Driving in from the airport to the old neighborhood of Istanbul, the streets narrow as we pass ironwork windows, padlocked doors, the Akbiyik Fish & Meat House and a hammam. A short walk from the Blue Mosque, we end up at a standstill—two-way traffic on a one-way street. A small crowd gathers, cigarettes are smoked, small cups of coffee are passed and, finally, one taxi backs up to allow us through.

Not having dinner plans, I ask around and end up at Giritli Restoran, a Cretan restaurant with a large patio off a side street. The menu offers bean salads, nettles with fresh cheese, fish pastrami, pickles and fried calamari with walnut sauce. I begin with köpoğlu, a dish of fried eggplant with yogurt and tomato sauce.

It is a simple combination, but also simply divine. The earthiness of the eggplant with the creamy tang of yogurt topped with a slightly sweet tomato sauce is one of the best culinary threesomes imaginable.

The trick with köpoğlu is cooking the eggplant. A soak in salted, acidulated water (water spiked with acid, in our case lemon juice) does the trick. It browns nicely in hot oil and holds its shape, and the texture is silky. We sauté a couple of Anaheim peppers to layer in with the eggplant before adding the Greek yogurt and tomato sauce. Parsley and garlic are the only other additions.

The lesson? Simplicity is best.