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

Posted by: mollyscafeistanbul | October 26, 2013

Balci Koyu- far away from Molly’s Café!

Recently my accountant invited me to visit his village with him, as he had some business there. Since I had not been out of Istanbul for two years, except to go to Texas and Canada, I decided I would do it. I closed the café for the day and ventured out.

I was on the ferry to Kadikoy as the sun was just reddening the sky. Yasar met me at the iskele and led me to his car, where his lawyer, Murat, was in the front seat and Yasar’s wife, Birgul, was in the back. We immediately headed out to Adapazari and beyond. We left Birgul at the bus station in Izmit, as she had some things to take of (a sick relative, it turned out) and stopped on the highway outside of town for a huge traditional breakfast buffet, with everything from ‘village’ bread to fried vegetables to melemen (slightly sloppy scrambled eggs). We ate and ate. Outside I petted a friendly dog and then off we went again.  On the way we stopped so I could take photos of a dam that i guess was built to help with irrigation.  It was a good opportunity to look at the countryside.









Yasar and Murat had business at the courthouse, so we had to go to a small town called Kandira. On the way, we stopped to see a dam that had been built. It was not the grand dam (ha ha) that I had expected, but the view was very picturesque. I waited at the courthouse for their case to come up and I chatted with Yasar’s relative, a chubby young woman. They are trying to correct the deed to their property, which has not been sorted out since Ottoman times. Of course various people have died in the past 80 years, so sorting it out is problematic, as there are a lot of relatives involved in it now. After the hearing, they had to do something else in another part of the complex, so I waited outside and took a picture of the typical dog sleeping in the sun. CIMG0236




After they came out, we went across the street for some tea and then had to go to the tapu (deed) office. There I saw some other people who were evidently also trying to get their land ownership sorted out, as their documents included a photocopy of papers written in Osmanlica, the old form of Turkish written in Arabic script. Yasar and I waited outside, where we looked at the cows that were grazing in the empty lot beside the road. I commented on their necklaces and Yasar told me that they were to ward off bad luck. The man looking after the cows sat on the upper roadside with his dogs. Apparently he can take his cows to graze any empty lot as long as he has permission and/or it does not damage the land. CIMG0239CIMG0238





I commented on the many realtors I had seen around. This area is in the vicinity of where the highway to and from the infamous third bridge will be. Now a donum (about 1000 square metres) that used to sell for about 500 lira might sell for 30,000 lira. People will buy them as an investment or to build their country villas on or developers will buy a lot of them to build ugly apartment buildings and villas.


CIMG0241Balci Koyu (Village) is tiny. There are maybe half a dozen houses in a hidden little spot. You cannot see it from the main road (well, at least the paved road). We had the one sister with us in the car and the two other sisters greeted us at the gate. The mother waited for us in the house until we had finished looking at their large garden and their outside oven, in which they had made pide for us. CIMG0243They had also roasted chestnuts in it for us. They grow enough food to feed themselves and to give away. They also have a small acreage nearby where they grow maydonos (like parsley) and onions, and also where they have a small greenhouse for more onions and lettuce. These women do all the work themselves, except for having someone come in periodically with a tractor to plough the acreage.




CIMG0249We went inside for a wonderful lunch spread. This included meat from the ‘kurban’ they had during the Feast of the Sacrifice. This was cut into little pieces. There were also fried potato pieces, the potatoes from the garden of course. Fresh green peppers, fresh white cheese they had bought from a neighbour, store-bought helva, and what they called lokum. This usually refers to Turkish delight, but in this case it was a bread with walnuts and a little sugar in it, a sort of Turkish version of cinnamon rolls. Of course there were also olives and endless glasses of tea. CIMG0250




CIMG0268After we had eaten as much as we possibly could, in spite of urgings to eat more, we walked out to see the small acreage. This is part of the land that is in court. Yasar pointed out a mountain in the near distance and told me that the Black Sea was just on the other side of it. CIMG0270Two of the sisters picked maydonos and told us that they got about 80 kurus (40 cents) for two bunches, which then sell to the consumer at 1 lira or more. They showed us how if the stalk of the maydonos was white or pale green, it was acceptable for sale, but if it was yellow, it would be rejected. Part of the area had been harvested but isolated bunches were coming up. When winter comes, the whole area dies down. CIMG0266









CIMG0258Then we walked around the village a bit. Across from their house is a cesme, a spring. This one dripped out of a pipe. When the area it dripped into got full, the water went into a trough from which the animals could drink. The people in the village used this and another one for their own water, but now they have running water. CIMG0259CIMG0294Nearby was an old stone that was used to pound bulgur. Now it just collects rainwater. Other interesting things I saw was a tall narrow slatted structure. This is for holding cobs of corn as they dry. I saw a full one in another village later on.



CIMG0281When we got to the end of the village road (maybe 100 metres down), we saw another spring. A woman was cleaning it up a bit. Like the other one, it had a trough for the overflow. However, the water in it came up from the ground in three different places. When the village used the water from it for their homes they would send someone down to clean it out once in a while– 10 metres of cold cold water! However, they complained that when the city put in the new brick roads, the way the spring was covered made it hard for the anyone to get in and clean it.


