We awoke to beautiful sunny weather for our final day in Istanbul. It was our first day without a guide and now that Istanbul was becoming familiar, we decided to set off across the Bosphorus for a day in Asia. We’d had recommendations to take a trip to Kadikoy and it’s also where a restaurant called Ciya Sofrasi has been made famous by Ottolenghi and many other food writers and we wanted to eat there. Kadikoy is a large and cosmopolitan area on the northern shore of the Sea of Marmara and the cultural centre of the Asian side of Istanbul. It’s a prosperous residential area with some quiet leafy streets near the seafront, as well as a thriving local market, giving us a completely different view of Istanbul to the noise and bustle of Grand Bazaar and the crowded streets around the Blue Mosque.
Our day necessarily began with a good coffee first thing, which meant leaving the hotel and seeking a cafe en route to the ferry terminal on the Eminomu waterfront near the Spice Market. As we passed Hafiz Mustafa I remembered reading about it and so it seemed an ideal spot to stop and enjoy an authentic feel of Istanbul. The coffee was good and the little cakes absolutely delicious. Soon we were buying tickets for our ferry ride, an amazingly cheap deal at 3 Turkish lira – about £1 – each way for a 20-minute journey. It was great fun and although we didn’t get the famous Istanbul view of the Blue Mosque the views were pretty spectacular.
Once off the ferry at Kadikoy, we went into an Information Bureau and got a local map and asked directions to the Carsi – the open bazaar – where, my friend Bogac had told me, there were many bars and restaurants, including Ciya Sofrasi, as well as the market. Walking down the main market street was such a wonderful experience. Here, unlike the Grand Bazaar back on the European side of the city, were locals doing their Saturday shop and the produce was of a fantastic quality. Fabulous vegetables and fruits.
Strings of dried peppers and aubergines.
Then we saw Ciya but decided to walk a bit more before lunch as it was still early.
Another restaurateur tried to entice us into his place. Were Linda and I George’s two wives, he asked. George instantly responded that he’d left four at home, and then we all had a good laugh. I asked the guy where Haci Bekir was, one of the city’s most historic shops and selling the best Lokum – Turkish Delight – since 1777. He didn’t tell me, he took me; down the market we went, turning left after a short distance and straight into the shop as he told me this was the best place; very good.
He offered to get them to give me tastings but I had to say I’d need to come back later with George and Linda. He was very gracious; said goodbye and wished me a good day. Such helpfulness and hospitality were common and it made staying in Istanbul special. Later on, after lunch, I went and bought some of their delicious ‘delights’. Lunch itself was a special affair. Ciya Sofrasi is a lokanta – a self-service workers’ restaurant. They seem to be common and a good way to experience Turkish food, as Hasan our guide the day before had pointed out. There was a wonderful system to choosing your starter from the array of meze – you put what you wanted on a plate and they weighed it. What a brilliant idea! But how to choose? They all looked fabulous. Soon we were sitting at a table, lovely food in front of us, cold bottles of water brought without us asking.
There was a wonderful smooth hummus, a spicy pepper dip, a gorgeous herb salad, one of the dried aubergines we’d seen in the market cooked and stuffed. They were excellent meze. After a bit of a gap – we weren’t in any hurry – I went up to the counter that served main dishes to see what they had and chose a lamb and courgette stew.
This came, with rice, on lovely silvery plates. It was good as well, though perhaps not quite as special as the meze. Another time I think I would have a bigger plate of meze for my entire lunch; that would be perfect. The plan for the afternoon was to take a 5-10 minute walk to Moda where gardens and cafes on the seafront offered good coffee and a quiet and peaceful place to sit and enjoy a great view and sea air. Unfortunately we got lost. Our map wasn’t detailed enough and although helpful people gave us directions, things didn’t seem to tie up. I finally resorted to asking my iPhone where we were and WhatsApp-ing Bogac (who lives there when not in London) who kindly guided us to the right place via a good ice-cream shop.
Delicious chocolate and cherry ice cream was followed by Turkish coffee in Cafe Kemal on the seafront where the view was beautiful. We sat there for quite a while talking and enjoying the tranquillity before heading back to the port and ferry.
As we headed back to Europe the sun was beginning to set and looking across the water was a glorious sight.
We decided it was too late to make our way back to the hotel before supper and we’d take a look at Rustem Paga Mosque, dating from 1560, close to the Spice Market next. Described as a ‘gem’ in our guide, another traveller we’d talked to said seeing it was a must for the beauty of its Ottoman architecture and tiles. Indeed, it was very beautiful and had such a wonderful calm atmosphere. A small mosque, it’s quite hidden and hard to find but stall holders in the market asked us if we were looking for it and pointed the way. I had to cover my head with a scarf again and cover my legs and we all had to take off our shoes before entering.
Inside it was quiet, just us and a couple of men praying. It was a perfect time to arrive (as we left a party of tourists were coming in). Looking up at the dome, at the glorious tile work lining its walls, I was charmed and moved by its beauty.
It seemed to me more beautiful inside than the Blue Mosque, which might be a sacrilegious thing to say, of course, but I just liked it more. Back outside it was getting dark. The market was in full swing and a bustling, exciting place to be. I found a great spice shop – Istanbul Gourmet – where I bought some za’atar and chatted to the owner Faruk.
Then we slowly walked back towards the hotel, stopping for supper near Aya Sophia. We enjoyed the beauty of Aya Sophia and the Blue Mosque lit up at night and walked through the Hippodrome. Near the hotel we stopped by a rug shop called Sufi. Linda and I couldn’t resist going inside although it was getting late.
There were some gorgeous rugs and kilims inside and I bought a kilim cushion cover. Bahaddin gave Linda and me a small whirling dervish each as a gift. It was a lovely way to end our holiday.
It’s amazing how much you can do in three days. What a full and wonderful time it had been. We all loved Istanbul. There’s beauty and colour; bustling excitement and also calm; the regular call to prayer sounding across the city; the spicy smell of street food and sweet delicacies to eat everywhere with rich, dark coffee; above all there was the friendliness of the people of Istanbul that made us feel welcome in the city. I really hope it won’t be too long before I go back.