Easter holidays were being celebrated by locals. Unlike today, there was absolutely no discrimination between ethnic and religious communities. For instance, my father and his close friend Yorgo went to the pastry fair in Germany together and had fun during their staying.”

-Banu Yıldıran Genç and Hülya Yıldıran

“What happened in 1964 was truly a disaster”, Fehmi Usta adds. When he got married with his wife in 1969, they had still a considerable number of Rum neighbors in Tarlabaşı. Following the Cyprus crisis that happened in 1974, those residence left their homes as well. His wife still reminisces the days she spent with her Rum neighbours.

Eventually, he and his brothers set up Palmie Patisserie in Kalyoncukulluk Street of Beyoğlu in 1970. Even if they were in this together, Fehmi Usta was the one who had a deep passion for pastry.

FAMOUS FREQUENTERS OF THE PATISSERIE

Our patisserie had located in Beyoğlu from 1970 to 1995. The majority of Yeşilçam (Turkish cinema) artists were our customers. Some of our close friends were the famous Turkish theatre artists Cevat-Meral Kurtuluş, the well-known accordion player and the symbol of Çiçek Pasajı (Cité de Péra) -Anahit Kuyrig and the first singer of the taverns in Istanbul -Yorgo Vapuridis. 

Madam Anahit (Anahit Kuyrig) at Çiçek Pasajı, İstanbul.
Visual Credits: Agos

Today in Kurtuluş, we are mostly familiar with the journalists and gourmets such as Tuba Şatana, Levon Bağış, Estukyan family, Sinan Hamamsarılar (Tat Dedektifi), İpek Kuşçu and Tanem Sivar. 

Nowadays, Tatavla somehow enjoys the preserved traditional neighborhood culture although there had been major changes in time. We didn’t grow up here but from what we heard, everyone was used to know and trust each other in this region. Even today, people keep entrusting their stuff to us. We still have those traditional butchers, groceries, appetizer places and phyllo dough stores except for the modern supermarkets.

🐰 A REGULAR EASTER DAY IN ISTANBUL

People go shopping, they choose chocolates for their neighbors and households a few days before the Easter. While they get their home Easter-ready, hairdressers run for 24/7. On the day that Jesus was crucified, household dye eggs. Christians prefer to eating fish on the Good Friday before Easter Sunday so that fish stores get crowded on that day. People spend the Holy Saturday night at church and attend ceremonies by igniting candles. In the next morning, they dress up nicely and go to the church again. Afterwards, everyone greet each other and exchange Easter cakes. Well-dressed people fulfill the streets all the way down.

Fehmi Usta, his daughter and his grandchildren.
Visual Credits: Banu Yıldıran Genç

😷 AN EASTER AMID PANDEMIC

We have been through financially tough times. Our customer, Grand Bazaar is temporarily closed and distributors cannot work. Locals are not able to visit each other. Plus, since their offices are closed as well they had no reason to buy Easter cakes for their co-workers and households. We could not feel like we had holiday, it was depressing both for us and our customers. It could be pleasant and fun as it was used to be but instead, all of us had pandemic anxiety. 

Also, it was challenging and exhausting for us to use gloves, masks and disinfectants in the patisserie. However, even under these extreme circumstances, we have never used low-quality products. We keep using our traditional pastry recipes, which do not include any additives or sweeteners.

Anyways, despite everything, we hope to see it ends.