CIMG0271As we walked, we were barked at by dogs, mewed at by kittens, quacked at by ducks, mooed at by cows. There were chickens around the village. A group was in the bushes when we came out from looking at the field and there were others here and there. CIMG0286 At one corner there were a few chicken condos. The chickens knew which ones were theirs and returned at night. The human owners could check for eggs, though if an egg was laid elsewhere it was fair game.









CIMG0256When we returned to the house, we sat outside and were given chocolate, real lokum, cookies, more tea, Turkish coffee, more tea, nescafe (I passed), more tea. They have a very comfortable place for the summer, as there are a few couches and an armchair under the metal roof. CIMG0257CIMG0256





CIMG0299When we left, these generous woman loaded us up with goodies. I took home two bags full. While I was waiting for the ferry home, I looked to see what was there. One full bag of mint, from which I found some pieces with roots and planted them in my ‘garden’ at the café The other bag contained some of the lokum bread; some of their homemade village bread, solid and crusty; some of the spinach pide they had made in the outside oven; and some home-grown organic maydonos.


It was very interesting to spend time in the tiny village with these authentic village women. After we left, I asked about them. The daughters ranged in age from 30 to 45 and had never married. There was no one in the village and they did not want to move to a bigger city to find a husband. Also their father became ill and died a few years ago and now their mother is ill. They are very lucky that Yasar is helping them. He and his wife see them as a little helpless, and they probably are in the worldly sense. However, at the same time I saw them as strong women. They take care of their mother, they plan and plant and harvest their garden and fields, and they manage their house. I really enjoyed my time with them. I certainly enjoyed getting into the beautiful countryside and out of the city.


As we drove back into the present, Yasar would point out various villages where his relatives lived. I really got a sense of how wide the Turkish family can be. I was very pleased to have been invited in to that world for a day.


Posted by: mollyscafeistanbul | October 14, 2013

Establishing a limited company in Turkey: advice from Molly’s Cafe

braveSome people have told me that I was very brave to open a company in Turkey. At the same time, a few other foreigners have asked me how to do it. I set up a company again, so I decided that I would write about it and then refer people to it if they ask me.


chaosFirst, yes, it does require a certain amount of courage, enough to plunge into the seeming chaos of bureaucracy. At the same time, however, it has actually become easier in the past few years. It used to be that foreigners had to invest a lot of money and time, but now the requirements are less. Before last year (2012), a limited company had to have two partners and it was a good idea if one of them were Turkish. In my last company, I had a partner who was American but who had Turkish citizenship. She was a partner only on paper, as she actually had nothing to do with the business. Since the law has changed, my name is the only one on the company. I could have a partner, in case you were wondering, but I don’t choose to.


accountantFirst I have to say that my accountant was very helpful and supportive through all this. He made a list of what I needed to do and occasionally he or his helper accompanied me. I appreciate him a lot!





cdn passportThe first thing I had to do was get my brand new passport translated and taken to the notary. I got two copies of the notarized document. It was 30 lira for the translation and 50 lira each for the documents.





spyThen I had to look for a sort of official copy of my TC number. I found it on the nufus mudurlugu site and printed off the page with my number on it. Foreigners who are resident here have a TC number, though most don’t know it until they need it. Turks have the number also, of course. I also have a tax number, which I just photocopied, both sides of the card.



CIMG0199Since I had rented a place for the café, I had to have a copy of the rental contract. In this case it was a temporary contract, as I had rented it in my own name, with the understanding that I would put it in the company’s name once the company was established.




turkish liraThen I had to have about 5500 lira ready to be spent. 2500 of it was already in my bank account but it had to be blocked until the company was actually set up. After that I could get it unblocked and it was transferred to my new business account.



beyoglu vergi dairesiSome of the running around that my accountant (or his helper) had to do involved going to the tax office, thankfully nearby, to get various documents so I could pay taxes. He also had to go to the Istanbul Ticaret Odasi (Chamber of Commerce) to register my company there. I got a copy of the official gazette from there, as it is necessary for some business things. I also had to go to the noter a couple of times for the imza sirkuler, which involved me signing the document three time. At this point you I was careful to check the spelling of everything relating to my name. The noter ended up costing me at least 700 lira for thises and thats.


kaseAll of these documents are necessary for setting up a bank account and for getting water, electric, and gas into the company’s name. I also needed to get a kase, which is an inked stamp. Sometimes a new account in, for example the bank, will ask for it, and then I sign over it. Some suppliers may also ask for it.




vergi levhasiWhen all was pretty much said and done, I received my vergi levhasi, which shows that there is a registered company. Now I am entitled to pay taxes!



question markIf you don’t speak Turkish, I highly recommend taking a Turkish someone with you. I have been through this before, so I did ok, though not without the occasional ‘efendim?’ It all sounds complicated and it probably is, but with some patience, it gets done and then you are in business.



Posted by: mollyscafeistanbul | August 31, 2013

Building Molly’s Cafe from scratch

My secret wish is coming true– to open my café again. As I wrote before, I came back to Istanbul for a visit, but I am staying. When my flat sold just before I arrived, I thought perhaps I could do this again.

I looked at several places in and around Galata. One would have been perfect, with a one-story (unimaginably rare here) building with a large terrace in the back overlooking the old matzo bakery. The current renter, a man who specializes in making beautiful gravestones for Jews, rents it from a Jewish vakif, a foundation, for very little rent. Since it is rented to him, he would have had to be a partner. However, according to the municipality, the building does not really exist and it had been rented to him as an artist. Therefore, for a multitude of reasons, we could not rent it.

