Istanbul arguably doesn’t really have one central district, like a downtown or a city center. It is a city of many centers, each with its own flavor. Cihangir (pronounced jee-han-geer) is the center which I find most unique. Actually, Cihangir catches a lot of flak because of its gentrification and the ever-increasing surplus of foreign inhabitants, but you could view it as the neighborhood with the perfect mix between traditional Turkish culture and modern western influence. In fact, one street in particular possesses all you could ask for: Başkurt Sokak.
If you’re into freshly baked poğaça (a turkish pastry filled with a variety of delicious things) try and catch the poğaçacı and his cart on his timely route up the street. I advise the olive poğaça (zeytinli poğaça), but be quick because they are often sold out. Those in the know get them delivered straight through their window.
To be honest the poğaçacı is an elusive man, but don’t worry if you miss him. This street is spoiled with hidden cafes, each with their own vibe. Cafe No. 84 will serve you up delicious morsels on big wooden slabs, in a setting of brick walls and filament lights. Co-founder, Ela Yazici, comes from a background in television, but wanted a change in pace. As you munch on your artfully crafted Turkish breakfast you can gaze out at life on this street. Though this cafe is a new kid on the block, it’s earning its keep well.
If you’re looking for something that feels more like home, then wander a little further on and you’ll find Tel Dolap Cafe. The man behind this cafe, Cenk Yücedağ, drew inspiration from the beauty and openness of a tel dolap (Turkish for a cabinet with windows), something you will undoubtedly notice as you enter. This place is a treasure trove of Cenk’s handcrafted lamps and eclectic books. But if its food you’re after then this cafe offers a medley of those plates Turkey does so well like menemen or pesto baguettes brimming with fresh vegetables.
There is one thing this street boasts of which I haven’t found in many other of Istanbul’s pockets. It comes in beautiful glass bottles in combinations you would never imagine could work and it’s found at JÜS. Cold pressed juices never tasted so exotic. The mastermind, Aylin Erman, has a gift for mixology. Take the Glow Getter for example: carrot, apple, and red pepper in a concoction which will surely help you take on the day. In her cabinet of healthy curiosities she also has almond milk, hazelnut milk, and her extraordinary power-balls, all made on site. JÜS offers a variety of other healthy ingredients including hemp, goji, acai, stevia, bee pollen, and coconut sugar to name a few. Her motto: “We’re keen on customizing.”
Of course you have seen brick-walled cafes with their delicious pressed juices before, however this street manages to bring out the best from Istanbul’s present and past. In addition to the fresh fruits and vegetables sold on the street on horse drawn carts, you can also hear the distinct call of the bozacı selling his thick mildly fermented wheat drink. “Boza!” cried my Turkish friends, “we don’t ever get that on our street”. Their claims that these post card scenes were just a marketing strategy aimed at the Cihangir expats doesn’t hold. There are many on this street who still come from a time when their cup of boza was as natural as a Glow Getter. So whether its Ottoman or contemporary you’re after, you’ll find it all nestled here in the hills of Cihangir.
All images courtesy of Brenden McNulty.