Travel: The other side of Istanbul
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
Caddebostan Dalyan Park, on the Asian side of Istanbul
Yanyali Fehmi Lokansi is a family-run restaurant with a classic, old-school vibe