Istanbul for Beginners I
Article by Deniz Yılmaz Akman
–For Turkish version: Link
One of the best ways to discover a city is to memorize each street vendor one by one. They are the most loyal guardians of the roads. Sometimes they cross our paths in the most predictable and unpredictable places. Having continued on to our current day since 1950, the existence of these street flavors is one of the many things that define the identity of this city.
It’s the cotton candy and halvah sellers that cross our path along the Bosphorous shore, the sweet vendors that multiply as the night falls (tulumba, burma, or also recognized as the ring shaped syrupy treats), the boza sellers that yell “Bozaaa” on those winter nights, the seasonal sweet corn vendors that have them grilled or buttered, the more recently spotted chickpea-rice street vendors, the taffy sellers around Karaköy and other historical neighborhoods, the pickle shops around Fatih, Unkapanı and Eminönü that have you craving pickle juice the moment you’re in the area; it’s all of these things that make up different areas of this city. The red and white simit cars that have become a symbol of the city, the man in the white apron that greets you with handmade içli köfte (stuffed mutton ball) (Sabırtaşı İçli Köfte) by the Beyoğlu Hazo Pulo Pasaj, the grilled fish sandwiches around the the Galata Bridge, the sound of thick knives making contact, the rythmic motion of the diced and spiced kokoreç, the unforgettable roasted chestnuts during those long winter months and especially those trays of stuffed mussels waiting on the streets of Beyoğlu… These are just a small collection of the many tastes of Istanbul. There are lost flavors that were once engraved into the mind of Istanbul natives; salty cucumber, yogurt/milk carried in jugs, and sorbet with eccentric aromas are only a few to name.
Stuffed mussels: Istiklal Street corners or Kadikoy Kadife Street
Simit: All around Karaköy, Beyoğlu, Kadıköy, Eminönü, Nişantaşı, Şişli streets
Chestnuts: On Istiklal street especially in the winters
Boza: Vefa Bozacısı in Vefa neighborhood
Kokoreç: In Galata or Tepebaşı. Also you can eat in Sirkeci; Imparator Kokorec.
Stuffed mutton balls: Sabırtaşı İçli Köfte; İstiklal Cad. No:112
Pickle and pickle juice: In Eminönü you can find some in front of ferry bridge, or in Cihangir; Asri Turşucu.
Another beautiful feature of Istanbul is its meyhane dining culture. Whether to sit in sorrow or to celebrate with happiness, this is the kind of place you visit with loved ones. With the musical entertainment in the back, you’ll just surrender to the smell of anise. The real objective would be to find a meyhane that has some regular visitors and share a conversation with them.
The word “meyhane” literally means ‘small oboe’ in Turkish and ‘wine’ in French while “hane” means ‘home’. Although it’s composed of these words, it’s best understood today as the place where people enjoy rakı and beer as they pour out their thoughts. They multiplied in numbers after the conquer of Istanbul, especially around Galata where non-muslims were residing. Aside from that, there were also a high number of these meyhanes stationed around the Tahtakale area due to its proximity to the port.
Reşat Ekrem Koçu once spoke about the Galata meyhane’s:
“Up until recently, Galata was being transformed by the Greeks and Franks, and this collection and grandness of meyhanes that have existed for hundreds of years between now and the time that Istanbul was conquered, are famous for their expertise in catering to the pleasure of drinking that root back to the Greek meyhane culture.”
Later on, this meyhane culture matured; a place pure with amusement and pleasant conversation, cold appetizers, and rakı are only a medium of these ‘genuine’ places. Whether its a love-filled service that dates back 100 years at Safa Meyhanesi, an honorary table set for Atatürk at Tarihi Cumhuriyet Meyhanesi (built in 1880 but renamed under “Cumhuriyet” in the 1920’s), the first meyhane built for women in 1946 by Madam Despina standing as a typical Green meyhane under the name Despina’nın Meyhanesi, or Kör Agop Meyhanesi that was built by a blind husband and wife in the 1980s that is now managed by their grandchild Daniel Inciyan; it’s meyhane’s like these that have the power to transport us to celebrate the old days with a little bit of joy and a little bit of gloom.
