Istanbul’s antiques district, Çukurcuma, gives visitors a glimpse of the country’s decadent past and present. Two of the area’s liveliest thoroughfares, Çukurcuma Caddesi and Boğazkesen Caddesi, are home to a burgeoning art and culinary scene, and exotic local shops all worth a visit.
If anyone can be trusted to know the romantic side of Çukurcuma, Istanbul’s gentrified antiques district, it’s Turkish author and Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk. The novelist grew up in the city and, in a wonderfully conceited idea, opened the neighborhood’s Museum of Innocence (Çukurcuma Caddesi, Dalgıç Çıkmazı 2), intended as a companion to his eponymous best-selling novel. A one-of-a-kind attraction situated in a 19th-century townhouse, it’s a tribute to the area’s faded glamour, but more than that: It chronicles Istanbul’s seismic growth over the past 50 years and is the closest the city has to a modern history museum.
Farther east, lesser-known C.A.M Galeri (Çukurcuma Caddesi 38A) opened in 1992 and maintains grass-roots support for fresh-faced artists, touting large-scale works, solo shows and glimpses of interplaying light and shadow, a world apart from the vivid colors of the Blue Mosque (called the Sultanahmet in Turkish). It has yet to be invaded by the in-crowd, and, like 3rd Culture Project (Çukurcuma Caddesi 38B) next door, is a unique proposition selling under-the-radar Turkish arts. (Tip: Take home one of the concept store’s limited-edition totes, clutches or beach bags as extra hand luggage.)
Istanbul is the city of the kebab, and at legendary meatball diner Çukurcuma Köftecisi (Çukurcuma Caddesi, Hacioglu Sok 1A), no-frills décor meets high-thrills street food flavor. Try the garlicky adana kebab, done properly with zingy sauces, chopped salads and charcoal-singed cuts of halal meat.
Tumbling down to the Bosphorus, Boğazkesen Caddesi meets Çukurcuma Caddesi at a dogleg crossroads, spreading the area’s bohemian spirit to Leila Butik (Boğazkesen Caddesi 100A). The store is a treasure chest of accessories and apparel curated by 20 Turkish designers, a great introduction to the city’s East-meets-West get-up.
In similar fashion, nowhere else casts a spell like Haydanhuya Wood & Café (Bostanbaşı Caddesi 20), where pieces of walnut and oak are married with leather, then handcrafted into a portfolio of unlikely products, including wallets, handbags and backpacks.
Equally intriguing come dusk, and with as much of an exotic whiff, is A La Turka (Faik Paşa Caddesi 4). The four-story emporium delivers a history lesson across a Marco Polo-meets-Ibn Battuta timeline of chic, tapestry-woven kilims, Ottoman rugs and explorer brass globes. As an addendum, sate your appetite for treacly Turkish coffee at Müz Botanik & Kahve (Hayriye Caddesi 18A), where fresh brews meet fresh-cut flowers. It’s the Istanbul you always hoped you’d find.mon is so delicious you’ll wonder why you waited so long to try it in the first place.