I confess to being somewhat of a neighborhood snob.
There are two basic kinds of ex-pats- those who do not realize that there is an Istanbul worth living in outside of Cihangir, and those who realize that there is an Istanbul worth living in outside of Kadikoy but who choose to ignore it. I am definitely in the second camp, and something about the fierce snobbery thrown at the Asian-side dwellers by the Cihangirites is comfortingly like the ‘tude we got in Baltimore in the ’90’s from Washington and New York dwellers. Why would you live in such a dump when the glories await you in the North and South? We took a fierce pride in our shitty little city, and pitied those who didn’t have the scope or patience to sift through the crime and junkies, the burnt out houses and slums to find what made our city beautiful, and for us, as the bus stop benches pathetically claimed, “The Greatest City In America.” Living in New York, as far as we were concerned, showed a profound lack of imagination.
I feel the same kind of fierce loyalty towards Kadikoy. When I arrived here two and a half years ago, there were far fewer yabanci’s here than there are now, and the Lonely Planet had nearly nothing to say about it. One lousy paragraph that basically said “There is nothing there. Don’t bother.” (I’m liberally paraphrasing.) A friend who’d lived here a few years ago- in Beyoğlu, natch, warned me when I announced my decision to move, “Try to get an apartment in Beyoğlu or Cihangir. There’s nothing on the Asian side, and it’s dirty.”
Delighted, I got an apartment on the Asian side.
This year I’ve seen an explosion of tourists in Kadikoy, even this early in the season. Apparently it’s gaining cred as a more authentic Istanbul experience or something, whatever that means. This bodes well for the new apartment, the fantastic rent of which Agent L hopes to offset by offering the spare room on AirBnB.
Anyway, spring has sprung here, tourists are flocking with their huge Nikons and ugly nylon travel bags and weird hats, and I would like to recommend to all things to do in this lovely corner of the city, which I fiercely love.
1. Have Breakfast at Polka Cafe.
The service is indifferent and slow, but their presentation of the traditional Kahvaltı is just superb, with all your jellies and fixings and butter in dear little pots and ramekins, and they paint polka dots on your hard boiled egg, a touch I find insanely endearing. It’s tucked away on a little corner away from anything, and is a lovely place to while away a few quiet hours nibbling and sipping coffee.
2. Explore the Fish Market.
It’s five minutes from Polka Cafe, a real feast for your eyes and nose, and before lunch you’re far less likely to be run over by elderly ladies wielding fearsome net shopping bags.
3. Go shopping on Bahariye Street, and then off Bahariye Street.
Bahariye has a wealth of treasures. Ladies- you cannot pass over the Mango. The bottom floor has the new stuff, but the top two floors are AN OUTLET. An outlet that tends to be far less picked over than its Istiklal counterpart. Next door to the Mango is a Koton, also with an upper floor outlet. Across the road is an Accessorize, which has just the cutest jewelry ever. Walking from Mango towards the bull, (against traffic) on the right you’ll see a tiny cobbled street with a big statue of an open book at the entrance. This I fondly call Art/Orthopedic row, as the left hand side is devoted to artisans stalls where you can pick up unusual things made from blown glass, or mosaic, or embroidery, or silver, and the right hand side is devoted to orthopedic shops, with their ghoulish manekins displaying their various braces and adult incontinence products. At the end of Bahariye, towards the bull, on the left you’ll see the Open Store, which is just a big steel box crammed full of shirts and sweaters that have fallen off some truck. Nothing’s over 15TL. If you walk up the stairs at the back of Open Store, you’ll find yourself on a dingy little street dotted with knock-off handbag and shoe stores that put Chinatown to shame. (Employing roughly this trajectory, Agent L recently bought herself an entire outfit- dress, cardigan, jacket and shoes, for 115TL, in one hour and twenty minutes. But then Agent L is a fantastically efficient shopper. She would offer to take you sometime, but she actually has little patience for shopping, and will inevitably get annoyed at you for dilly-dallying.)
But don’t just stay on Bahariye. Walk to the bull at the end and take your obligatory photos with the statue like everyone else and then get your bearings. If you walk down the hill following the tram tracks, on the left you’ll come to a shop called Lashez, and if you happen to like prim floral dresses cut along fifties shapes, and creamy romantic blouses with nice embroidery, and don’t like spending more than 80 lira a pop, as Agent L most certainly does and doesn’t, you’ll be very happy. Or cross the road and disappear into a warren of little streets dotted with unbelievably cheap shoe stores and weird little offbrand clothes shops where you can find very good deals indeed. Or walk down the street that the bull’s ass is facing, otherwise known as Wedding Dress row, and see an unbelievable display of the ghastliest, tackiest wedding gowns ever devised by man. There are over thirty shops, and just when you think they can’t get any worse some fresh hell is waiting in the next window display to delight and appall you.
4. Take the Nostaljik Tramvay all the way around.
5. Eat Lunch at Pide Sun.
I have introduced Turks to this place who’ve been amazed that I found it. Seriously the best Pide ever, and they make it fresh to order every time, so you can see them assemble it and slide it into the wood burning oven and then bring it to your table. If you sit outside, the people watching ain’t half bad, either.
6. Go sit in Moda Park.
You can see the Princes Islands hanging out in the Marmara on your left, and slightly to the right, all of Sultanahmet stretching before you. Off in the far distance you’ll be able to see lines of tankers and cargo ships patiently waiting their turn to go down the channel to the Black Sea. Sail boats and fishing boats and ferries will drift by, trailing sea gulls. Watch families stroll by and teenagers making out on the rocks. Hang out with the packs of stray dogs, and watch the sea cats hunting for mice in the sea wall. If you want, you can shoot a bb gun at some balloons for a lira. It’s really nice.
7. Have dinner at Semolina.
Who knew two Turkish girls could be so good at making hand-made pasta? If you’re an ex-pat who desperately misses real parmesan cheese, this is your place. If you’re a tourist who’s just psyched to eat Turkish food, still not to be missed. I am always a little opposed to paying for pasta, which is so quick and easy to make well at home, but Semolina changed my mind, and at under twenty lira an entree, does not break the bank. Also, do not skip the Caesar salad. Just a warning though- they don’t have a liquor license, so no vino with your grub. Which is why your next stop should be: