Travel: The other side of Is­tan­bul

Muscat Daily - - FRONT PAGE - Lu­cas Peter­son

Is­tan­bul, fa­mously, is a city that strad­dles two con­ti­nents. And it’s clearly the Eu­ro­pean side of the Bosporus that at­tracts the bulk of the city’s tourism - in part be­cause it’s home to the an­cient city’s big league at­trac­tions, like the Ha­gia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. But the Asian side of the strait, often over­looked by vis­i­tors, is worth ex­plor­ing in its own right, as I found when I vis­ited in June with my girl­friend, Sarah.

I felt like I could have spent weeks ex­plor­ing Kadikoy, a huge sea­side district of more than half a mil­lion peo­ple with great shop­ping, in­cred­i­ble food, colour­ful street art and an en­er­getic and pro­gres­sive sen­si­bil­ity. Even bet­ter, from where I was based, in the bo­hemian, laid-back Yelde­gir­meni neigh­bour­hood, I could seem­ingly count the num­ber of tourists I en­coun­tered daily on one hand. It also hap­pened to give me am­ple op­por­tu­nity to do what I do best: Get­ting max­i­mum en­joy­ment from a min­i­mal amount of lira.

Speak­ing of lira, the ex­change rate has moved dras­ti­cally in favour of the dol­lar since I vis­ited - an­other blow to a coun­try that has seen tourism take a down­turn in the wake of po­lit­i­cal tur­moil and ter­ror­ist at­tacks in re­cent years. A cou­ple of tips: Keep that dis­par­ity in cur­rency in mind as you’re shop­ping, and be re­spect­ful while bar­gain­ing.

Our lodg­ings at the My Dora Ho­tel in Yelde­gir­meni were ideal for a cou­ple of rea­sons. The ho­tel was close to the wa­ter­front, fer­ries and sub­way sta­tion, and pro­vided easy ac­cess to the Moda neigh­bour­hood to the south. I was also happy with the price - US$52 a night for a clean, air-con­di­tioned room dur­ing sum­mer sea­son.

More­over, Yelde­gir­meni felt es­tab­lished and wel­com­ing, and ut­terly lack­ing pre­ten­sion. The rel­a­tively un­crowded, nar­row streets are a plea­sure to walk, with in­nu­mer­able cute cof­fee and break­fast places, as well as street art in­stal­la­tions on Karakol­hane Street and pleas­ant shop­ping spots like Bee Vin­tages, a charm­ingly clut­tered cloth­ing and col­lectibles store on Re­caizade Street. All the while, you’re fol­lowed by the slight­est of breezes and the faint but in­escapable scent of sea air.

Those briny breezes cer­tainly whet the ap­petite - par­tic­u­larly in a city where the res­i­dents clearly love to eat, and eat well. And near the end of Ra­madan, when I vis­ited, restau­rants were pos­i­tively packed once the sun went down. That in­cluded Yanyali Fehmi Lokansi - rec­om­mended by the owner of Bee Vin­tages - a fam­ily-run restau­rant just a few steps from the Osman Aga mosque, with a clas­sic, old­school vibe be­fit­ting its nearly 100 years in ex­is­tence.

As with many of the more tra­di­tional restau­rants in the city, the or­der­ing process is cafe­te­ria-style. You order from (or point to, in my case) a series of dishes that are pre­pared by the kitchen through­out the day, and these are brought to your ta­ble. Din­ner for two, with tea and a sweet piece of poppy seed cake, was 76 lira.

A few blocks south is Ciya, a restau­rant so pop­u­lar that it has two ad­di­tional out­posts on the same street (you’ll want to go to Ciya Sofrasi, if you can; it has a more ex­ten­sive menu while the other two spe­cialise in ke­babs). We had no luck find­ing a ta­ble at din­ner, but were seated im­me­di­ately when we re­turned the next day for lunch. There, we took part in chef Musa Dagde­viren’s ex­tra­or­di­nary on­go­ing ex­per­i­ments with Ana­to­lian cuisine.

I can’t re­mem­ber the last time I had so many var­ied tex­tures and tastes from a sim­ple sam­pler plate of cold meze. A nutty bul­gur salad segued into pleas­ingly bit­ter stuffed grape leaves. A por­tion of mung beans was de­li­cious, as was a fra­grant wild oregano salad, a sim­ple hum- mus, an eg­g­plant salad and purslane drowned in tangy yo­gurt. Best of all was a sim­ply pre­pared, im­pos­si­bly crunchy salad of sea beans.

Lest you think all I did was eat on my trip (though, to be fair, I spent a good deal of time do­ing just that), there is plenty to do that does not re­volve around food. I en­joyed walk­ing on the wa­ter­front, both near the fer­ries, which pro­vides nice views of Is­tan­bul’s Eu­ro­pean side, and on the city’s south­ern coast, in Cad­de­bostan Dalyan Park.

There are walk­ing and bike paths, a beach and views of the Prince Is­lands to the south. Loung­ing on the grass in Cad­de­bostan is a lo­cal pas­time: Peo­ple bring their pic­nic bas­kets, and books and spend the af­ter­noon. Take the op­por­tu­nity to peek at some of the de­crepit old man­sions that line the wa­ter - huge struc­tures like the Sabiha Hanim Kosku, and the Ragip Pasa Kosku, built in 1906.

On the wa­ter­front in Cad­de­bostan, which of­fers walk­ing and bike paths, a beach and views of the Prince Is­lands to the south

Sun­set and a view of the Eu­ro­pean side of Is­tan­bul

Cus­tomers en­joy break­fast at a lo­cal cafe

Lo­cal cafes are the best places to sam­ple a va­ri­ety of cuisines

(The New York Times pho­tos)

Cad­de­bostan Dalyan Park, on the Asian side of Is­tan­bul

Yanyali Fehmi Lokansi is a fam­ily-run restau­rant with a clas­sic, old-school vibe

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