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İnci Pastanesi: Remember the Cream Puff

Closure of Inci Pastanesi, photo by Ansel Mullins

We would have liked to like the profiterol at İnci Pastanesi, and to believe their claim that the profiterole was invented on the premises in the 1940s. But in fact, we’ve always appreciated İnci for non-culinary reasons. Until last week, this old-school Beyoğlu pastry shop had been spooning out cream puffs covered in chocolate goop for almost 70 years with respect for tradition and a refreshing contempt for the latest trends in interior design. Our eyes had grown used to resting on its charmingly worn façade as we walked down İstiklal Caddesi. For better or worse, İnci was an institution.

Last Friday, we were alarmed to see a line of police and several moving trucks blocking our view of İnci. As we got closer and saw the cargo in the back of one truck – crates of eggs, banged-up stainless steel coolers – we realized that İnci was being gutted. It was a painful sight that, for us at least, represented the final chapter in the story of this neighborhood in the last century.

For many, the mention of İnci wells up a sentimental memory of the first taste of something sweet in this classic patisserie, but for us, as non-local students of the area’s heritage, it always represented the last of public emblem of Beyoğlu’s non-Muslim community, a culture long on life support. Though the history of İnci – established in 1944 by a Greek migrant from Albania named Lucas Zigoridis (aka Luka Zigori) – is more recent than the late-19th-century heyday of the neighborhood, it was still a part of that tradition.

Despite the glam pastry scene of İstiklal Caddesi at the time (in an interview with Milliyet, Zigoridis spoke of the stiff competition), the 1940s was a dark period for Beyoğlu, later followed by even darker times. Zigoridis surely saw many of his neighbors and friends shipped off to work camps when the Varlık Vergisi, or “wealth tax,” effectively targeted minorities. A decade into his lease, the shop owner must have feared for his life on September 6-7, 1955 when two days of violent looting trashed nearly every Greek-owned business on İstiklal Caddesi, prompting an exodus of native Greeks from Istanbul to Greece, Europe and North America. And we can only imagine how difficult it must have been for Lucas Bey to continue serving profiterole in the 1970s, after seeing his own son (among many other Istanbul Greeks) forced to emigrate to Greece at a moment’s notice.

But Lucas Bey stayed put at his shop in the Cercle D’Orient building at İstiklal Caddesi 124, spooning out profiterole through the gritty ’80s and ’90s, when even a porn theater was considered a good neighbor. He must have watched the tailors and other esnaf, the theaters and the old meyhanes slowly disappear until he himself passed away, leaving the keys and the lease with his apprentice, Musa Ateş, who dutifully carried it out to its last days.

So while it’s nice to think of İnci with a twinge of nostalgia, as a reminder of the era of misyurler and madamlar, we find it hard not to be reminded of the neighborhood’s cultural destruction. Walking into İnci meant stepping into the past, accompanied by all of Beyoğlu’s ghosts. İnci witnessed it all, and the pastry shop’s forced closure after losing an appeal to retain its lease feels like nothing less than a desecration of the memory of this neighborhood.

We are certain that once the Cercle D’Orient building is demolished and “restored” as a shopping mall, the Istanbul municipality will glue a small plaque commemorating the spot where the İnci once stood. Though a laughable gesture pointing to a failure to protect the neighborhood’s heritage, it will at least make it easier for the ghosts to find their way back to haunt the Gap or the food court or whatever ends up at İstiklal Caddesi 124.

(photos by Ansel Mullins)

 

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11 comments
celo
celo

Yes, the place is old and historic. It is sad that they had to leave their original location. However, I don't think they have the best profiterol. I never understood the fuss about about it. Not saying it is not good but it is not THAT good. Manalyo Pastenesi has better profiterol but their is still not THAT good. I guess I am spoiled with my wife's homemade profiterol :)

annshuhn
annshuhn

If you want to support İnci at its new location you can fin them now at Mis Sokak almost just around the corner. Of course it is not the old and beautiful location anymore, but the tradition continues and the profiterol is just as tasty as ever :)

Enjoy!

mdambrosio
mdambrosio

What a beautiful, poignant piece. 

BEEBALM2010
BEEBALM2010

It sucks and  no one accused developers of vision, irrespective of which continent you live in...In October the place was packed from the time it opened in the morning until late into the evening...people taking it in while they could....  I had a conversation with a Turkish friend of mine who dislikes the area around Beyoglu, the old buildings that aren't as new or attractive as those you find in Kadikoy.  This person was also upset at the scenes in Istanbul featured in Taken 2, some from Karakoy with its "cranky" tool & die manufacturers and small streets with women wearing the veil from head to toe..."We don't have women like that here..."    Personally, I enjoy the cranky parts of Istanbul far more than the newer areas...give me Navizade over Nisantisi (sp?) any day... But thinking about how image conscience the region is, especially with the influx of tourists from Islamic nations, they want it all shiny new.  I'm not saying it's a good thing, it's a shame they can't renovate these buildings, it's criminal that there isn't a process as we have here for people to comment on developments... Well, it's sad, I hope they can find another place in the area... You know, until I went to Turkey, I never appreciated the Cape Cod Commission...

LisaVanWyk
LisaVanWyk

I am devastated. When I last visited the shop in March I was told it would soon be no more, and when I was in Istanbul again in October it had a sad notice posted in the window, but still seemed to be trading. There are too many examples of this sort of blinkered, stubborn adherence to commercial interests, and it's not just sentimentalists like me who are despairing at the rate that Istanbul is losing some of its lesser-known cultural (and culinary) treasures.

Bare Cupboard
Bare Cupboard

Oh god, that absolutely breaks my heart. I first visited Inci in 2006, and when I ended up living in Istanbul for a little while a few years later, I'd go and indulge in those profiterols regularly. Even in the few short years I've known Istanbul, I've seen this kind of destruction take hold - it's so short-sighted. And, to be honest, it makes me reluctant to go back to the city.

celo
celo

Manolya Pastanesi NOT Pastenesi :)

Kellyann
Kellyann

Thank you for mentioning the new location. I will continue to support their business whenever I make it to Istanbul. Their profiteroles are one of many 'sweet' memories from my first visit as a tourist in 2003.

Istanbul Eats
Istanbul Eats

 @LisaVanWyk All true. We do wish that developers would see the longterm value in staking an institution like Inci or Markiz Pastanesi or one of the other classic Istiklal spots that make Istiklal Istiklal. But it seems value is only calculated in square meters.

In Inci's case, this probably would not be practical because the preservation of this historic shop  (or the Emek Sinemasi around the corner also slated for demolition in this project) would prevent them from at least gutting, if not completely tearing down the entire structure in order to maximize the value of those square meters they've purchased, from, well, a government agency which owns the building.  

These wheels are very big and well in motion. There were very well-planned protests in the last couple of years against this project, but as we have seen, they lost. With Taksim and Tarlabasi currently under construction (pronounced, "destruction") I think we'll have a "bambaska" Beyoglu soon enough.

Our time here is a drop in the bucket of the neighborhood's history. There will be more cultural revolutions seen here. That's for sure.  

Istanbul Eats
Istanbul Eats

 @Bare Cupboard By all means, don't let Inci's closure spoil a trip to Istanbul. There too much happening and so much more to indulge in to dwell on this one sad moment. 

Kellyann
Kellyann

True. Istanbul is the most beautiful city I've visited- and that beats Paris, London, NYC, etc. They have both historical and modern architecture in one magnificent mixing bowl of cultures and beliefs. From the more conservative to more liberal, I fell in love with all the people I met there. I will return, hopefully for longer than my previous 5 week stay. I recommend it to anyone as a place to visit.

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