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Istanbul in 24 Hours: Asian Side

The mini tour of the Asian side, or as the locals prefer to say: the Anatolian Coast. 

Istanbul’s Asian side is often overlooked because of the rich history of the European side. Granted, all the empires built and rebuilt in the city took their home on the European side. Up until the 17th-18th century when you meant the “city” you meant the Old Town, and until the 20th century you meant the two sides of the Golden Horn. The Asian side was at best the summer houses of the elite and some villages and ports.

Now though, it’s much more than the residential side of Istanbul. Kadıköy has taken the lead as bar central. Chefs who want a more well-off clientele prefer to open their restaurants around Bağdat Avenue. The coast of Istanbul connected to Anatolia has almost its own culture and vibe. So it deserves its own guide.

While there is much to discover up the coastline in Kuzguncuk, Kandilli and beyond, this guide focuses on Kadıköy and Beylerbeyi to save some time while picking the must-see and must-eat places. Honestly, I don’t know of a good Turkish breakfast spot here so you can either skip it, get a cheese toastie on the ferry (let’s face it you are not staying in the Asian side) or get some pastries and walk around.

1. Coffee: Fazıl Bey Kahvecisi

No-sugar Turkish coffee with a cheeky, complimentary Turkish delight

Turkish coffee is made for post-breakfast. And that’s not an opinion. The word for breakfast in Turkish is kahvaltı, a lazy portmanteau of kahve altı, meaning “before coffee”. On the Asian side, the natural next step to a kahvaltı should be Fazıl Bey Kahvecisi.

This little shop offers light or dark roasted Turkish coffee as well as ground coffee to take home, freshly roasted in the morning. It is a perfect place to watch passers-by under the shade in the summer or in the cosy enclave of the narrow street fillled with coffee shops during winter. Cash only.

2. The Ultimate Lunch: Çiya

Netflix' Chef's Table Season 5 Episode 2 aerial shot of some diverse-looking food

Perhaps the most famous Turkish restaurant now, Çiya is more a project than a simple lokanta. The chef Musa Dağdeviren hosts the staples as well as forgotten dishes of Anatolia on his menu, in the form of a closed buffet. You go to see the food cooked in large pots and give your selection to the waiter or fill your plate with salads and mezes in the cold section and deliver your plate to be weighed.

While the international fame comes from the Chef’s Table episode spotlighting Dağdeviren, locals enjoy Çiya for its food and service since the first day. I still can’t help to stop and have some vişneli köfte (meatball stew with cherries), dried aubergine dolmas, garlic stalk soup or crispy pumpkin dessert with tahini. The biggest mistake you could do here is order a generic kebap or not take a peek at the display area.

3. For a Cheeky Dessert: Baylan Pastanesi

Though not very much on cultural display in Western narratives, patisseries were a big component in the Istanbul food scene especially in the late 19th and early to mid 20th century.

Baylan is one of the famous patisseries still alive after a 100 years. Go here for a decadent dessert after lunch. The chocolate mousse is my favorite, while the Kup Griye is the iconic sundae made of vanilla and caramel ice cream, almond and honey caramel sauce and whipped cream.

4. A Breather: Moda Aile Çay Bahçesi

Istanbul without its views is not Istanbul. Perhaps the best place in Kadıköy to take in the magnificence of the city is this tea garden in Moda. Looking at the Prince’s Islands and the Moda bay’s shimmering waters with windsurfers under large shade-providing trees, Moda Aile Çay Bahçesi is ideal to get a cup of tea and take a breather.

5. Dinner: İnciraltı Meyhanesi

İnciraltı is a classic meyhane that transports you to a simpler, more reverent time of Istanbul. It is the perfect dinner for a one-day visit because you find calmness in the squeaky wooden floors of the upstairs or in the unassuming but green-covered garden area.

What distinguishes this place from others though is its wide range of mezes. Go for the unusuals as well as staples. The topik, pickled fish and papaz yahni are perfect starters to be followed by pan-fried liver and deep-fried brains.

If you insist on watching the Bosphorus for dinner good alternatives would be İsmet Baba or Suna’nın Yeri a bit more up the coast but with excellent fish-forward meyhane menus.

6. Drinks: Fahri Konsolosluk

The iconic Leb-i Derya: mezcal, beet shrub, agave, beet sorbet, bitter herbs

Fahri Konsolosluk makes the most inventive and effortful cocktails in Istanbul. I’ve been tooting their horn since they first opened. The bartender Edi is a master of stitching flavors together, discovering local botanical ingredients and adding an artistic twist to his concoctions.

Taste aside, Fahri is a great place to get that buzz after dinner. It’s central, doesn’t feel crowded, the service is casual and friendly (without the fuss of a craft cocktail bar making its way into global review lists) and the drinks are affordable for what they offer. The only problem is it gets full easily on weekend nights, but the wait is never too long. Last order is at 1am, which is when it makes sense to go dancing.

7. Late-Night: Kimyon

Kelle paça soup (foreground)with içli köfte (background right)

Kimyon encapsulates the perfect late-night eating experience in Turkey. It’s open 24 hours a day and offers heavy, greasy and fast traditional food. After a night out in Kadıköy, having stomped feet to some techno and a belly sour from bad G&Ts at the venue, sitting down on cheap faux-leather seats and gorging on protein-filled soup is more a cure than a delight.

Soup, yes. Soup is the ultimate drunk food. It hydrates and drops in the stomach like a liquid blanket. At Kimyon one should get either the beyran (lamb neck soup) or the kelle-paça (head and trotters soup). Both are made with rendered lamb fat as well as spices, so not the light and easy kind. Perhaps a side of içli köfte (fried bulgur wrapped minced meat balls) dipped in pistachio crumble could be the cherry on top of this decadent anti-hangover dish.

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