As a resident on the European side of Istanbul, the hustle and bustle becomes an integral part of every day life. One needs to escape and feel a sense of space and there is nothing like a relaxing ferry ride across the Bosporus to ease the tension of the working week.
Half way through the ferry ride you can feel the stress and urgency subside within yourself; the dull hum of the motor, the view of this amazing city and the seller’s cries of “buyurun”(come, have a look) give way to a feeling of freedom and expectation of a great day in Asia.
As you escape the concrete jungle that is the ferry terminal and docks, the immediate difference becomes apparent. Wider foot paths, less people, a reduced amount of push and shove and voila, space. Walking down Muvakkıthane Sokak I come to my first stop, a must in my opinion. I discovered this place on my second visit to Kadıköy and insist on a visit every time I go. Today the wonderful window shop display excited my eyes, and taste buds…. macarons everywhere, a tower, gift boxes all colours and flavours. My love of macarons began in France, bien sûr (not to be confused with the English coconut macaroons.) I remember my first bite, the crisp outer shell followed by the slight chewiness of the meringue-like texture and the soft centre with the taste of vanilla. This first experience was to be the start of a ‘wee’ obsession. Apricot with lavender centres in Bordeaux, crème de cassis in Toulouse, simple vanille in the Marais à Paris and now Istanbul doesn’t disappoint.
As you enter the Baylan patisserie, you are greeted by old world charm. I love the wooden panelled walls with old style display cases. This establishment is from 1961; the first opened in 1923 in Beyoğlu.
I had met the proprietor on my first visit, a grey haired man who was obviously the proud owner. As per usual, I had accidentally slipped into a bit of French as I tried to ask to see the Turkish makarons.
To my surprise the owner Harry Lenas replied in French and from then on I knew this would become a regular haunt for me. We chatted away in French for a while as he explained that the typical French style boxes and packages were acquired from France. With a smile on my face and an “au revoir, la prochaine fois” I walked away in a cloud of happiness. My visit today eventuated in the purchase of a very cute cylinder of five different flavoured macarons, délicieux. Onward bound to the fresh produce and fish of the Kadıköy street market.
A lover of fresh produce, I am a sucker for a street market and Istanbul really comes to the party in this area, head for Mühürdar Caddesi. From the Asian fruit and veg markets in Melbourne, to the Les Halles marché à Paris, Istanbul ‘is up there’ in my collection of market experiences.
With perfectly stacked lettuces garnished and decorated with radishes and beets, to rosy red tomatoes carefully lined up military style, the freshness and colour just radiates from every vendor. A stroll down this street is a treat for the senses. Everything is ready to purchase and all you need is a trolley and some cash in your pocket. I’m not buying today since I intended spending the whole day wandering. But all these visual delights had my stomach in a spin and I was ready for stop number three, lunch at my favourite Lahmacan restaurant.
A German friend shared this Kadıköy secret with me on my first trip to Asia. We had wandered the streets, adjusted to the sense of space and sucked up the air of calmness to finally arrive at this corner establishment, Borsam Taş Fırın on Serasker Sokak.
With stools around the edges we waited for a chance to pounce on two empty stools as soon as they became available. (Well that only really took about three minutes actually!) Once seated, literally as soon as our derrières hit the stools, the waiter was before us, “iki lahmacun lütfen” was our response. With a birds eye view to the two assistants preparing the ultra-thin pizzas, the usta (cook) pushing them into the oven on long wooden bats and the pièce de résistance, the boy who brushes off the flour from the bottom, our lahmacun were in front of us in less than 2 minutes.
I watched my friend top his pizza with the obligatory parsley and a long squeeze of lemon and roll it up like a cigar. I followed with anticipation for this Turkish flavour sensation. What followed was no less than a piece of ‘foodie heaven’ for me. Crunchy exterior, chewy centre, a hot mélange of meat, subtle spices, and the leafy parsley texture with the tang of lemon, fantastic! This was indeed my best lahmacun experience, not my first but the freshest, hottest and tastiest. Since this first visit I have brought all my friends to this branch of Borsam, claiming it as the best lahmacun restaurant in Istanbul.
It was to my surprise a few months ago, when a friend sent me a link to an Istanbul Eats article detailing the search for the ‘Top 5 Finest Lahmacun Makers in Istanbul.’ Need I say more; my little corner ‘find’ came out tops, No. 1, número uno, the best! Of course I knew this from the first mouthful but it is reassuring to know that the research is conclusive. With my tummy full of lahmacun (I didn’t stop at just one by the way), it was time for my fourth stop, a new discovery in my quest for hot chocolate!
It wasn’t until my third visit to Kadıköy that I stumbled upon Coffee O’Clock. Not being a coffee drinker, the hot chocolate substitute is often quite a difficult drink to find with any reasonable quality. Believe it or not, I have trouble finding le chocolat chaud parfait en France where I always have to ask the waiter “très très chaud s’il vous plait!” Well today to my utmost surprise I was presented with a rich array of choices from this Italian style café, the brand owned by Caffe River SpA and found in several European destinations.
Immediately as you enter, you are transported into tranquil surroundings with comfy chairs and a pleasing variety of tunes from jazz, to house, to reggae, pumped out at a relaxing volume. I ogled the list of choices from hazelnut hot chocolate to my favourite cioccolato alla cannella (cinnamon.)
I had no expectations at all after experiencing many disappointments in the past. The waiter swiftly arrived with my order less than 5 minutes after I had placed my request. Well, can I say that there was no fear of drinking this cup of ‘wonderfulness’ too quickly, I was meant to sit back, keep my hands warm and sink into my ‘happy place’ to enjoy this piping hot cup of très très chaud hot chocolate for minutes to come. Coffee aficionados will be equally satisfied with the espresso and cappuccino choices, although the temperature of the coffee is a little on the too hot side. Due to my lahmacun lunch I didn’t try the snacks on offer but I think there was a good selection of sandwiches. Unfortunately my hot chocolate induced coma prevented me from taking in any other details!
Another trip to Asia came to an end as I boarded the ferry for home. A glaze of happiness was fixed on my face as I looked back on my totally ‘foodie’ day in Kadıköy. Try it sometime. Start with my top four places and I am sure you will find your own favourites in a district of Istanbul that has so much to offer.
Amatrice de bons crus et grande cuisine