As the calendar year turns over, we’ve grown accustomed to the barrage of lists telling us where to travel during the next 12 months. Oftentimes these places are a country or even a whole region – you could spend an entire year exploring just one of the locations listed and still barely make a dent.
We like to travel on a smaller scale. Forget countries and cities, for us the neighborhood is the ideal unit of exploration. Celebrating neighborhood life and businesses is, of course, essential to what we do as Culinary Backstreets. Since our founding in 2012, we’ve been dedicated to publishing the stories of unsung local culinary heroes and visiting them on our food walks, particularly in neighborhoods that are off the beaten path.
But this year we are planning to dive even deeper into the cities we work in. Getting off the beaten path leads to fresh experiences, but more importantly, it’s a way for us to contribute to the economies of neighborhoods otherwise neglected by the tourism industry. Tourism is an important economic force in many cities, as it should be, but if it is not dispersed responsibly, it can devastate the urban ecosystem, one that’s based on the sound health of all of a city’s neighborhoods.
With that in mind, we are happy to declare 2018 as “The Year of the Neighborhood,” one in which our focus will be on lesser-visited neighborhoods and the people and places that keep them going. To get things started, below is a compilation of the less-visited areas that our correspondents are planning to explore this year:
Kurtuluş, located a mere metro stop away from Taksim Square, is a neighborhood in the fullest sense of the term. Small business culture is strong, and the number of quality eating and drinking establishments is high. There are no breathtaking views of the Bosphorus and little green space, but there are streets as straight as an arrow that manage to provide a semblance of comfort in this tangled urban jungle.
The elephant in the room is the erasure of the area’s past, as evidenced by the blatantly nationalist street names that were introduced following the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923 (the neighborhood was formerly known by its Greek name, Tatavla). The ensuing decades saw the flight of most of Istanbul’s remaining non-Muslim population, though a few Greeks and a sizable Armenian population remain in Kurtuluş today (some of them frequent Tadal, an Armenian deli in the neighborhood). Strolling through the neighborhood’s streets, you’re guaranteed to hear the Armenian language spoken by some of the area’s longtime residents. At Ben-u Sen, you have the privilege of eating the fantastic southeastern cuisine of Nuray Güzel, an elderly Armenian woman from Diyarbakır who whips up home-cooked food that has us spellbound. Those in search of top-notch meze and a few glasses of rakı should look no further than the excellent Astek, a reputable meyhane with perhaps the best service in the city. Though many longtime residents bitterly lament that the neighborhood has changed for the worse, it remains a bastion of a multicultural Istanbul that has all but faded away, and is packed to the gills with wonderful restaurants that demand repeat visits. – Paul Osterlund
Click here to read the full neighborhood guide.