Another place I looked at on the same street was very small. I could have put the kitchen in the basement, but managing the place would have been difficult. Yet another place was a lamp shop. The owner was thinking of retiring. He in fact made the beautiful lamps in the Aya Sofia, installed when the scaffolding finally came down after more than fifteen years of gathering dust. That place was also small, but the street, although also small, would have been ok. In fact, I had been a neighbour on that street and when I was looking at it the esnaf (business neighbours) all came out to greet me.

Everyone is talking about Galataport these days, though it has been in the air for more than ten years. Finally someone else has taken it over and hotels, restaurants, shopping malls, etc., will be built in the Tophane area. Bordering it is part of Karakoy, once the haunt of sailors, and more recently of many kinds of metal work, machines and tools. The part closest to Tophane is being developed and already there are galleries, ‘cool’ dress shops, restaurants, and cafés. I looked at a stationery shop that was a little past the cool part, still full of Turkish owners and workers. The interesting thing about the shop was that it had doors on each end, since it spanned the narrow block. However, it was small and needed a lot of work, as well as the ‘devir parasi’, basically move out money. Also, although it is interesting to walk around, I don’t like Karakoy that much and did not want to deal with walking up a sizeable hill after work every day.

Finally the realtor found something that I could afford and that had ‘ruh’, soul. It is the entrance floor and lower floor in a small boutique hotel. There was no one occupying it, so I did not have to pay move-out money. Someone had started renovations (it was a well-known upholstery shop for many decades), but stopped. Some of the walls are more or less bare brick and some of the ceilings are also brick, arched between metal strips. Some channels for electricity had been laid and holes for the toilet outlets, but that was about it. I rented the place (and was given a month free rent as a gesture) and we started to make it into Molly’s Café (or as one clever person said I should call it, Molly’s Back Café).

First we had to get it emptied. Someone had been using it as a depot and finally it was mostly cleared out. Sadly I watched toilets and industrial kitchen equipment being carried away to another depot. I could have used them… There was still a great pile of rubbish from the original renovation, bags of rubble and trash collected from the ‘garden’ (really a space in the area among the buildings). Everyone said ‘it’s not mine’ but we pressed everyone until finally the hotel people took it away– a huge truckload. Finally the plumber could start. He arrived to drill big holes and channels in the walls to pipe water into and out of the kitchen upstairs and the bathrooms downstairs. He even piped into the garden so I can water the flowers. Now there is an Ottoman style faucet there.




a full truckload of junk

a full truckload of junk


















The electrician also came to do some drilling but mostly to install wiring for the plugs and switches. He also put in phone lines for the phone and internet. After all the basic work, he returned to install the plugs, light switches, and lights.


Several demirci (men who make metal things, literally iron man) came to make a quote for the iron that will protect the café at night. One, a nice man (as opposed to the first brown wizened unsavoury man who asked for taxi money from Cevdet), amazingly cut the wide window in front into two that fold in. The whole front is also protected by an iron ‘korkuluk’ which also lets people look in when the café is closed. He also built an iron frame for an island in the kitchen that has a stone top, perfect for kneading bread. There was a gap between the entrance floor and the next step up, so now it has a metal frame for the glass bricks, which allow more light into the lower floor. Before that it was useful for throwing garbage up and sand down.














The owner of the building came, largely out of curiosity. He wants the place to be done up nicely and even offered to pay for half of the floor (which of course did not happen). Ach, the floor. At one point Cevdet suggested wood, but it is not practical for a café. I wanted stone, at least on some parts of the café, but it is also expensive. So instead two men evened out the floors and covered the exposed pipes with cement. A couple of the young Kurdish guys who are working on the three (!) hotels under renovation on this street worked a couple of evenings to move stuff around so they could add the thin sort of cement paint (I don’t know what it is called in English) to smooth out the cement. The floors have a sort of marbled effect, which is actually quite attractive. The final coat was clear epoxy.



The men doing the stairs came to even out the height of the treads and to cover them with marble. I do not like the stairs (or any stairs, even though this is the city of stairs, in buildings, on streets). However, there they are. They turn narrowly into the lower floor. They look much better than the basic cement they were. However, anyone going down the stairs has to duck as they go down. They also did a sort of decorative edge along the top of the stairs and the first step up towards the kitchen. They also built two more steps for the areas that used to be quite a big step up.

original stairs

original stairs




marble stairs

marble stairs


The painter and his young helper came to deal with the walls. The boy brushed the brick walls and later painted them with a sealer. The usta plastered walls and filled holes, borrowing metal pieces from the hurdaci (metal junk seller) next door to make a somewhat portable scaffolding. Everything looked so much better.

The plumber came back to install the toilets, one with a corner tank, which I had never seen before. He came back yet again to hook up the kitchen sink, the dishwasher, and the hot water heater. And he came back yet again to fix the toilets, which had been leaking.

All of these men were fasting for Ramazan, so they were working shorter days. No food, no water..

Here I want to make some observations on workmanship in Turkey, or as some people call it, ‘Turkmanship.’ Often the worker will arrive and ask if I have a screwdriver, extension cord, whatever. I am often tempted to ask why they have not brought their own. Then the man does the work and leaves a mess, assuming that the woman will clean it up. Often the man will have to return to repair or finish the work he was supposed to have done (for example, the toilets). A Turkish friend once said to me, ‘Molly, you in the West think twice and do once. We Turks think once and do twice.’ This is so true and I know the people living in Turkey are nodding their heads in agreement.

