Posted by: mollyscafeistanbul | November 13, 2013

Stories from Sahkulu Sokak by Molly’s Cafe

Turks love to chat. When business is slow, you find the neighbouring businesspeople on the street. I want to introduce you to some of my ‘esnaf’, as well as some of the history of this modest street.

CIMG0223Once a street of modest homes, it probably hit bottom a few years ago. In fact this street used to be very funky in a not nice way. It was filled with workshops of varying nastiness and at night the tinerci (glue sniffers) hung out here. Before that it was populated by prostitutes.



CIMG0156 CIMG0157


CIMG0303On this street there is one man, Huseyin, who is a lathe operator in one of the small workshops here. He told me that he had made metal parts for some of the mosques that had been restored. He also knows all the many landlords of old. For example, he had a workshop near my café, now a used book seller. He listed off the many other incarnations that shop had had, including a music shop, a real estate office and his own workshop for twelve years.


CIMG0224Now the used bookseller occupies a basement space filled with old books and funky items like old posters, watched, and cameras.



My café was an upholstery workshop for decades. The owner was well known for his work but he died a few years ago. I was relieved to learn that it had not been a metal workshop. When the building was sold, the upholstery shop moved away. Recently the son of the upholstery man was in the neighbourhood and stopped by for a look. He was quite surprised but did not stay for the tea I offered him. Another man stopped by to say that he had learned the upholstery trade right here in the 70s.

CIMG0226There is still a hurdaci next to my café, where they collect old metal. Every few days they bring a big truck and fill it with all kinds of metal pieces. Sometimes there are treasures. For example, he had a beautiful old mirror hanging around, which he sold to me for 50 lira. Another day he had several nice iron flower holders and sold me the best two for 75 lira. I have purchased some flower pots and even a duvak, the traditional red, sequinned head covering for a bride, from them. Occasionally he will move things with his cart from one place to another and if I have metal junk I give it to him. I noticed they collect pop cans, so if I can find room to do so, I will collect them for him. Unfortunately, the hurdaci often makes quite a racket as they break down the metal pieces. One day they broke down an old safe. It was full of a grey sand, which looked to me like lead. He said it was to prevent the contents from burning if there was a fire. CIMG0200


The building above it is a wreck, though some Kurdish boys often stay in one of the less wrecked flats. They make components for lamps. The building beside it is an empty derelict, as are the two buildings across the street. However, I was told that those buildings have been bought ‘by a very rich man’ who will turn them into boutique hotels. There is a hotel above my café, one across from the café, and on two corners here larger buildings are being turned into hotels. So soon, this will be a very nice street.

the new hotel entrance, soon to be covered by marble

the new hotel entrance, soon to be covered by marble






CIMG0326Up the street is Cayci Nuri, who has been selling tea for 30 years. He has seen this street change immensely. He knows everybody and everything, as tea guys tend to do. CIMG0325



CIMG0327The shop beside him has been there for four years, a girl making and selling jewellery. I like to stop once in a while and look in the window for gift ideas.




IMG_0057Next to my café is Akustik Saz, owned by Oktay, a well known musician in Turku circles. His family is from the Black Sea and he speaks Laz, a language that is connected to Georgian. It has its own alphabet and a totally different grammar from Turkish. Oktay plays the keman, which is a sort of fiddle that is held upright. He also plays the saz. The music that comes out of his shop is great, as he has a good collection of recorded music and of course musicians stop by to jam. A couple of his friends play the tulum, which is a kind of bagpipe. Oktay knows I like it and one day turned up the music in his shop when he had found some Scottish bagpipe music. I dashed in, saying it was my music and did a couple of steps to it. Some people say that the bagpipe actually came from this part of the world.

One day I met a neighbour who lives at the end of this street in a building in the passage. Many years ago the rich man who built the buildings around it made the passage open to people to walk through as a short cut between this street and Kucuk Hendek Sokak. Otherwise, one has to walk around one of two corners and down the hill. The passage saves a few minutes of walking. However, now it is locked, as the glue sniffers had taken over the garden. This man, from the UK, told me that he has been coming to Istanbul for more than 40 years and that his family had been here since 1840. That distant relative, a Jew, had come because of the anti-Jewish events in Hungary. Along the way there had been children, a few marriages, and a few more offspring. This man was telling me that his grandmother had grown up here and spoke 8 languages. She talked to her servants in Greek, went to a French school, spoke German and Italian from living there, married an Englishman, and so on. Although she grew up here, she did not learn Turkish until she moved back here. Eventually she died of course and this man looked into the flat that the family owned. He owns 1/5 of it and has the right to live in it and the other 4/5 belongs to other inheritors who he does not know and who probably do not know about the flat. It is so interesting to learn about the close and distant personal history in this area!

Of course I can’t forget to mention the sellers.  I am lucky that I live in an old part of town, as the newer parts do not have this level of service, partly because if the residents are on the streets, they are in their cars and partly because these satici remind them of the village or the old days. I like having things delivered, because it means that I don’t have to carry them.  Here are some of them:




convenient vegetable shopping every morning

convenient vegetable shopping every morning



  1. Lovely tales of everyday life in Istanbul. Wonderful to read about the many ordinary people who contribute to the life of this extraordinary city. Lisa Morrow, author Inside Out In Istanbul

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