Dear Culinary Backstreets,
I’ll have an eight-hour layover in Istanbul and was wondering if you have any suggestions for places to go for a good Turkish breakfast and lunch. I love to eat at small, local places serving authentic food. I would prefer restaurants in the Yeşilköy area, as I have to be back at Atatürk Airport to board an international flight (which I cannot afford to miss!).
Though Istanbul is a huge metropolis, with eight hours you can venture into almost any part of the city and safely make it back to Atatürk Airport on time. But to err on the safe side, let’s limit your grazing territory to the southernmost neighborhoods of the Old City, which are the areas nearest to the airport.
Start out by heading to Kumkapı. We suggest taking a taxi straight to the neighborhood to save time; the fare shouldn’t cost more than 15 TL and the ride takes about 15 minutes via the coastal road. After passing under the viaduct you will enter a street filled with restaurants. Continue straight toward the central fountain and make a left on Ördekli Bakkal Sokak. About 100 meters down this street on the left you will find Boris’in Yeri.
This place has been keeping Kumkapı’s restaurants and residents stocked with bal-kaymak, a rich buffalo milk cream served under a blanket of honey, for almost a century. And from the looks of the place, little has changed since Boris first opened shop. Old cracked tile floors, marble tables worn from use and a pair of stainless steel coolers the size of Buicks are about the only décor you’ll find here. A plate of kaymak, along with fried eggs or a Turkish-style scramble with tomatoes and peppers, is the perfect way to start your eight-hour eating spree.
From Boris’in Yeri, we suggest a stroll through the residential streets of the neighborhood, once a quiet Greek and Armenian district, where grand churches set in peaceful courtyards seem to be tucked around every corner. The narrow streets lined with crumbling late-Ottoman homes, which are now inhabited by a vibrant community of Anatolians, migrants from the former Soviet Union and North Africans, offer an interesting glimpse into contemporary urban life within the old city walls.
Loop back to the fountain now and follow the street lined with fish restaurants out to the sea. Cross the busy coastal road – carefully – and check out the day’s fresh catch at the fish market. This is an atmospheric place to familiarize yourself with the bounty of Istanbul’s local waters. There are some simple fish sandwich stands tucked among the fishmongers, but we suggest saving yourself for lunch in Samatya.
Keeping the shore to your left, set off for Samatya. The walk could take 30-45 minutes depending on your speed, so you might want to fortify yourself with a quick simit or açma, two traditional Turkish pastries, by the ferry dock at Yenikapı. As you will walk along the seaside you’ll pass remnants of the old city walls, small fishing boats bobbing in the sea and wide recreational green spaces. Continue on until you see road signs for Samatya. Here, cross the coastal road once again and follow the road into the center of the neighborhood.
Samatya, also once a largely Greek and Armenian neighborhood, has several lovely small streets to explore, all in the general vicinity of the fish market. Küçük Ev is a small fish shack that provides a front-row seat onto the hustle and bustle of the fish market and is our favorite spot in Samatya. Everything at Küçük Ev is fresh, local, inexpensive and served quickly.
If you can’t fathom the idea of a layover in Istanbul without kebabs, just across from Küçük Ev is a branch of the venerable kebab chain Develi. Though we generally keep away from chains, this one serves interesting seasonal kebabs, a fine lahmacun, and künefe, Southeast Turkey’s most famous dessert.
After lunch you’ll probably need to catch a cab to the airport. The waiters at Develi can call one, as it can be difficult to flag one down on the street in Samatya. When you get to the airport, have a walk through the food court and thank yourself for not wasting your Istanbul meals there. – Ansel Mullins