I also have some observations on being a foreign woman in business here. I got really cranky about this. For example, the man who wants to do my business cards came to talk to me. Cevdet happened to be here, so instead of talking to me, he talked to Cevdet. I remarked (complained, really) to Cevdet about this and he made a joke of it– ‘are you jealous?’ No, not jealous, but annoyed when I allow myself to be. Another example is the guy across the street who made the Molly’s Café stickers for the door and window. I wanted him to get going on it, but he said he would wait for Cevdet. I got on his case about it. Whose café is it? Who is the boss? You, Molly Hanim. Right. I think there are a couple of reasons for this. One is that Cevdet is the man and men talk to men more comfortably in a business situation, at least at this level. The other is that many Turks can’t believe that this foreigner is actually speaking their language. I more or less understand the dynamics and I more or less accept them, but when I am cranky, I have little patience for it. In general, I feel there is respect for me, but not always comprehension. At the same time, I often rely on Cevdet and sometimes other friends to get things done when my Turkish seems inadequate, so I suppose I want it both ways.

As always, I am grateful for my friends. One friend gave me her stove, some carpets, and some furniture. Another emptied her storage unit of furniture someone had left here and is looking for other things for me, dishes and table cloths. Some friends who closed their café sold me as much as I could take at a very friendly price. Another friend is trying to empty her stuffed flat and has a constant supply of things for me. Another artist friend will provide the decorations with her drawings of Istanbul, of course with the possibility of selling them. And yet another artist friend will graffiti paint the wall in the garden.

And then? Collecting pots and baking pan and dishes. Stocking the kitchen. Finding more furniture. I have shopped in Tahtakale three times already and made a trip out to Topkapi (an area, not the palace) to buy chairs and a few other things. I’ve been to Koctas a few times and of course I am at the manav (vegetable and fruit seller) or the market just about every day. It is often kind of fun but it is also stressful as I watch my limited resources dwindle. However, I think it is worth it and I am happy when people come in and enjoy the café that Molly built from scratch.

welcome to molly's cafe!

welcome to molly’s cafe!

Posted by: mollyscafeistanbul | July 22, 2013

molly’s cafe again, or why i came back to stay

Why I came back to Istanbul

I went away and now I am back. I thought I was coming for a hair of the dog to get Istanbul out of my system. Instead, I disappointed (but didn’t surprise) my family by deciding to stay. Most of them understand on some level, but mostly they don’t, or that is at least how I see it.

Why am I so drawn to Istanbul? I know it well, though there are still many places I have not been to. I am fascinated by the fact that if you pick up a stone there is something ancient underneath it. At the same time it is a young dynamic city. This has particularly been shown by the recent protests, largely run by young people of all stripes.

Everywhere I go I run into people I know. Sometimes it is just a nod, but often it is a quick or long conversation, often with offers (taken or not) of tea. Many of my friends have said ‘I told you so! I knew you would be back.’ The Turks in particular are pleased that I would choose their city and country over my own (and that is a whole other topic).

When I tell people I want to open my café again they are very pleased, though people who have had cafés think I am crazy. Maybe so. However, I like the café I had and I totally regret giving it up. I like that people can come and sit comfortably as they would at home. I like that the café can offer various events, the special dinners, the poetry readings, book talks, music, art showings. I like that I can support my friends while they support me. I like that I can help local foreigners and explain things to tourists. I don’t like dealing with the bureaucracy, but it is part of the package and at least this time I know what I am getting into.

Living in Istanbul is a little like living nostalgia. Or let’s say that the way I like to live in Istanbul brings an element of nostalgia. There are still men who push carts selling random things like small hardware, cleaning supplies, fruit and vegetables. There is the yogurt man, the knife sharpening man, the flower sellers. A housewife can call down to the corner market to have them bring her bread. She lowers a basket with money in it and pulls up her purchases. Neighbours watch out for each other, or at least watch them. When the protests were in full swing, the neighbour on the top floor across the way would call out to the protesters to say if the police were coming or not.

And of course I am exotic here. I am foreign, but not in a particularly ostracizing way. For example, one day I had keys copied up the street from where I was staying. The key man knew that I was from Canada and that I had decided to stay. I had never talked to him before! However, he lives in the building across the street, where I know another man who makes cheesecake. Apparently he saw us talking and asked him about me. It makes me feel safe, knowing that the people in the neighbourhood identify me as one of theirs and if I need help, I can ask.

Although my Turkish is not bad, it fails sometimes and as a foreigner I have a sort of bubble around me. I am in this culture but not fully part of it. However, the Turks are welcoming and curious and I don’t feel rejected by them. At the same time, I have to admit that I am a white western woman, as opposed to a black African (basically I look more like Turks than they do), so that also makes a difference. And I am a mature woman, a formerly sweet young thing.

I have to say too that living in another culture is different from travelling. I am steeped in the culture here as opposed to bobbing along on the surface. Other expats I have talked to understand how they are now different from the people they grew up among. We may look like our family and old friends, but we are different inside. Being different in itself becomes a way of life.

