Turkish Food Comes to an American Town
cultural interchanges, hospitality, lamb, red lentils, tea

Turkish Food Comes to an American Town

It is ironic that just as I am preparing to move away from White Bear Lake, a wonderful Turkish restaurant is opening up within walking distance from my house.

White Bear’s Black Sea restaurant will be the second link in a local chain run by Turks Çiğdem (pronounced CHEE dem) and Tolga Ata. The original Black Sea restaurant is located on Snelling Avenue across from Hamline University.That restaurant has been in business for 12 years.

< Cigdem and Tolga met while she was studying for an MBA at Hamline. Theirs was a Minnesota romance, and they have stayed here as newlyweds, serving Turkish food to Minnesotans. Cigdem is from Ankara, Turkey’s capital city, located in the center of the country. Tolga is from Trabzon, located on the Black Sea. Most of the tea Turks love to drink is grown near Trabzon because the area is cool, damp and hilly: superb for tea plantations. Their small, spanking clean St. Paul restaurant bustles with Hamline students and faculty at noon, and in the evening people from the neighborhood and expatriates from Turkey and the Middle East dine there. The place is rated highly on Yelp. The White Bear Lake Black Sea restaurant will serve customers from nearby small businesses as well as interested residents. Turkish food is different from Arabic food, closer to Greek and other Mediterranean food. Very healthy and flavorful. One specialty is soup, and Black Sea has a superb red lentil soup called mercimek (pronounced MARE ja mek). Every Turkish family makes this soup a bit differently, but suffice to say that in addition to lentils, it contains onions, bulgur, tomato paste, pepper paste, butter, and spices.

Black Sea has a Turkish salad with olives and white cheese on the menu, and plates of lamb and chicken doner either stuffed into pita bread or served with bread on the side.  Overall, Black Sea restaurant offers 7 appetizers, 4 salads, 10 kebab choices, 4 veggie platters, 6 sandwiches, two soups, two burgers, and two desserts. There are a number of vegetarian choices.


I asked Çiğdem what she thinks of Minnesota. She says the long winters are difficult, and right now she misses Turkish green plums, called eriks, which are in season. But she likes Minnesotans and feels that the Twin Cities are pleasant and peaceful.

Stop in and eat at Black Sea in St. Paul or—starting in mid-June—in White Bear Lake.

737 North Snelling Avenue, St. Paul
1581 East County Road E, White Bear Lake (just east of Highway 61)

6 thoughts on “Turkish Food Comes to an American Town

  1. Great! I keep looking for Turkey and Turkish things in Warsaw too. It’s not the same but it’s a decent substitute. 😉

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