Daily strolls in Istanbul

It’s not that I don’t want to cook, but Istanbul just makes dining out way too easy, tasty, and affordable. On the days we don’t go properly exploring, we still venture onto the streets at least twice a day for meals (brunch and dinner). Sometimes these little food-hunts turn into longish walks, sometimes they don’t. Either way, there’s always plenty to see — and eat.

Every outing begins and ends with cats. Not merely because we are cat fiends, but because there is the family of kittens living right in front of our building. After all, it’s only polite to greet your neighbors when you go out!

Mother cat and kitten

{as always, mouse over photos for my notes, or click to enlarge}

Orange kitten looking up at me

Orange and white kitten

Naptime for Mama Cat and kittens

From there, it’s off to one of the many cafés around Cihangir. For our midday meal I often get breakfast while Erik gets lunch, though it hardly matters because we always share. Here’s a breakfast plate at Yımırta, whose name is a play on yumurta, the Turkish word for egg.

Yımırta breakfast plate with cheeses, salami, arugula (rocket), cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, and spreads

I was extra-pleased to notice that the bread basket (in this case, a bucket) came with pieces of simit, the sesame-encrusted ring bread that’s sold at carts all over the city. We pretty much ignored the regular bread and ate all the simit — and when the waiters noticed, they came over with more.

Bread bucket at Yımırta

Something I like a lot about Istanbul is how much people seem to live outdoors. Almost every café has some outdoor seating, and even if they don’t, the windows (or even the whole front wall) are open to the outside. There are always men playing games outside — backgammon or cards, usually — on tiny little stools at tables that are hardly more than wooden crates. Vendors ply their wares in the open air, and people sit outside their buildings or on balconies. To me, this outdoor life makes the city seem more friendly and safe (though yes, also a bit more overwhelming when we first got here).

While we were eating at Yımırta, two cats got into a fight, and chased each other over the translucent awning over the patio. They probably thought the surface would be solid but it was bouncy, and their yowls and gaits became even more frenzied as they tried to get their balance. Everyone in the café looked, and most laughed. It was very silly and unexpected.

Interior of Yımırta café

Here’s another patio, quite different in feel, at a place called Zencefil (that’s the Turkish word for ginger). As you can see from the ashtrays on the tables, smoking is allowed in the outside areas of restaurants, though not inside.

Zencefil café patio

At Zencefil I got lentil köfte and their house dessert, a fruit compote with walnuts and sorbet.

Lentil köfte (balls, though they're not really ball-shaped)

Zencefil café's house dessert of fruit compote, walnuts, and sorbet

Random: the downstairs restrooms had a giant marble basin.

Big marble sink at Zencefil café

There are so many side streets in Cihangir (and Istanbul in general), I think you could live here forever and still not know most of them. In fact, I’m sure of it, because from what I’ve heard, even the city’s cabbies don’t know most of them. They make for enjoyable wandering, and though you do have to watch out for cars and motorcycles, they’re generally much less crowded than the big thoroughfares.

Old buildings along an uphill small street in Cihangir

Small street in Cihangir

One of the many antique/vintage shops around Cihangir

Leafy street in Cihangir

And of course, you’re surrounded by cats, friendly and shy alike.

Talkative tortoiseshell cat

Calico cat

Plaintive-faced kitten

And lest you think Istanbul is all cats… there are actually quite a lot of dogs too, both street dogs and pets (just as with the cats). But they are not as cute. No, even if you’re a dog person, I really don’t think you would find them as cute. (The street dogs we saw in Taiwan last year were much prettier!)

Napping dog

I love and prefer the side streets, but we often end up on the major streets too, just for convenience or ease of navigating. You’ve seen Istiklal Caddesi in my other posts; we’re also quite close to the busy transit hub of Taksim Square (the north part of Istiklal Caddesi ends at Taksim). This is why I really like where we’re staying: it has that tucked-away neighborhoody feel, but it’s also a hop and a skip from transit, shopping, and eating. I still can’t believe how much we lucked out, since I picked our apartment based only on price and appearance. Cihangir (and Beyoğlu, the district it’s in) is not as well located for sightseeing as Sultanahmet and the Old City — in fact, the Lonely Planet guide gives Beyoğlu only the briefest of mentions! — but as far as I’m concerned, it’s a much better place to live.

People, pigeons, and bunting on Taksim Square

Here’s one more meal for you, this time at Lades, an old-fashioned-feeling eatery off Istiklal Caddesi. It’s such a popular place that there’s a Lades 2 as well… right across the (narrow little) street! They gave us a menu when we walked in, but it had only English and French names for things, not the Turkish, which dismayed us; “roasted lamb” could mean anything! Fortunately the waiters invited us to have a look at the steam table too, so we (over-)ordered there.

Lunch at Lades

Not being big nightlife fans, we spend most evenings at home, working (Erik has meetings then anyway, since his coworkers are on California time). It gets dark early enough here that it feels quite night-ish outside by about eight.

Small street in Cihangir, at night

Today we left our Cihangir haunts and took a ferry up the Golden Horn, but I’ll tell you about that next week. Happy weekend!