I love the warmth of the Turks. They are generous with their time and whatever they have. Of course there are unscrupulous Turks but having been here a long time I can usually read them. So many people have offered to help me as I work to reopen the café. I understand that often it is an offer that they don’t expect to be taken up on but I appreciate it nevertheless. And of course there are many who offer and follow it up.

Galata is a very old area. The buildings on my own street are well over 100 years old, rather new for this ancient place. Istanbul is ancient. The excavations for the new undersea rail line unearthed evidence that this place has been inhabited for 8000 years. I know I am just a blip here, but this is my place.

Staying in Istanbul is personal, cultural, and historical. It is one of the most amazing cities I have ever been to and I know from experience that it is hard to leave.

another former istanbul resident also wrote about why she loves istanbul.  check out her blog:




Posted by: mollyscafeistanbul | October 27, 2012

second cafe

here i am in canada missing istanbul and my cafe.  soooo, to continue on with the nostalgia, here are some photos from the second cafe.

this is me in the kitchen! this was from a thanksgiving dinner

molly’s cafe on camekan sokak














time to make the photos bigger

the comfy back room

my friend stefan took this photo from the other back room


















the kitties were in an open cabinet and it was like watching live tv


not a kitty. this was for kurban bayram. they were taking care of it up the street until it would be picked up





















the following photos are of some of the customers in  molly’s cafe no. 2.  are you here?

bob beers made helva for me. it was really yummy

charlie brought his mom him when she visited. a lot of young customers brought their parents in

these young people were all deaf. it was so interesting to meet them and hear about where they had been and how they had travelled.

the most wonderful customer– my daughter meadow

this guy came for a couple of years. he would order tea or a beer and read

taariq was one of the teachers when i was the director of a school. he now writes for a newspaper in his native south africa

tim was actually the friend of another canadian and stayed upstairs from the cafe. he played music in both cafes when he was in town

stefania was an old friend from when we taught at koc university. i visited her in italy and she visited me in my cafe

done! cem went on to do a masters in germany. it was so great to see these young people grow

triston was a singer/dancer from dallas and quite entertaining all the time

a zimmerman came by and i took this of his bags. talk about travelling light!









of course there were lots of events at molly’s cafe.  here are photos of some of them. first there are some of the opening party.

dancing at the opening party with andrew

my sister peg and jimmy

my sister’s daughter in law stella hoofin’ it with andrew

the cake from my birthday

with my friend levent

other special events also took place

cihat’s wood ornaments sale

the jewellery show

easter brunch for the germans

the pawi thansksgiving

lee’s birthday– koreans eating lasagna!

zofia’s birthday

trici venola’s wonderful drawings of istanbul decorated the back room

joao’s interesting double exposure photos of european cafes

shirley verrette had an opening of her paintings at my cafe

of course there was music!

african music! from senegal and nigeria. the neighbours loved it

asena akan sang jazz classics

ruya and gokhan, jazz and turkish and kurdish classics

ben weeks, an english teacher, played sinatra and other way oldies for his friends

i am very proud that bilal karaman played at molly’s cafe. his career is now really going, as he is playing with some greats. his playing is great!

bob beers and souzana played traditional turkish and greek music. souzana is an american who lives in greece and bob lives in istanbul

cam neufeld played a few times. he is a fiddler from alberta and came to learn makam from the roma. he placed a board at his feet and would sort of do a seated jig as he played.

one night we had cuban music, which was muy bueno

the cyclowns played when they were back in town.

darius and oshan from the turbans also played their rousing music a few times.

djoumboush played a fw times. nicholas was the main mover for them.

donovan mixon was another jazz guitarist who played all of molly’s cafes

georg (accordion) and natalia mann (harp) and friends played for us

grace was an american exchange student who came from a grassroots music family. she had an amazing voice

people in istanbul know inca sol from the street. these ecuadorians played their own quechua music and were very interesting to talk to. my spanish is not very good, but one of them spoke french, so we got along.

karl doblhammer, from austria, played oldies in german. he was very entertaining, strolling through the cafe as he played and sang

lois deloatch had a wonderful throaty voice for jazz and gospel. she was visiting her brother, a newscaster in istanbul, so we all benefited

loxandra, from greece, took up a lot of room in my small cafe, but it made their music more intimate and more fun, like having them in your livingroom

canadians martin, tim, and friends played blues

natalia mann brought this big harp to play and then when she came to pick it up played a little more for us. she even played a little maori music

rafael and chrisine, formerly of the cyclowns, came to town and played swing for us.

we had sicilian folk music! it was great, not so different from some of the turkish traditional music

here we have celal el deniz, one of our galata neighbours, singing, serdar pazarcioglu, a fabulour violinist, and thanos doing some meyhane greek songs

and now on to word music– poetry readings and book talks at molly’s cafe

julie doxsee

lia mccoskey

linden horvath, in from berlin

mel kenne

niels hav from denmark, along with a whole lot of danish students and some of his friends, including one from greenland

richard and julia tillinghast, father and daughter poets

john ash and mel kenne

adelaide blum

Posted by: mollyscafeistanbul | August 21, 2012

first cafe

OK now I am strolling through memory lane.  here i will post some photos from my first cafe.  some of you may remember it and perhaps your photo will be here.

this is what it looked like before opening.

freshly painted– by me!










in process


















open for business












here are some photos of events.

first party– birthday twins jimmy and molly










carter’s birthday










goodbye party for franco










duff reading












julie doxsee













jeff kahrs












ed foster













mel kenne












john ash













and of course music!

