Learning about the history of a country and people is a wonderful thing but in order to truly understand them I feel you need to dive into the real neighborhoods of a city, walk around, talk to the locals and see how they live. I try to do this whenever I visit a new city… or sometimes even in my own town. Today, on my way back from school I decided to deviate from my usual path and go exploring… so I got off two stops early from the metro at Levent station.
Levent is a busy, mid to upper-middle class neighborhood that seems to have become the heart of Istanbul’s shopping mall extravaganza. Two of the biggest and most modern shopping malls are located within a couple of hundred meters of each other Metrocity and Kanyon (they even share the same metro stop) But this post is not about shopping… it’s about the main Carsi (marketplace) where the locals shop and dine in Levent.
Following the signs for “Levent Carsi” at the metro station will lead you out to the entrance of Levent Carsi. It is impossible to not notice all the bevy of restaurants and the foot traffic in this single street. Some of my favorites from many years ago are still here, Konak Doner and Kucuk Ev, just to name a few. Then there are the different Kuruyemisci (shops that sell dried nuts) and Eczane (drug store) and Pastahane (Bakery) one after another, colorful and inviting, sweet smells permeating the air.
As attractive as the sights, sounds and smells were, I was looking for something that could be considered off the beaten path. As it turns out, I found what I was looking for right around the corner. The alley that runs parallel to the main Cadde (avenue) is hidden away from all the hustle and bustle of the shops and very easy to pass by without noticing if one was not looking. It is a narrow alleyway full of a long line of greengrocers with a teahouse at the end. But what caught my attention first was the little old lady sitting inside a pair of doors. Menekse. (which means violet) sells a selection of fresh herbs and green leafy vegetables that she swears by. She pointed out a few and told me what each one was good for. She also told me the story of how she had been in that corner for the past eleven years and finally she got the license from the municipality to use that corner to sell her goods. Being enterprising, she built herself a little shack that she uses as a storefront. Menekse insisted I sit down and have some tea with her. Unfortunately, I was on my way to meet a friend and couldn’t stay. I departed promising to come back and buy some grape leaves…she insists they are the best. Good grape leaves (used for stuffed grape leaves, of course ) are very hard to find, so I know I will be back.