“Citizens” focuses on people born and raised in Istanbul and who are masters of their domains. In this section, described as unsung heroes of Istanbul, we talk about citizens’ Istanbul, profession, yesterday and today.
The venues she has created echoed that era’s İstanbul spirit and introduced us the “hidden” streets. The source of inspiration for all of these is Lal Dedeoğlu’s very personal Istanbul story.
Yazı: Ali Tufan Koç
Fotoğraf: Işık Kaya
She always seeks for innovation. Her definition of ‘innovation’ is a bit different than other restaurateurs. Rather than, adopting a popular formula that already exists in abroad or creating venues inspired by latest trends, she always creates something original that blends her unique taste, lifestyle choices and know-how.

With her venues which have shaped the city’s culture for the last 25 years, Lal Dedeoğlu is one of the unsung but profound heroes of İstanbul.

She knows ‘neighborhood’ culture, the city spirit, the ‘environment’ and the shift in understanding of ‘neighborhood’ in İstanbul, very well. Each venue she created has always been in deep and profound connections with the neighborhood in which it was located. Let’s take a moment and refreshen our memories: ‘Buz’ and Nişantaşı, ‘Bej’ and Karaköy, ‘buzADA’ and the Bosphorus line, ‘Mahalle’ and Topağacı, and now ‘Daire 1’ and Küçük Bebek.

She is an Istanbulite who knows and adores İstanbul in every way. Until she became an adult, she touched every part of İstanbul by way of the sports contests, school and family trips in which she participated; even talking about that excites her. Istanbul of her youth is both a metropolis and a resort; it is both crowded and fresh. She’s not one of those people who complain all the time; “Since I chose to stay and live here, it is better for me to find better ways to live here instead of complaining” she’s able to say. For example, she can see the traffic in Bosphorus at two o’clock in the midnight she can get excited and feel grateful, saying “Oh vow, this is life!”

Famous Sunday tables

Although she was born in Yeşilköy, she has spent her childhood and teenage years in Etiler; she defines herself as a ‘Çamlık (Pine Grove) kid’. She went to Hasan Ali Yücel Primary school. Even her going to school and coming back home accompanied by the cats and dogs of the neighborhood, makes us say “When did that old neighborhood feeling has disappear?” That house in the Çamlık Buildings, those tables, and the guests, all have a lot of impact on her life. Her mom is a figure whose elegant tables were praised, and who prepares such ‘original’ menus that didn’t exist in most of the restaurants in İstanbul. She’s the one in charge of ‘extravaganza’ tables that were always adorned with flowers and ornaments while her father was known for his ‘friendly conversations’. “In winter, they used to set a great breakfast table on Sunday afternoons. This was a table where appetizers and delicatessens predominated. The table harbored good conversations and guests all evening.” In those days, people bought delicatessens from the buffet in Topağacı, from Çerkezköy, and from ‘Kiraz’ in Etiler. In this photograph, Lal is neither in the preparation nor in the setting phase. She takes the stage after all the guests are gone, and she loves to get in the kitchen to fill her plate with the ‘remaining’ food. From time to time, she visited the addresses where people of that period ‘go to try a certain food’; people used to eat soufflé in Yekta, ‘club sandwich’ in Divan Hotel, and ‘Çamlıca Salad’ in Divan Pub.

Despite the heritage of her mother and father, the beautiful tables, generous hospitality for the guests, and the passion for being a host for long meals, Dedeoğlu says “I never thought that I could do this as a job one day when I grew up.”

First steps always hurt

Another common point of Lal Dedeoğlu projects is the passion for ‘untried’ streets. “Of course, it could be a result of my ability to read İstanbul properly. Those side streets attract me somehow. Following the other way, namely choosing a street which is more popular and familiar to people, feels a little bit like cutting corners. Shooting for the moon is the summary of my life.”

All these venues require time, and the first steps always hurt. However, even though she knows all these, she takes firm steps on the way “not to be commercial”. Some of her venues (buzADA in the Galatasaray Island) were places where she saw when passing by and say “This place lies there with no purpose. I am going to make an offer on it.” Of course, she had losses, failures, downs but eventually, she is rewarded with happiness that is the result of creating her own playground.

Although all the venues are a little bit İstanbulite in their soul, none of them exaggerates; none of them introduce itself as an Istanbul café/pub/disco. “I strove to create venues that fit İstanbul’s make up,” says Lal. For example, she does not bring an olive tree from a different city and plant it in the middle of İstanbul or her venue, merely to adjust it to suit the concept. Instead, she prefers to decorate with magnolias and hydrangeas. There are lots of details regarding İstanbul which she observed and collected since her childhood. She still travels all around İstanbul, takes trips to Mısır Çarşısı (Spice Bazaar), and in Saturday midnights she gets up and plunders the Kastamonu Bazaar in Kasımpaşa.

Timeless, surrounded

As one of the regular visitors recently said: Her last wonder ‘Daire 1’ in Küçük Bebek feels like a solo/acoustic/prime Eric Clapton who once shattered the lists and packed the stadiums: Timeless; ‘no-with an open agenda. Just like a reflection of Lal’s current mood: “Delightful and down-to-earth...”

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The venues she has created echoed that era’s İstanbul spirit and introduced us the “hidden” streets. The source of inspiration for all of these is Lal Dedeoğlu’s very personal Istanbul story.