cyclown circus played often while they were in town.











nicholas and agnes played turkish traditional ottoman music











nicholas and friends










oscar was a music lover and everyone loved oscar










and here are some photos of customers.

this was actually one of my landlords wearing my coat













with good friends cevdet and carter












photographer friend metin












ulas and cevdet










bruce and deniz










canadian greg and moroccan mostafa










a writer whose name escapes me












kelly and oscar












our dear friend john










jonas, the first zimmerman i ever met. i asked if he was a musician!













is it a bird or is it a man?!










my good friend stefan













these people were staying nearby and became regulars while they were here











my best friend nancy, visiting from oregon













and of course i must end with a few photos of dear oscar


baby oscar











his favourite place to sleep










my all time favourite photo of oscar and bunny



Posted by: mollyscafeistanbul | August 21, 2012

Selling the café

I have had lots of time to think about selling the past four years of my life and to contemplate what it has meant for me and for others.

Molly’s Cafe had three locations, all on Camekan Sokak: the first, opened in Sept 2008, was beside the mosque, a location that had been empty for four years. At the time, I lived across the street from it. My cafe was in that location for a little over a year. In 2009 I moved Molly’s Cafe across the street to what had been called ‘Timarhane’, which Turks found funny, because it was a euphemism for crazy house. The people who made it really wanted a ‘relaxation place’, which is what it really means. However, it closed very quickly. Molly’s Cafe occupied it for about a year and a half. Finally, in June 2011, the cafe moved to what had been a nasty dirty place for making plexiglass and neon signs. It was my cafe for a little over a year. In total, Molly’s Cafe existed with Molly for almost 4 years.


molly in the kitchen

First of all, I am very proud of what I have done with Molly’s Café. Its niche was offering non Turkish homemade food to those who were homesick and to those who were sick of kebabs all the time. For vegetarians it was an opportunity for them to eat something that was really vegetarian, as many Turks think that if there are not chunks of meat floating around in it, it is vegetarian. For vegans there were some options too. Mostly people were happy to have something familiar to choose from. It wasn’t fancy, but it filled one’s belly at a reasonable price.


back salon in the 3rd cafe

The comfortable atmosphere was also something that attracted many regular customers. The several sofas and several armchairs invited conversation, reading, or cuddling in the back corner with a sweetheart (with some checking in by me). People came to write, to work, to visit. Tourists asked many questions– one being where is a non touristy place to go. For that I sent them to Pierre Loti, but mostly the places tourists visit are tourist places for a reason– why else have people been visiting Aya Sofia for 1500 years? I could send them to the concrete suburbs, where they can see how people live and work– Ikitelli, Sirinevler, whatever. Tourists don’t go there for a reason. A few people even asked where the Galata Tower was! In the third cafe, many people (not only tourists) asked if there was a hammam there. A lot asked where to find a good hammam. Often once people sat down for a while, they got comfortable and stayed for quite a while. Occasionally someone would fall asleep.


jerome rothenberg

Since Molly’s Café has been hosting poetry readings for the past four years, it has become known as a place that welcomes readings. Several people emailed me asking to read in the café, and in fact some famous writers read their work there, including Jerome Rothenberg, Bill Berkson, and well known locals Mel Kenne and John Ash. Book talks were also very interesting, with Barbara Nadel’s mystery followers and particularly Hugh Pope’s perspectives on past and current events. One local poet told me that they used to have readings in a tiny place around the corner (now no longer there), which held about 6 people, so if they had a full house, they were ecstatic. At Molly’s Café there were usually 20 to 30 people who came to listen to their peers, as well as to read at group readings.


last christmas dinner

The special dinners were great. The greatest thing for me was that they were cooked by someone else! Except for Thanksgiving and Christmas, which were my job– the whole non family dinner for 30 or 40 people. The special dinners included Sri Lankan curry, Chinese, Iranian, Greek, Brazilian, Russian, Uzbek, and American, among others. Since curry is now a British staple, those dinners were well attended by Brits especially. Everyone enjoyed the taste of something different and usually had interesting conversations with new or old friends.


a couple of zimmerman customers

The interaction among people who came to the cafe was very interesting. A young Turkish-British man met an Austrian girl in the café a few months back and now they are dating. People got into conversations with each other easily. A Canadian man got into a conversation with a Moroccan friend of mine and it turned out they had common friends there. I had some very interesting conversations with people who wandered in. I was always very glad when I could correct some misperceptions (among them the belief that all Turkish fathers make their wives and daughters wear head scarves) about Turkey and Turks. One man proposed to his sweetheart in my first cafe. In the same cafe a young imam (!) broke up with the woman he was dating, a blonde who did not wear a headscarf.


There were a variety of interviews in my cafe. Some were with me, of course, but others included a young man from Iceland interviewing a young Turkish actress. There was a rather unsuccessful interview with John Ash and a much more successful one with Mel Kenne. I was interviewed for a TRT special on food and by some obscure program about the young people who had been kicked out of the square.


My cafe was written up in big and small ways in many places, including Timeout Istanbul, Marie Claire, Harpers, and Today’s Zaman. It was even in the Chinese version of Travel and Leisure magazine and a spa magazine in Bali.