Safa Meyhanesi Addres: İlyasbey Cad. No. 121 Yedikule
Tarihi Cumhuriyet Meyhanesi Address: Hüseyinağa Mah., Sahne Sok. 27 Beyoğlu
Despina’nın Meyhanesi Address: Açık Yol Sok. No:9, Kurtuluş, Şişli
Kör Agop Meyhanesi: Ördekli Bakkal Sk. No:7 Kumkapı
Alternatively, there have been recent additions with a modern touch that bring a refined version of the “meyhane”. Sıdıka, located in Akatretler, offers a genuine atmosphere especially during the winter season, while Münferit is always sure to draw a crowd with its quality menu sitting in its modern building in the heart of Beyoğlu.
Sıdıka Address: Şair Nedim Cad. No: 38 Beşiktaş
Münferit Address: Yeni Carşı Cad. No:19 Galatasaray
The han’s that once housed the merchants, travelers, bankers, and traders of Istanbul have now in our current day taken a completely new purpose. Even if their old beauty has faded with time, you are still able to visit a large number of them and embark on a historical journey as you brush up on their background.
Büyük Valide Han: One of the largest han’s located in Istanbul was built by 17th Century’s Kösem Sultan. Found along Çakmakçılar Yokuşu, you’ll notice this area to be a little bit jolly, chaotic, and aged. Büyük Valide Hanı; three courtyards, with a mosque situated inside, and two separate sections that make it up to be a large, small han. The small rooms that were once rented out to Iranians in the 1940s are now either empty or occupied as a studio workshop. If you follow the stairs up to the rooftop, you’ll be greeted with a very authentic view of Istanbul.
Büyük Valide Han Address: Mercan Mah. Çakmakçılar Ykş, Hanlar Bölgesi
Kurşunlu Han: Kurşunlu Han, originally known as Rüstem Paşa Kervansarayı, is situated near the Thursday open air market in Karaköy. Built by Mimar Sinan, this site in particular is recognized for having been built on top of the ancient Genoa cathedral ruins. In the 16th Century, merchants and travelers were known to stay in these rooms but they have been abandoned since then. Regardless, a tour of this han is enough to guide you through a historical voyage.
Kurşunlu Han Address: Kürekçiler Caddesi, Perşembe Pazarı Karaköy
Sen Piyer Hanı: The first place that held the deposit of gold from the Ottoman Bank (now Salt Galata); the initial place of administration was this han. It was built by the Istanbul-based French diplomat Saint Priest in the 18th Century. As you go up towards Komondo Merdivenleri and take your first left, it will appear into view on the right hand side shortly after. Located on the Eski Banka Sokağı, each level of this han has a tale of its own if you figure out a way to find your way in. If you follow along on its second floor, a tight corridor will lead you to Özyer Hardal: home of the best powdered mustard in Istanbul. Ring the door, grab a few boxes of mustard and discover the floors of Sen Piyer that have managed to survive all of these years.
Sen Piyer Hanı Address: Eski Banka Sokağı, Bereketzade (Komondo Merdivenleri’nden çıkınca ilk soldaki sokak) (First street on the left after climbing the Komondo Stairs)
Tahtakale Hans: Having once been the heart of the business world during the 16th and 17th Century, Tahtakale is wedged between Eminönü and Unkapanı as the current market area for electronics, home goods, and miscellaneous items. When we look to the past, the role of these hans lay in the docking ships near the Haliç coast; international import in those days would get unloaded in these locations.
Generali Han: Located on Bankalar Caddesi, this beautiful building tells a different story; hired by an insurance company named “Assikurazioni General”, Giulio Mongeri built this site in the 1900s. If you’re curious about the traces of Art Nouveau and Baroque around Istanbul, you’ll find the most beautiful examples in this building are a must see.
Generali Han Adres: Karaköy Bankalar Caddesi No:31-33
A large portion of Istanbul’s unforgettably charismatic shops are composed of its historical candy shops. These shoppes that have endured a past into our current day are stocked with traditional varities such as badem ezme (almond paste) and akide (rock candy). For more information on these candy shops, look HERE.