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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.

Last January, we declared 2018 as “The Year of the Neighborhood,” and what a fruitful year it was. We had our fair share of fresh experiences and were also able 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 again focus on neighborhoods off the main tourist trail in 2019, as well as the people and places that keep them going. Below is a compilation of the less-visited areas that our correspondents are planning to explore this year:

Istanbul: Samatya and Yedikule

Nestled side by side along the Marmara Sea coast, the Samatya and Yedikule neighborhoods have long been among our favorite places to explore in the city. Charming century-old buildings built by Greeks and Armenians, even older wooden houses that have managed to remain upright, numerous churches, the 1,600-year-old Theodosian Walls, and the area’s proximity to the city’s ancient sea provide signposts to distinct periods of Istanbul’s unparalleled history.

Yedikule, meaning “Seven Towers,” begins with its namesake, a fortress built around a corner of the ancient city walls that was later used as a dungeon. Nearby are the magnificent Yedikule bostanları, historic urban gardens on the outer edge of the walls that have come under threat in recent years, another potential victim of a hackneyed development scheme, which are so common in today’s Istanbul. Just a few minutes up the main street is Safa Meyhane, a classic Istanbul establishment run by the same family for 70 years. It has become one of our favorites in the city, due to the excellent meze and exquisitely maintained interior.

Nearby Samatya is a picturesque Armenian quarter that ranks among the best places in Istanbul to drink rakı and enjoy a dinner of fresh fish and meze. Until 2013, a suburban train line took visitors right up to the edge of the main square, which is packed with fish restaurants and meyhanes. The closure of that line has been bad for business, though Samatya’s establishments have managed to stay afloat as loyal customers continue to make the trek to the area. When the weather is nice, the delightfully casual Kücük Ev, in the heart of the square with its plastic tables and chairs, is our pick, while Küçük Paris is the place to hunker down during the colder months. – Paul Benjamin Osterlund

Click here to read the full neighborhood guide.

Ansel Mullins and Phoebe Amoroso

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