I never belonged anywhere until I moved to Istanbul. I have a strange relationship with this city than can conjure both love and hate, sometimes simultaneously. So, I created my personal blog Istanbul22, to not only continue writing (my day job ain’t so creative), but also to give due appreciation to those places in the city that have managed to retain their simple honesty in a time of virulent pretension. You know what I mean.
Aret'in Yeri - Aret's Place
The side streets off İstiklal Caddesi are damn ugly, but for unbeknownst reasons, some of the nicest little restaurants are also hidden around these areas. Like theJ’adore Chocolatier and Cafe, Zübeyir Ocakbaşı (meat!), Sabırtaşı Restoran (the famous içli köfte), Hacı Abdullah (esnaf), Emine Ana Tantuni, Zencefil (vegetarian),Mandabatmaz (Turkish coffee)…
However, as of yesterday my favorite ugly Taksim restaurant is Aret’in Yeri with some of the best meyhane food I’ve had in a long time. As soon as you sit down, a rapid succession of meze just lands on your table, and everything is damn good. I got to feast on excellent Topik, İstiridye Mantar, Atom, Pilaki, Balık Mantısı, and Paçanga Böreği, and I’m making plans to go back to eat everything else (especially the different fish varieties that arrive on skewers). Even the melon they serve is perfectly ripe and tastes like honey all up in your mouth. The bottles of rakı waiting for their owners and portraits from 1920s Istanbul are also lovely little visuals. Go there!
Katip Mustafa Çelebi Mahallesi, Hasnun Galip Sokak No:23 Kat:1, Beyoğlu.
P: (0212) 292 10 10
Beyoğlu Balık Pazarı (Fish Market)
Contrary to its name, the Beyoğlu Balık Pazarı has a lot more than just fish. It’s like a smaller version of the Spice Bazaar without all the ugly tourists (yes, I said ‘ugly.’) Focus on Dudu Odaları Sokak, which begins with Titiz Manav (fresh fruits and vegetables) on the corner and continues with Bünsa Baharat (spices and tea), Üç Yıldız Şekerleme (Turkish delight, candy, and homemade jams), Şütte (charcuterie), and Petek Turşuları (everything pickled). These are just the standouts, but do feel free to frolic like the gourmand that you are, cause there’s plenty more to discover.
Heyamola Ada Lokantası (Island Restaurant)
Last weekend’s theme was “the city sucks.” And so, we somehow made it through the ass-to-crotch public transportation and got ourselves onto a Heybeliada boat (note: the one hour ride there, which is usually lovely, was completely soiled by Arabs with selfie-sticks). For a city that breeds misanthropy, getting away is, thankfully, simple. Go to Heybeliada if you want to be alone, if you miss silence, if you long for some trees in your face, and if you need, desperately, to just wander aimlessly. And when you get hungry make your way back to the city center and have dinner at Heyamola (reservations recommended). Choose from the meze (everything is delicious), get a big bottle of rakı, and give Istanbul the finger (for now).
Yalı Caddesi (across from the Mavi Marmara pier), Heybeliada.
P: (0216) 351 11 11
Ayder Balık (Fish) & Rumeli Feneri (Lighthouse)
The area encompassing Rumelikavağı, Garipçe, and Rumeli Feneri, way north of the city, is unbelievably green. But with the third Bosphorus bridge underway, their oncoming demise hangs like an albatross around Istanbul’s neck. So even though it’s snowing outside, you should probably make your way there soon before the hungry jowls of gentrification temporarily satiate their endless appetite.
Ayder Balık Restaurant is worth the drive as an escape in the truest sense of the word. The view is a confluence of dark blue sea waves and the deep green of facing Anadolu Kavağı. Similarly, the food is just as inspiring with that simple yet successful equation of excellent meze plus fresh fish. When you’re done staring down all that nature and eating excessively (happily), continue the drive through Garipçe all the way to Rumeli Feneri, which (pictured above) is a place for endless gazing.
Ayder Balık: İskele Caddesi No.2, Rumelikavağı-Sarıyer.
P: (0212) 218 34 34
Kandilli Suna’nın Yeri
Eating fish right by the Boğaz is quintessentially Istanbul, and Kandilli Suna’nın Yeri is probably the best place to do it because of its wholly endearing informality. The wooden tables are steps away from the water’s edge and you can never go wrong with fried calamari and grilled sea bass (also ask about the day’s catch for the most seasonal fish options). Also, I’m not sure where they buy their fruit, but the fruit plate for dessert is really good. I’d avoid Kandilli on the weekends because of the horrid traffic, so go on a weekday if you can.
Kandilli Mahallesi, Kandilli İskele Caddesi No.17, Üsküdar. P: (0216) 332 32 41
PS: While you’re in the neighborhood, take a left on Kandilli-Göksu Caddesi and walk until you get to the Küçüksu Kasrı (a former Ottoman palace) and a bit further down to the Anadolu Hisarı (a former Ottoman fort) for some aberrant sightseeing.
Photo courtesy of Suna’s Instagram feed
Kadıköy Balık Pazarı (Fish Market)
I sometimes have dreams where I’m flying over forests, the whisk of my turn making enough wind to shuffle the pines. When you live in a big city, you’re bound to have an adverse reaction to that gray urban shuffle. Ideally, we should all be living the Forest Feast, but because we can’t (just yet?) we try to harvest a more natural, healthier lifestyle.
