To turn your usual evening or weekend dining experience into an active experience, cook-it-yourself restaurants make eating more interactive and collective. Such restaurants have diners select prepared raw food on platters around the table and then wait for them to cook. Whether it is a Chinese spot, American barbecue or Turkish "ocakbaşı" (a kind of grilling), this concept is more engaging for customers. In Turkey, it is common to see a group of friends or family members sit around a grill in the middle of the table or just have BBQ in open-air recreational areas. At the following cook-it-yourself restaurants, diners are invited to play chef as they choose, mix, and cook their own food.
Having opened its doors four years ago, Itsumi is one of the rare places where one can taste Japanese food in the cook-it-yourself style. In Japanese, this refers to "Yakiniku," meaning "grilled meat" in broadest sense. In a Yakiniku restaurant, you can have your meat, seafood or vegetable cooked on a grill placed on the table by yourself.
Located on Suada, an artificial island off the Kuruçeşme coast, the restaurant serves food prepared on five core ingredients - sugar, salt, vinegar, soy sauce and "miso," a traditional Japanese seasoning. A varied sushi palate may accompany the Yakiniku, and after it, you should try tempura cheesecake made with lemon, cornstarch, vanilla extract and sour cream, or Matcha pudding. Before leaving Itsumi, make sure to taste their green tea.
With three Japanese chefs, Itsumi also has a la carte menu along with an open buffet breakfast option at the weekends. Booking in advance is recommended.
With Chinese, Turkish and Kazakh chefs in the kitchen, Go Mongo has a very unique concept - "Mongolian barbecue." This tradition goes long way back to hunting parties where the animals were cooked on hot stones placed in their abdomen. At Go Mongo, guests can feel like a real chef. At the food bar, they can prepare raw food on their own, add spices and sauces they wish and then bring it to the restaurant chef to grill it. If you choose "Mongolian Hot Pot," then you can also join the cooking process. The South Asian menu features tastes from Japan, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand. There are options for vegetarians and those who like seafood.
Go Mongo has two branches, one in Suadiye and the other in İstinye Park. The restaurant's interior design also reflects Mongolian culture.
Classic BBQ and grill
Polonezköy Country Club
Another cook-it-yourself food place is in Polonezköy, just outside Istanbul. The Polonezköy Country Club is perfect for a BBQ with children. One of the oldest tourism facilities in Polonezköy, a popular weekend gateway, the club gives you a chance to bring your own food to cook. A special area is allocated as a picnic park for one-day guests. Families can also have a barbecue at this section.
Children can enjoy themselves with trampolining, mini golf, basketball, football or swimming alongside a small zoo.
Yeşil Çiftlik Restaurant
On the way to Kilyos, another coastal district in Istanbul, which is one hour from the Asian side, Yeşil Çiftlik Restaurant is probably one of the most suitable places for cooking your own food. Whether you're in a small or big group, the restaurant has a green atmosphere and is a family-friendly place. It helps guests to provide food for cooking, or they can additionally order from the menu. In an open-air atmosphere, you can have BBQ, roasted chicken or meatballs on skewers. For a high-protein food day, the restaurant has everything to cater to you.
Located in Sarıyer on the city's European side, Event Garden runs as multi-functional venue with a cook-it-yourself BBQ area for families. Extending along an area of 60,000 square meters and housing five gardens, Event Garden serves aperitif choices that can go well with BBQ.
In Turkish, "ocakbaşı" refers to a type of hooded charcoal barbecue placed on big tables at restaurants where guests sit around it. They are very popular, and one of them, Güler Ocakbaşı, has been run by the same family since 1981. They serve more than 40 kebab and meze varieties prepared daily. Güler Ocakbaşı has tasty flavors that you should not miss out on. Famous for their kebab with pistachios, the restaurant has two branches, one in the Esentepe neighborhood and the other is situated in the Harbiye neighborhood.