I’m a long time Kadikoy resident and I love it. The maze of backstreets with no names where it’s easy to get lost as you stop and stare, duck in and out of little shops to taste and touch and buy. However when you’ve only come over on a day trip from your hotel in Sultanahmet it can be quite daunting. Many’s the time I’ve seen couples standing at the start of the chaos, the guy insistently pointing at the map while frantically looking for the non-existent street signs, while his female companion looks hopefully at the passing fray for a friendly face to ask for help. To make the most of your time put away your guide book and learn how to visit Kadikoy like a local.
- Brunch is the only way to start the day
Begin the day out by heading up the hill from the ferry wharf to Bahariye Caddesi, Kadikoy’s answer to Istiklal Street. Ignore the eateries on the main street and turn down Artist Street where you can have a lavish Turkish breakfast of spicy sausage, white cheese, zesty green and black olives, fresh bread and endless glasses of Turkish tea in one of the family run cafes housed in historical wooden konak buildings. Afterwards join the throngs in browsing the small studios displaying the works of the artisans that line the laneways. Here you can buy traditional Turkish crafts, ebru (marbling) paper, earrings made out of felt worked from goat’s wool, glass blown jewellery, or have your portrait drawn by one of the talented caricature artists. If all this makes you thirsty, head for the Nazim Hikmet Cultural centre, built in honour of Turkey’s famous romantic communist poet. No matter the season hardened locals always sit outside under the trees, drinking tea and smoking furiously while making plans to set the world to rights.
- Fresh is best
Stroll back down the walking street to the famous statue of a bull at the spot where everyone meets up, and turn left. At the bottom of the hill, just past the 400 year old Osmanağa Mosque, you come to Fish Street. Not its real name, it’s identified according to the Turkish tradition of calling streets by the main trade or business practiced in them. These days the street is crammed full of people and shops. There are butchers with lovingly displayed skinned sheep heads, pickle shops with windows full of jars of preserved bell peppers, aubergines and cucumbers and spice shops with herbal cures for every ailment. Then come rows and rows of carefully laid out and symmetrically arranged fish, watching you with vacant glassy eyes. The species on offer change according to the season and many of them defy description, like the pock-marked kalkan I’m told make good eating. Squeeze your way past women doing their daily shopping trailed by porters with hand woven baskets on their backs ready to carry everything home, to check out the spice sellers, charcuteries, honey specialists, green grocers and restaurants further up the street.
- The second most important meal of the day
By now you’ll have realised there’s no such thing as a quiet street in Istanbul, but there are secluded corners where you can catch your breath and recharge your batteries. Moda Caddesi, parallel to Fish St one street up, leads to a suburb of the same name. Follow it along until you reach a set of tram lines running across the street. This is Cem Sokak, home of the aptly names Saklı Kösk, the Hidden Pavilion. Built in 1909 for a Romanian businessman called Miltiadi Patos, and later residence of the famous Turkish caricaturist Cemil Cem, it now houses a wonderful restaurant. You can sit inside or outside in the beautiful garden but make sure you go upstairs and admire the gorgeous hand painted ceilings and walls while you glide across the original squeaky parquet flooring. Take your time to bask in the old fashioned Turkish service while you debate what to eat. Food plays an important role in Turkish culture and the menu here, with its contemporary take on traditional cuisine, deserves careful study.
- You always have room for something sweet
Make sure you leave room for dessert, specifically ice cream from Ali Usta Dondurmaci. The short walk to this shop near the end of Moda Caddesi should give you enough time to make some space in your stomach. Don’t be surprised if you hear a mix of languages as you walk along. This old established suburb is home to many expats, well-travelled Turks and people seeking new tastes in one of the many specialist cafes and bistros that have opened up in the last few years. When you reach Ali Usta don’t be put off by the queue, there was probably one there when they first opened in 1969. This is one of the few establishments where Turks wait in an orderly line to be served, and having time to decide what you want is essential. Turkish ice cream is made with mastic, a natural gum giving it a unique chewiness and sahlep, a type of flour made from orchids, which adds an irresistible texture. There are so many flavours on offer, like chocolate, hazelnut, pistachio, strawberry, raspberry and coconut and more, that it’s hard to make a choice. It helps that you can have two different types in the one scoop, instantly making your two scoop ice cream into four. If the ice cream alone isn’t enough of a taste sensation, say yes to chopped nuts and chocolate sauce on the top. Take advantage of the outdoor tables and chairs where you can sit and lick away your dessert while lazily watching the passing crowds.
- Even when you’re full!
By the time you’ve completed the fifteen minute stroll back into the heart of Kadikoy you’ll be ready for a cup of Turkish coffee. Go straight to Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir, who’ve been in business since 1777. Haci Bekir is famous for their Turkish Delight, which they’ve been making since the 18th century. It’s well worth taking your time over their mouth-wateringly varied selection of this tasty sweet known in Turkish as lokum. Naturally they offer the famous rose water lokum, along with other classics such as those studded with pistachios, hazelnuts or walnuts, but I adore the newer flavours such as pomegranate or in winter, lemon lokum with a fresh kaymak (clotted cream) centre. It’s wickedly indulgent so you’re expected to be as fussy as the sultans Haci Bekir once supplied. Ordering your coffee is the easy part. Just decide if you want it sade (straight), orta (medium sugar) or şekerli (very sweet). Make sure you take some Turkish Delight home with you too, to give as a gift and for when you get hungry later.
Don’t forget the unofficial sixth way to live like a local by enjoying the ferry ride back across the Sea of Marmara, passing over the spot where the sea meets the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn. And yes, you can get tea or coffee and a snack on board, should you so desire
*for non-Turks or people coming to Turkey for the first time, having a light meal the night before of even skipping dinner altogether is advisable if you want to survive the next day.