Moda, the quirky, gentrified district on the Asian side of Istanbul is stylish by name and stylish by nature. ‘Moda’ incidentally means ‘fashion’ in Turkish and Moda is a joy to behold and explore living up to its name.
Living on the European side of town throughout my teenage years, the Asian side of Istanbul – except for Erenkoy where I spent my childhood, was a bit of a mystery to me. I recall one of my friends from uni used to live in Moda – it seemed like a fashionable place to live – just going by its name – but I never took the time to explore. Having recently come across Instagram accounts such as Mahalle Moda and Modarden, I knew that it was finally time to explore this district on my latest visit home.
We arrived in Moda on a cold December afternoon, just as the sun decided to take a break; as the drizzle started, we took an unplanned pit stop at Walter’s Coffee Roastery, Istanbul’s first coffee laboratory. Such alchemical aspirations and the fictional Breaking Bad protagonist,Walter Hartwell White Sr, who’s inspired the theme, informs the minimal decor which starts right at the counter with the menu presented as a periodic table – all is clinical and minimal at Walter’s. Founded in Istanbul, Walter’s Coffee Roastery is the first coffee laboratory, specialising in daily roasted coffee. Inside the minimal feel continues with this industrial grey brightened up with cheerful yellow. Soon you realise this is hipster haven – almost every table features a laptop alongside a flat white. And it’s packed. We find a corner and perch on stools to enjoy our mochas. From where we sit we can see the “coffee lab” as well as the spacious work space complete with a table that sits six and a white board. As I said, hipster haven. I can’t exactly stifle the excitement though we may be be amongst the next generation of Turkish innovators and start ups.
A resident worthy of note is the fluffy cat who strides in majestically like she owns the place. I hear one of the baristas say she has her favourite chair in the corner, and of she goes, as if no cue, and claims her favourite spot.
After coffee, we chance upon Prokopi’nin Eskici Dükkanı – Prokopi’s Antique Shop. A quirky little shop of timeless wonders from rotary phones to old cameras to vintage dinnerware, and so much more. I feel like Alice in Wonderland – good thing I don’t have a single ‘kuruş’ on me, or I would risk bankruptcy! After a little chat with Alex Karakulakyan, who explains it all started as a hobby, I reckon I might have a future in running an antique shop!
We walk around taking in the sights of Moda, the famous bikes of Modarden, the colourful umbrellas of Eywa and many a random resident who are ever so keen to smile for my camera.
It’s well over lunchtime when we arrive at Fahriye Cafe, founded by cinemaphiles Elif Gezer and Çetin Baskın, the name of this quaint Cafe is inspired by the poem by Ahmet Muhip Dıranas and the movie of the same name “Fahriye Abla”. It’s befitting that the movie poster takes pride of place in a space dedicated to the 1970s Turkish culture. On another wall you see a pin up of the famous Turkish classical singer Zeki Müren. Scattered around are books as well as record players and old film cameras.
The whole space feels like the living room of a house from the era – complete with formica tables, plastic chairs, velvet lounge chairs, standing lamps with fringed lamp shades. If you are old enough to have grown up in a ’70s or ’80s household, you would recall having at least one of these pieces in your home. Hence Fahriye Abla not only takes you down memory lane but also makes you feel right at home. Beware though: you may find yourself spending the whole day here with a good book and a good cup of coffee.
Speaking of coffee, they have a good selection of hot drinks but we were more tempted by the homemade cakes displayed in the ‘lounge/diner’ – the other half opted for walnut cake while, seeking more than just a snack, I opted for the oven-baked ‘mantı’ – Turkish ravioli washed down with a glass of minted yoghurt drink. A delicious home-made gem I would gladly recommend.
As the temperature began to plummet the temptation to lounge around at Fahriye Cafe was strong but we managed to pull ourselves away and hit the road once again.
More streets, more doors, many more shop windows later we saw this beautiful mural of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate. Painted on the wall of Kadiköy Technical School for Girls it featured the writing “Bir çocuk, bir öğretmen, bir kitap ve bir kalem dünyayı değiştirebilir” (“One child, one teacher, one book and one pencil can change the world”) alongside “Kizlara ses ver” (“Give the girls a voice”). What a beautiful message at a time when misogyny in the whole world, not only Turkey, is rampant.
By 6pm we had just scratched the surface of Moda, but the night was cold and some of us hungry. The last spot of the day had to Kev Cafe – another quirky spot full of character just down the road from Walter’s and equally as bright with yellow awnings.
We stepped into the cosy interior – if you are seeking hygge mood lighting in Istanbul, Kev is the place – and got the last table, also the biggest. As soon as we attempted to pull out a chair, the waitress casually warned against scaring the cat sleeping on the adjacent chair. Right there and then I knew we had made the right choice. A place cool with cats is cool in my book. Full stop.
As the post-work crowd began thinning we moved to a smaller table and as soon as Suby’s Caesar salad arrived so did another furry friend of the feline kind. After hoovering up the piece of chicken he flirted his way to, he curled up and fell right asleep on my coat as I enjoyed my freshly made mint lemonade.
We had to make one last stop before we made for home: Çikolata Dükkanı (The Chocolate Shop) had to be it. Having passed by earlier and thinking the jars of melted chocolate too lethal I had to go back for at least a taste.
While the caramel filled nutty Neriman may seem a more innocent option, at the danger of overdosing on caramel, I suggest you stick to the strawberry dressed Asuman. It’s also cute how each dessert is named with old school Turkish girls’ names – Asuman, Neriman, Mualla – in a bid to help these names carry on.
The cosy little shop and the jars of molten chocolate make quite a treat for chocolate lovers, it once again confirms Suby’s verdict that Turkish people are sweet-toothed. Let’s just say there is a queue to get in no matter the time of the day.
Defeated by Neriman, we make our swift exit into the cold night and follow the main road down to Kadıköy. A lazy stroll down the famed Bars Street is the perfect end to the day as we take in the festive street lights, the cheerful shopkeepers and the early-evening punters.
The verdict? Moda is stylish by name and stylish by nature and while an afternoon is perfect for a whistle stop tour, set aside a full day, if you can, to fully discover all the nooks and crannies of this quirky Istanbul district. Go rummaging in vintage shops, chill out at the various coffee and tea shops, treat yourself to a home-made meal at an unassuming eatery or a Continental dish at one of the district’s upmarket restaurants. You will not be disappointed.