That’s why Istanbul’s markets are a blessing, hauling in all that natural produce from places we either dream of or inhabit temporarily for vacation. The Kadıköy Balık Pazarı (Fish Market) sells more than just fresh fish because it’s actually a conglomeration of many different stores selling fruits, vegetables, pickles, dairy products, sweetbreads (if you’re into that), honey, coffee, and so on. Stretched out over Güneşli Bahçe Sokak close to the Kadıköy pier, you’ll be able to find almost anything. If you’d rather shop on the European side, the Beşiktaş Market on Saturdays (on Nüzhetiye Caddesi) is also ripe with fresh produce and a whole world of textiles and kitchen accessories on the second floor. You probably won’t go back to your local supermarket.
Pinsa is a modest little Moda shop with a counter displaying the day’s freshly handmade Roman style pizzas. You’ll witness glistening ingredients on rectangular, crispy, oven baked flat bread, which are simply miraculous (palatally speaking). Whether it’s chickpea puree, spinach, and walnuts; lor cheese, watercress, prosciutto, and mozzarella; or anchovies marinated in vinegar, with cherry tomatoes and parsley (to name a few), the selection changes daily and you’ll definitely want a slice from everything. Guaranteed.
Moda Bostan Sokak No.32 E1, Moda.
P: (0216) 348 95 55
Photo courtesy of Pinsa’s Facebook Page
What is a meyhane? It sure as hell isn’t a ‘Turkish tavern’ (much like sucuk isn’t a ‘Turkish pepperoni’). To say it’s a place for rakı and meze is a reduction most similar to an insult. A meyhane is a place to resolve emotional strife, a table where those seated unravel through the aid of slight inebriation, allowing for the deepest sense of companionship to bloom, and for the suppressed to flourish. You may declare your love at a rakı masası, or mollify the metaphysical disfigurement of heartbreak. It is a place where strangers become friends, where emotional effulgence is entirely welcomed (expected). The meyhane is, thus, an emotional, almost therapeutic undertaking. So, there really is no way to understand it without experiencing it first-hand.
One of my favorite Istanbul meyhanes is Ali Haydar in Samatya (a neighborhood known for its modest meyhane culture). On a nightly basis, the establishment rises with the waves of poignant conversation, punctuated by the clinking of rakı glasses. And the food, good lord, the kebab fresh from the grill, the most correct version of every meze, and the cold sweat running down every ehli-keyif (pictured). Until the rakı runs out, until you can’t eat any more, until (seemingly) all is well again, Ali Haydar is an essential Istanbul experience.
Samatya Meydanı, Gümüş Yüzük Sokak No. 6, Samatya.
P: (0212) 584 21 62
Bahçede Sinek Kafe
Büyükada has become the most popular Prince Island to avoid. The reason? Masses of obtuse tourist flesh just emptily hovering in the city center or presenting animal torture to the horse drawn carriages (fayton) with their slothful weight. Sorry for the negativity, but you’ll know what I mean when you witness it on any given Saturday.
Yet, there is hope! If you can manage to go on a weekday, or strategically and quickly flee from the city center on a weekend, you can discover parts of the island that are peacefully deserted. You can also rent a bike (5TL an hour) and ride up toBahçede Sinek Kafe, a backyard inspired refuge with Turkish breakfast classics and friendly owners whose aging terrier roams around sniffing for edibles. Also ask if you can take a friendly peak at their house (behind the cafe), an absolute marvel of modern architecture in total harmony with its natural surroundings. Feel free to daydream.
Yılmaztürk Caddesi No.106, Büyükada.
P: (0216) 382 35 78
Haute cuisine is not for everyone. On an empty stomach, the sight of a plate splattered/constructed with a few edible bits can become rather infuriating. Yet, the purpose of this food genre is not really sustenance, but appreciation, much like art. It offers a taste journey through unique combinations and a vacation from the routine meal. It is a bit of a luxury and only duly appreciated by the willing and interested.
Nicole Restaurant is the only haute cuisine Istanbul restaurant worth writing about without breaking my vow to the honest and ‘not-full-of-shit’ (read the About section for those details).
An upscale establishment without all the expected egocentric by-products, Nicole’s essence is supported by the honesty and passion of its two chefs: Kaan Sakarya and Aylin Yazıcıoğlu. Both trained at Michelin starred restaurants in France, the couple simply wander the city’s organic markets, pick out the most seasonal materials, and create intensely inspiriting menus (which change every six weeks). Every dish in the short or long tasting menu is also accompanied by specially chosen wines from Turkey’s boutique purveyors.
I have personally witnessed their astounding craft four times, and every dish left irreplaceably gratifying memories upon my tasting sensibilities. Go there. I promise that you will leave happy, a bit inebriated, and definitely imbued with a new sense of appreciation for eating.
Boğazkesen Caddesi, Tomtom Kaptan Sokak No.18, Beyoğlu.
P: (0212) 292 44 67
I’m always a bit envious of couples who are so attuned that even the confluence of their talent produces something greater than their individual selves. It’s a beacon of hope, really, for the status quo where relationships are tumultuous and marriages fail. I guess the generation before us was less selfish or just appreciative of simplicity.
The owners of Sah Galeri in Moda are such a couple, and the confluence of their talent has produced one of the most beautiful antique shops imaginable. There is antique furniture, porcelain, paintings, and sculptures, yet in between there are also peculiar signs and posters from a bygone era and toys from very different childhoods. It’ll take you a while to process it all, but you will definitely find something that’ll stir your possessive instincts.
Moda Caddesi, Tellalzade Sokak No.9A, Moda