A Tribute to Istanbul's Street Vendors | Culinary Backstreets
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Metin Akdemir is a filmmaker based in Istanbul. In 2011 he made a short film about street vendors in the city. The film, “Ben Geldim Gidiyorum” (“I’ve Come and I’m Gone”), won several awards in Turkish and international film festivals, and we think it’s a very valuable piece of work that captures a side of Istanbul’s culture that is slowly disappearing. We caught up with Metin to talk about the film.

What attracted you to the subject of street vendors?

Street vendors represent the voice of a city. Every city has a smell, a texture that is remembered, but the voice is often forgotten. Street vendors are the most unique and valuable elements of the voice of a city. The ever-growing pressures of capitalism will devour these voices. I think they need to be recorded and highlighted.

What is the value of street food vendors in Istanbul?

Street culture is slowly dying. Everyone shops either online or inside shopping malls. Street food vendors resist this tide and still roam the streets with their rich and cheerful voices.

“I’ve come and gone” is the call of a vendor in your film. Does the title have any special meaning for the film?

“I’ve come and gone” is almost like the slogan of street culture. It is a dying culture and street vendors will eventually go. We need to look back at street vendors and keep our relationships with them alive. Of course, street vendors are not insistent. They say, “Whether you buy or not, I come and go.” It’s very innocent and meaningful.

Ben Geldim Gidiyorum (Kısa Film) from Metin Akdemir on Vimeo.

Much of the film focuses on the Tarlabaşı neighborhood, which is being rapidly gentrified these days. What’s happening to the street food vendors you filmed? Do you know what they are doing these days?

The old man in the film now sells balloons in Küçükçekmece [a district on the outskirts of town]. The other two street vendors are going around in other nearby neighborhoods like Kurtuluş, Dolapdere and Aynalıçeşme. The blanket vendor doesn’t work much anymore. He is old, and people don’t have blankets made anymore.

In the film, you captured some intimate moments of street food vendors in quiet residential streets. It’s not how we usually picture street food vendors. How would you describe the relationship between street vendors and the residents of the area?

Before shooting the film, I went around with the vendors without a camera. I became friends with them, so they were able to feel at ease around the camera. I made friends with the residents too. We worked very comfortably. We were not a big team; we were four in total, including me.

Poster for the film Ben Geldim GidiyorumWe understand that the municipality has made it very hard for street vendors to work in recent years. What is the future of street food in Istanbul?

Street culture never becomes completely extinct. But it is slowly dying out. All resistance, revolution and trends come from the street. The street defines how we shop. Street vendors might decrease in number but I don’t want to believe that they will cease to exist. I still shop at weekly street markets because you don’t find that taste anywhere else.

As far as you know, is there a new generation of street food vendors in Istanbul?

Of course, street vending is changing. I see street vendors selling DVDs and technological devices. But most of all, I see eskiciler [junk dealers]. Eskiciler will keep selling as long as we keep consuming.

If you were to be a street food vendor, what would you sell and what would your call sound like?

I used to sell bottled water in bazaars as a child. I used to shout, “Buuuuuz gibi soğuk suu!” [“Ice-cold water!”] With the money I earned, my friends and I would buy ice cream. In closing, I would like to thank everyone who contributed to the film.

(photo and poster image courtesy of Metin Akdemir)

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