Literally meaning “sand gate,” Kumkapi is located in Fatih district, near the Sea of Marmara. First founded as a fishing village known as Kontonskalion, its harbor was a common destination for sailors who would work on their boats during the day. Thus, up to recent times, it is known for its meyhanes and fish restaurants. Visited by locals and visitors alike, it is the ideal place to eat and drink in the traditional Turkish way. Join us as we explore one of the most exciting areas of Istanbul.
Before you settle down for the evening’s entertainment, take some time to discover Kumkapi’s past. Still the center of the Armenian community, it is where the seat of the Armenian Patriarchate is located. Visit Surp Asdvadzadzin, the huge Orthodox Church with a wonderful bell tower before seeing the rest of the complex, like the Armenian museum or the school. After enjoying the peaceful atmosphere, ideally on a Sunday morning, jump to the gallery used by the choir for special events or head outside to sit by the well-preserved holy spring.
Despite its importance, this is not the only religious site around. Built in the 15th century, Panayia Elpida is an enormous and internally colorful worth-visiting, Greek Orthodox Church. Boasting one of the largest domes in the city, it stands over a holy spring or ayazma dedicated to Saint George.
Since during the day restaurants are pretty much empty, it is better to take a walk by the sea and get a snack from the vendors. Do not forget to drink Turkish tea out of a tulip-shaped glass. Prepared in a rather unique way using a teapot that has two levels, this tea is worth enjoying before you leave Turkey.
If you like fish, this will be your favorite place in the city. Close to the sea coast, you will notice a small circle with a fountain and streets lined with dozens of fish restaurants. Every night, especially during weekends, they all get crowded providing excellent seasonal seafood and entertainment. Before you start your dining experience, it is better to ask some Turkish people for recommendations since, due to the competition, some of the owners may try to overcharge or cheat on your bill. If you want to find something simpler yet tasty and reasonably priced, you can discover a few hidden gems in the neighborhood’s backstreets.
Walk under the railroad tracks to find Kumkapı Fish Market, where simpler but still pleasant restaurants offering excellent seafood dishes are located along the shore. It is the perfect place to gaze at the harbor, enjoy some breathtaking views of the sunset, and fall in love with this amazing country.
You can’t think of Turkey and not think of raki. This clear brandy made from fruits -in most cases grapes- and flavored with anise turns milky white when it is mixed with ice or water. Always accompanied by meze, it demands a whole ritual to be shared with friends and locals.
It is said that after raki, fish is almost like a dessert, and it’s true. Raki is usually drunk with cold dishes, similar to appetizers, like tomatoes, cheese, cucumber, fava beans, ezme, or even stuffed mussels called meze. This is a unique and integral part of the Turkish dining experience that you’ll surely love. Above all, eating meze is a social activity. Gather with your friends and family, choose some of the delicious dishes you will find at any meyhane and spend your evening around the table with a lot of pleasant conversation.
Listen to traditional music
Fasil is what makes a good night great in a meyhane. Kumkapi is well known for its entertainment, starting in the early hours of the evening and lasting without pause until the morning. Listen to a few talented wandering musicians playing in a motley band of violin, lyre, and clarinet while they are roaming from table to table. Do not hesitate to get the microphone as the raki flows; even if you may not know the words, everyone will encourage you. If you’re not exploring the surprisingly exciting world of meyhane culture now, then when?
Being a traditional entertainment style, it is common to find places where belly dancers are performing in Istanbul. Kumkapi is popular for the frequent performances that will complete your evening in the best possible way.