Having never been to Istanbul before it was certainly a unknown to me… as it turns out the hustle and bustle of the city was a very strange mix of Europe meets Asia with the splashes of the Middle East being most prominent in the skyline with towering mosques at every turn, spectacularly skewering the skyline with minarets. The streets heave with people from all parts of the world and the Bosphorus is in constant motion with what seems an eternal dance of ships, yachts, and ferries of all shapes and sizes zigging and zagging across the seemingly impossibly narrow stretch of water separating two continents.
Being in the city only 3 short days the must see had to be the Blue Mosque… as we were staying quite close we decide to take a walk and frankly Gülhane Park and stumbling across where I totally want my set up my first home (Soğukçeşme Sokağı). By this stage the hunger pangs were making a brief introduction and rather than spend a distracted visit to the grand edifice of ancient architecture we took to a side mission of finding something decent to eat. Hustlers abound in Istanbul streets, and not just for the restaurants. The streets on the lower side of the hill to the mosque are really pretty and the buildings are surprising in that they are wood faced and could easily be at home in somewhere like New Orleans… Empty promises of home cooked food abound and if it wasn’t the photos on the menus that put us off it was the plastic renditions of what was on offer. So after a quick cold beverage induced sugar rush and a flick through Trip Advisor we found that the 24th highest rated restaurant (out of over 11,000) in Istanbul was just around the corner… with such credentials Mitara Cafe was certainly worth checking out.
Greeted by the artist owner (Nazam) with a Siamese cat draped over her shoulders and a wide grin on her face we were ushered in across a hand laid pebble mosaic entrance to the first floor that lay at the top of a dark wood stair way delicately perched on an H beam. Around the room was a smattering, but not imposing amount, of Nazam’s work. The menu was offered but more in the sense of guidance than as a strict list to be selected from. The conclusion was for Nazam to bring what was fresh, well, that and a couple of beers. I was, after all, past 12noon.
The food was amazing and keep getting better as the second round came out. The conversation was relaxed and interspersed with interruptions for more food, beer and fascinating conversations with Nazam. How the area had developed, challenges with the neighbours, tales of travel to Central Asia and the work she’d done there. With the afternoon starting to wain and the need to move in order to keep the blood flowing becoming apparent, we headed off with the promise to return the next evening for dinner. The food was fantastic again, as was the company. And again, we found welcomed interruptions from Nazam concerned about our approval of the food she’d prepared but also just chatty and interested.
On top of getting to know my traveling companion better the sense of connection with a city through the eyes of someone who’s desire was to present herself through food and art provided a very different setting than the usual cafe ambiance. There’s something very inspiring to be in the presence of someone who’s main concern is not what people think but creating something pure (even the ingredients of the meal seemed to have had a disproportionate amount of thought for their selection) as an expression of themselves. There was no concern about bringing in numbers but having people appreciate what they experience. We left having felt welcomed and inspired… To give so freely to strangers… something that, I know to well, is very hard to maintain energy for.