I had a high learning curve doing the cafe. I had to learn how to manage the money in and out, which included finding suppliers and shopping at Tahtakale, near the Spice Bazaar. I also literally hauled groceries almost every day from the supermarket, bakkal, or manav. I kept a tally of what I bought every day and what I sold, so at the end of the month I could see if I made any money or not. I sure didn’t get rich but at least I knew where the money went and where it came from. However, still I have to deal with the final bureaucratic odds and ends of my company.


One interesting question that prospective buyers asked is if I could pay the rent. Duh! If I couldn’t, I wouldn’t have still been there. The rent was high, but the location is great.


And oh those prospective buyers! The most unrealistic, imho, were the Turkish men who did not like the café the way it was and who wanted to gut it and start from scratch. Most of these wanted to move the kitchen into the back salon, in spite of the fact that the water is on the end of the café where the current kitchen and bathrooms are. The back salon is lower, which is fine for getting water there, but to get it to where it exits the building, they would have to dig pretty deep. And of course they wanted completely new furniture. I was talking to a man who owns a restaurant in another part of Istanbul and his jaw dropped when I told him that I had opened my original café with an investment of 10,000 lira. I could see him doing the math in his head. I am sure he paid out at least 100,000, but then his place is quite different. I know how to make do with what I have and as I have written before, many of my friends have been very generous in giving me furniture and kitchen things. Turks generally do not like second hand things and if it is not new and modern it is not ‘nice’, so especially the men have problems understanding my ‘concept’.


Going through the selling process has been kind of like dating. Is this the one? Will this one accept me/my café? Will this person pay me enough? I have had some insultingly low offers and I have had men who were shown the café by a realtor and then came on their own, trying to get around him. In this case the realtor was a very nice young man, and it annoyed me that these guys were so duplicitous– and made me see how they would try to screw me over too. One guy told me getting a permit (a whole other topic!) would be really difficult and that he would have to spend 100,000 lira, so he made me an offer even lower than his last low offer. It’s not my problem if he is so stupid to pay that much money. I want what I want, as this is my returning to Canada money. I changed this place from a nasty dirty sign shop into a charming café that people come to, basically putting it on the map (thanks google), so I wanted money for that.


Did I get it? Not enough, but the time came and I liked the guy better than the other ones. He is willing to keep the café as is for a few months, until he sorts out the permit. Already he is making changes and soon he will begin renovating. But Molly’s Café is not the same without Molly!


last day in the cafe, on the way out

Meanwhile, I am sorting out my own head. I was trying to sell the café for a few months and had gotten kind of used to being in limbo. Now I am both sad and relieved. An occasional customer that I have known for over 10 years told me that I was an institution here. I told him it was largely a case of taking a fist out of a pail of water. Perhaps so, but I think I have made an impact, fleeting as it may be in this ancient city and this ancient part of the city. It is weird not to be getting up and going to the café to bake and cook. I don’t have to think about stocking the café anymore or about how to pay the rent.


At the same time I wonder what I will do with my time. I’m not very good at sitting around. I have things to pull together to make the big move and there are some places I want to go. There are some farther places I was hoping to get to before I leave, but I think I will just have to come back to do that. I have had some very nice feedback on my café and I will certainly miss being there. My friends always knew where to find me! Now they have to try and catch me as I sort through my stuff or stroll around saying goodbye to this fabulous city.



Posted by: mollyscafeistanbul | July 12, 2012

Cats in Molly’s Café

Most people who come into the café are charmed by all the cats. Personally, I find the only charming one to be Suzy (also known as Suzy Too, since her mother was Suzy Q). Her brother, Cowboy, was the ultimate charmer, but unfortunately he disappeared a few weeks ago. Suzy is a love hog: she loves to be petted, on her own terms, which is probably why she is still around. She likes to go up to the square and hang out, and when I come in the morning, she is there. I call her and she follows me to the café like a little dog.


Limpy is a black cat who for quite a while had a limp. He is fine with people, but he sprays his territory and he has had some horrific fights with the two gray cats that also hang around. These are roll-around fights with fur flying. One gray cat has a squinty eye and is not a nice cat. The other one is a handsome gray with some stripes. I suspect he is the father of quite a few kittens, as the mother cats seem to tolerate his presence.



In the garden there is a long-haired calico cat who has three kittens. Unfortunately, they are all scaredy cats. The mother will not be petted and the kittens all run away. In spite of that, they come into the café to eat and seem to feel that they own the place. There is another little calico cat that I think is related to the long-haired one, though she is short-haired. She is also a fraidy-cat, but when it was cooler, she would curl up in a corner of the sofa and would tolerate my petting her, even purring a bit as she shrank from the loving.


Floozy is another stripy calico. She has three kittens in the shop across the street. They are very sweet and like to be loved on. Floozy has a very harsh meow which she uses when she is locked out of the shop and her kittens are inside. She comes into the café to dine quite often. So far she has not brought the kittens.


uncle mr. black to you

Mr. Black arrived in the café last year with Suzy Q and I think is an uncle to Suzy Too. He is a thin black cat. There was another Mr. Black but he disappeared last year. Unfortunately, Limpy has pretty much chased away Mr. Black, though occasionally he will come in in the morning before I open the door to the garden.


Yesterday there was a new black and white cat that I see in the square. I could pet him but I really don’t want any more cats here. Another black and white cat comes sometimes but I don’t like him either, so I chase him off, unless one of the cats chases him off first.


