For as long as I can remember, Tellalzade Sokak in Kadikoy on the Asian side of Istanbul, has never been referred to by its registered name. Streets in Turkey are called after a person who once lived there and gave the street its identity, or for the trades carried out in the shops lining the road. Judging by the use of both a front vowel and a back vowel in the same word, that is an ‘e’ with an ‘a’, tellal likely originates from Ottoman Turkish. Its primary definition is town crier. Combined with the word zade it means ‘son of the town crier’ and suggests this was where one lived. However this narrow street, walled in by the faded glory of smart apartment blocks from the 1960s, and more traditional brick and render konak houses tucked in side-by-side has always been designated as Antik Sokak, or Antique Street.
Maybe this is because a secondary meaning of tellal is ‘broker’. The proprietors of the shops in Antique Street act as middlemen for the eskici, the sellers of old wares who roam the surrounding neighbourhoods, buying items no longer needed by their owners. After acquiring them for a few lira they bring them here in search of a quick profit. Once inside the doors of the antique stores these unwanted belongings are reinvented and offered for sale as much sought after and cherished treasures.
Even though I don’t need anything I like to browse through the objects for sale in Antik Sokak and often have a light snack at the Esnaf lokantasi, a kind of tradesmen’s canteen located near the corner. I’ve been to many such eateries throughout Turkey, and they always have one hearty staple meal which they produce every day, supplemented by an assortment of dishes that change according to the mood of the cook and what’s in season. Aimed at working men, these establishments offer nutritious and tasty food at reasonable prices. Girls from respectable families are often warned against eating in such places as to do so will instantly render them lower class, but being foreign and a fan of this simple but tasty fare I have no such inhibitions.
The one in Antik Sokak specialises in nohutlu tavuklu pilav, rice served with chicken and chickpeas. I first ate this dish in the mishmash of streets around Eminönü, a wholesale centre that fans out from the perimeters of the Kapalı Çarşı, the famous Grand Bazaar, which reaches all the way to the shores of the Golden Horn. Back then servings of chicken and chickpeas were sold by men pushing carts made from the base of old fashioned prams, with a rectangular glass display case haphazardly secured on top. Behind the steaming panes a mountain of rice glistened from the butter in which it was cooked. A generous scoop was tapped out onto an aluminium plate, adorned with strips of boiled shredded chicken and then dotted with chickpeas. I always added a liberal helping of pul biber, dried chilli flakes, and a pinch of salt.
In Antique Street most of the customers of the tradesman’s café are dealers from the shops in the street, as well as shop assistants from surrounding ones, such as Fish and Migros Supermarket Streets. They do a brisk business as the area transforms from a cheap student hang to a more upmarket shopping area, which has seen similar eateries forced to close in the face of rising rents. Inside, single men sit at laminex tables assiduously wiped clean by the young trainee waiter who can’t take his eyes off me, the only woman in the place. Reluctantly he tears himself away from my exotic and therefore captivating blue eyes to walk deliveries of food, on plates well covered in plastic wrap with cutlery on the side, to nearby offices. I fill my fork with rice, chicken and chickpeas and slowly chew in time with the old Turkish song being played on an ancient portable radio hanging above the service counter.
More often these days, the young and the restless, students and those who claim the profession of official protestors against anything and everything fill the street on hot summer nights. They sit on …”
You can read the complete version of “Antique Street” in the 2nd edition of my collection of essays Inside Out In Istanbul: Making Sense of the City.
For more on hunting antiques in Istanbul have a look at The Bazaars of Istanbul by Isabel Bocking.
If you enjoyed this post, check out my “Discover Istanbul” category in the Categories drop down menu on the right hand side towards the top of this page. I’m sure it’ll inspire to you to go exploring!