Teşvikiye, Vali Konağı Cd. No:40, 34365 Şişli/İstanbul, Turkey
If you’re keen to experience the medieval practice of “kahve falı" or “fal” (fortune telling with Turkish coffee) then make an appointment at Symbol Café in Nişantaşı with Tunc, one of the few English-speaking coffee readers in the city. Once there, order a Turkish coffee with “sade” (no sugar), “az” (little sugar), “orta” (medium sugar), or "şekerli” (sweet), and savor the flavor of a rich aromatic coffee as you ponder your life’s ambitions. When the last drop leaves your lips and all that is left are the grinds sunk deep in the demitasse (small cup), take the saucer and gently seal it atop the cup. Swirl the cup and saucer clockwise three times and then flip them both toward you, holding them firmly so as not to spill the grinds. Relax as the grinds dry out, and wait for Tunc to find you in the cozy café filled with locals who are also eager for readings. When Tunc hypnotically gazes at the grinds to interpret the patterns before his eyes, expect to hear about your past, present, and future with uncanny accuracy (or at least that’s what happened to me). Facts about your life, love, career, money, family, and travel will spill out of the cup for Tunc to interpret without you mentioning a word. Symbol Cafe is at Valikonağı Caddesi (Street) No: 34 Nişantaşı - İstanbul - Telephone: (0212) 291 75 40. The closest train stop to Symbols Cafe is Osmanbey Metro Station, one stop from Taksim Square.
If you’re in Istanbul and interested in Turkish music and dance, then you should shimmy along to a Turkish Night. Favorite venues are Sultanas (www.sultanas-nights.com) and Karavansaray (www.kervansarayistanbul.com) in Taksim or Gar Gazino (www.garmuzikhol.com) in Yenikapi (near Sultanahmet). Most programs boast a bevy of talented belly dancers, folkloric dancers, and performers who re-enact cultural celebrations such as regional and Ottoman-style weddings. On occasion, you may see a comical performance by a flirty duo, Aşuk and Maşuk, who frolic with one another and the crowd in a dance of playful love. The show generally culminates in a program of party anthems from around the world sung by a pitch-perfect multilingual singer. Tickets include transfers to/from your hotel, three-course meals, and drinks (local alcohol only). The top belly dancers at these venues do teach and perform worldwide, so the standard of performance is high. Hodjapasa (www.hodjapasha.com) is also a favorite for its ambience and performances set in a 550 year old hamam in historic Sirceki. However, tickets do not include dinner, only soft drinks, tea, and coffee. Shows generally start around 9pm and finish by 11pm. Always confirm the program upon booking, and if you’re interested in busting some moves, don’t be shy—most audience members from the Balkan and Middle Eastern countries perform their own national dances once the curtain comes down on the show.
Sultan Ahmet, Ayasofya Meydanı No:1, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
Walk into Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) and look up to the heavens to see why so many conquerors and their respective religions claimed this basilica turned mosque turned museum as their own. Visitors will swoon over the Byzantine gilded mosaics, hanging chandeliers, purple marble columns, Islamic calligraphic slates, and tiled seraphim. The existing structure is an architectural wonder in itself, having stood the test of time since the 6th century.
Come October, the weather cools and fisherman start overflowing local fish markets with freshly caught hamsi (European anchovies) from the Black Sea. Istanbulites (locals) who have been patiently waiting for months to taste this tiny meaty fish venture out in the cold to satisfy their seafood addiction and buy the fish by the kilo. Hamsi is either pan-fried, grilled, or added to other dishes such as rice, and it’s so good it often brings friends together for hamsi dinner parties (or at least that’s what my friends and I do!) If you don’t like anchovies, then you’ve probably never tried European anchovies in Turkey before. Try hamsi in the wintertime at one of the fish restaurants on or near the Galata Bridge. My only suggestion is, when dining at any fish restaurant, make sure you know the price of your meal before confirming your order, and always check the bill after. Fish restaurants are unfortunately notorious for overcharging tourists.