Then there is Sita (Mamacita), who was the café cat in my second café down the street. She had adopted the café when she was pregnant with her first litter. Now she is a street cat again, as Suzy Q chased her off last year. At home I have Pasha, who was the very first kitty that Sita brought to the café when the first kittens were old enough to follow her.





Of course I cannot forget dear Oscar, who was my very first café cat. I took him home when I moved further from the café. When he was the café cat I would take him home at night. In the morning, he was out the door and down the stairs and would show up at the café when he felt like it. He got sick and died a few months ago and I was very sad, as he was the very coolest cat.


A German girl took one of Sita’s kittens two year ago, but when she had to move back to Germany she asked if she could bring Kasita to the café, which she did. Kasi is a lot like Sita, kind of a bitch who allows some pets sometimes. Kasi immediately ran into the empty building behind the café and hangs out there or on the balconies on the next building. She does not get along with the other cats and will tolerate pets from me if I feed her.


One day there was another small kitten on the café doorstep but it did not stay long, thank goodness. Another day a mother had her one kitten with her on the doorstep. I was able to pick up the kitten and pet it, but the mother was wild, and I think she decided there were too many cats and people and they disappeared.


Many tourist comment on the number of cats in this city. I comment back that they do not see many rats. I overheard an American woman walking down the street in front of the café telling her friend that you should not eat in a place with a cat because you will get sick. The woman sounded like she was from New York, and I wanted to run after her and ask how she felt about all the rats in the restaurants there and elsewhere. Hmmm, cats or rats? Which do you prefer?


I love cats, though sometimes I am kind of catted out. I will miss the abundance of cats when I am not here anymore.  Here are some more of my favourite kitty photos:

sita’s second batch. they were in a cabinet and we watched them like live tv










so cute!
















suzy too loved this box













hot kitty










this was another kitty that showed up for a while










for a while this drawer in the old hammam shop was their favourite place










what the heck is this??!!










biggest fan










Posted by: mollyscafeistanbul | July 3, 2012

Galata Square– the party’s over

galata square in about 2001. notice the cars on the road that is no longer there.

For the past two or three years Galata Square has been ‘occupied’ by hordes of young people sitting on the ground and partying. It started a few years ago with jugglers and rope walkers and the occasional fire twirler. Last year it really got popular and this year it was impassable at night. Last year a neighbour upstairs from the café had a letter published by her journalist friends in a couple of newspapers. She had complained with no result to the police, the zabita (the business police), the city, and the governor. After her letter was published, the city sent a street cleaning vehicle that went round and round the square, causing people to stand up and protest. Meanwhile the police and zabita were standing by. Of course the young people complained and about 20 of them were arrested. But they came back and were there for the rest of the summer.


in the past the square was crowded only for events such as this one

As soon as the weather got better this year they were back. The word was out that they could buy cheap beer and wine at the market, the supermarket, and the wine house. The tiny corner market was so busy that people were lined up outside it to get in to buy beer or wine. The winos were out in full force, tolerated by rather naïve young people. The square party spawned some other businesses– the popcorn man, the grubby men who collected returnable bottles, the oyster sellers, the corn on the cob seller, the jewellery sellers. The partying went on till the wee hours, usually until 5 a.m., accompanied by shouts, drums, screams, and fights. Finally last week some guy broke a wine bottle and attacked someone. I didn’t learn that until last night, but I had seen blood on my street, so I knew something had happened.


The result was that the police finally moved in. Now in the evening there are barriers and police tape manned by police officers, who do not let people pass them. The small market was closed illegally, though it has been there since 1948 selling alcohol and other things you buy at a mom and pop market. Now the young people sit on the stairs leaving the square and even that is a problem because people like me can’t walk down them anymore. This morning I saw that the newly planted flower boxes along the fence had been stripped of their flowers– every single one. And the neighbours on that side of the square are now complaining because the noise has moved closer to them.


empty square these days

I was interviewed for some no-name channel and told them that my first thought when I saw the police barriers was that freedom had taken a blow (I am freely translating from my Turkish here!) but then I was glad because the hordes of young people had turned our square and our neighbourhood into a garbage pit. Every morning city crews had to come to clean up the broken glass, the seeds, the plastic bags, the piss, and the puke. Even this morning I noticed vomit on the side of the street as I came to the café.


Those of us who are older and those of us who have businesses here sound very much like our parents did when we were young. These young people have no respect! They are dirty, sitting on the ground like that and fouling the area. They are noisy and prevent people from sleeping. And they certainly do not support local businesses, except for those that sell alcohol.


I was actually surprised that it lasted as long as it did. The government of Beyoglu is very conservative and Turks and foreigners agree that this kind of thing would not happen in Europe or Canada or the U.S. I hope now the city cleans up the stairs and that all these young people find somewhere else to go. The city is trying to make Galata more beautiful with the newly planted gardens and the youth are destroying them. Tourists are put off by the noise and crowds and filth at night and we business owners are tired of it.


Probably the nightly partying might have been tolerable and tolerated if it had ended earlier and if the people had been more responsible about picking up after themselves. However, the latter is not common in Turkey, as people often throw trash on the ground, knowing that eventually someone will come along and clean it up (‘it creates jobs’ they say). I guess the partiers do not have to work in the morning, unlike the neighbours they are disturbing.


All this said, if I were in my 20s, I would probably have been right out there with them.

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