Artsy, eclectic Istanbullus are flocking to the city’s once-sleepy Asian side and its lively cafes, galleries, bars, shops, and eateries. For visitors staying near the historic sights of Sultanahmet, a short and scenically stunning ferry ride across continents is all it takes to join them.
The central parts of the Kadıköy district are the hub of all this activity and an area that rewards wandering, with densely packed markets, relaxed tree-lined streets, and eye-catching walls filled with the large-scale works of Mural Istanbul (facebook.com/muralistanbul) artists as well as politically tinged graffiti. Here’s where to start your explorations of Istanbul’s ‘other side’.
Indulge your senses in the Kadıköy Pazarı
With its vibrant displays of fresh fruit and vegetables, colourful dried pepper and aubergine husks hanging from stalls, and fishmongers calling out the catch of the day, the Kadıköy Produce Market is a feast for the senses. Nibble your way through with tastes of olives, dried fruits, pickle juice, and fresh-off-the-comb honey, or sit down for a heartier repast while watching the crowds go by at Çiya Sofrası, known for its regional Turkish cuisine, or the no-frills lahmacun and pide (flatbread topped with meat or vegetables) shop Borsam Taşfırın (facebook.com/BorsamTasfirinLahmacun).
Pay tribute to a Turkish rock great at the Barış Manço Evi
One of the leading lights of the Anatolian rock genre, which mixed traditional instruments with psychedelic sounds in the 1960s and 1970s, the late singer-songwriter Barış Manço is beloved in Turkey. (There’s even an Istanbul ferry named after him.) His music is piped through his former home in the leafy Moda section of Kadıköy, now a museum (barismanco.kadikoy.bel.tr) filled with collections of his family photos, recordings, personal effects, paintings, gifts from fans abroad, and flamboyant stage costumes.
Get a caffeine boost at Montag Coffee Roasters
The worn steps next to a mobile-phone accessory shop don’t look very enticing, but as the message written on them promises, they lead to good coffee. Just one of a slew of ‘third-wave’ coffee shops sweeping the area, Montag Coffee Roasters (facebook.com/MontagCoffee) offers siphon and pour-over coffee along with cappuccinos and espressos. And yes, there’s traditional Turkish coffee too. The cosy upstairs café overlooks a bustling square centred around a quirky Kadıköy landmark: a small statute of a crocodile.
Art and community at ArtHere
With its long shared work tables, paintings on the walls, and books and magazines scattered about, ArtHere may look like a typical café, but this artist-run space is that and much more. Founded by a Syrian photographer, it serves as gallery, studio, community centre, and even temporary housing for Syrian artists to work with their Turkish and international counterparts. At least once a month ArtHere hosts a movie night, musical performance, artist talk, or workshop for a polyglot public audience.
Turkish fast food with a gourmet twist at Basta
The two young chefs behind Basta Street Food Bar (facebook.com/Basta-Street-Food-Bar) met while working in fine-dining restaurants in France and have now applied their culinary training to the humble dürüm, a Turkish fast-food classic. But this is no ordinary grilled meat rolled up in a thin flatbread wrap. Instead you’ll find creative combos like homemade lamb ‘chorizo’ sausage with hummus – as well as a hearty, healthy salad of the day that’s a welcome break from the typical tomato-cucumber-onion combo.
Riffle through recent history on Antikacılar Sokağı
Cobblestone-paved Tellalzade Sokak, near the Kadıköy Produce Market, is lined with antique vendors, ranging from stuffy showrooms of gaudy furniture and lamps to cluttered jumbles of vintage magazines, records, glassware, jewellery and ephemera. You can easily while away a couple of hours browsing here – and pick up some old photos of Istanbul or a classic portrait of Atatürk, the revered founder of the Turkish Republic, for a souvenir.
Get in the collective spirit at Circuit and Halka
They may not draw the big-name artists and deep-pocketed collectors of the swish art galleries in Beyoğlu and Nişantaşı, but the independent arts and culture initiatives Halka Art Project (halkaartproject.net) and Circuit Istanbul (circuitistanbul.com) offer something else: the chance to engage with local artists, buy affordable works, and join in activities. Circuit is home to weekly yoga and drawing/painting classes in English, while Halka hosts artist talks by international participants in their residency programme and eco-friendly food and gardening workshops led by the Istanbul Permaculture Collective.
Unwind at the Moda Çay Bahçesi
To get a million-dollar view for pocket change, head to the Moda Çay Bahçesi (Moda Tea Garden), a cluster of outdoor purveyors of tea, coffee and light snacks scattered around a promontory overlooking the Marmara Sea. It’s a simple place with plastic chairs and tables, but between the big trees creating a lush canopy above and the mesmerising sight of the sparkling water, there’s no more relaxing place in Kadıköy – or perhaps even all of Istanbul. The waterfront below is ideal for a stroll, especially with an ice-cream cone from Meshur Dondurmacı Ali Usta in hand.
Eat the world at Komşu Kafe
An international spirit pervades the funky little Komşu Kafe Collective (facebook.com/komsuKafeCollective), which regularly hosts communal dinners featuring different global cuisines – Syrian, Ethiopian, French, Iranian, German, Creole and more – often with a vegan/vegetarian emphasis. Other nights there might be a flamenco guitar player holding court, or an open jam session for musicians. This ‘neighbours’ cafe’ seeks to promote an alternative economy, so everything is pay-what-you-can-afford.
Party the night away on Barlar Sokak
Quiet during the day, Kadife Sokak – better known as Barlar Sokak, or ‘Bars Street’ – is hopping after dark with music-lovers and revellers. Though Kadıköy nightlife has spilled well beyond the confines of this short strip, bar/performance spaces like Arkaoda, with its large back garden, and Karga, whose intimate nooks are spread throughout a rambling old house, are still firm favourites.
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