Istanbul’s post-modern neighborhood cafe: Dört Kadıköy

 “A post-modern neighborhood cafe.” That’s how Neylan Öğütveren, one of the owners of Kadıköy’s newest cafe – Dört Kadıköy – describes it. Her goal is to create community and do something good for the neighborhood in a time when people aren’t sharing enough and need to know each other more than ever. From my perspective, her and her three business partners (and very close friends) Fahri, Emrah, and Ürün are off to a running start. I connected with Neylan over Twitter @dortkadikoy and set up an interview with her shortly after the opening of Dört Kadıköy earlier this month.

Due to Neylan’s welcoming spirit and outgoing personality, the interview turned out to be an informal chat between friends. I got to hear all about her inspiration and vision for Dört Kadıköy while enjoying a refreshing cold brew and warm walnut brownie topped with ice cream, followed by an artisan latte.

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Latte art, the way to my heart

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Cold brew drip mechanism

Dört Kadıköy isn’t your normal Istanbul coffee shop; in fact, it’s much more than a place that just serves coffee although they do that well, too. The cafe promotes a healthy lifestyle and welcomes four pawed friends. Don’t forget to say hi to Zeus, Neylan’s and her partner Fahri’s, Doberman in the back, and if you bike to the cafe, you get 20% of your purchase. The coffee and tea are organic and Neylan expects to expand their menu to include organic and vegan selections. Now, that’s something I can get behind.

The cafe is already holding Friday night Spanish language tables and plans to expand its community events to include long-table discussions and workshops including topics such as: COFFEE. The owners completed an extensive coffee training course here in Istanbul and they want to pass the information they learned onto the greater community – how to select beans, which brewing system to use, etc. Thanks to Dört Kadıköy’s partnership with Petra Roasting Co., a roasting company that made a big splash on the Istanbul coffee scene earlier this year, Dört Kadıköy is serving top of the line beans from one of Istanbul’s leading roasters.

Neylan’s background in Performance Art Management and Digital Performance also comes through loud and clear, and no detail has gone unattended to. The cafe’s interior design channels the Brutalist style, and in fact, the cafe was previously a repair shop so this too was an inspiration for the cafe’s design. The walls will soon be home to installations of local artists (first up is Çandaş Şişman) as well as permanent artwork. The logo’s design by Emre Parlak was inspired by the Bauhaus Movement and it’s an aesthetically pleasing logo that jives well with the cafe’s trendy brand.

Oh, did I mention the baked goods are homemade by women in Moda? That’s community for you.

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Syphon coffee with baked goods

 

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My lovely ladies enjoying the goods. The more the merrier when exploring new places!

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Sample menu (subject to change)

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Learning to make Iznik tiles in Bursa’s Yeniceabat village

One of the reasons I love Istanbul is because there is always something new to explore – a new neighborhood or a new restaurant – the possibilities are endless. Bursa, on the other hand, has always been a place of familiarity for me. I’ve memorized the bus and dolmuş routes, I know the downtown area like the back of my hand, and I don’t get the same sense of overwhelmingness that tends to befall me in Istanbul from time to time. In fact, I thought I had explored every nook and cranny of Bursa until I visited Yeniceabat village earlier this summer.

The village is discreetly tucked away behind Bursa’s otogar (bus depot) and despite all the times I took buses to Istanbul and Ordu, I never knew the village existed, and even more surprisingly, neither did Gurkan. We were in Bursa a few weekends ago for a mini-holiday, and we had plans to visit our good friend Cat who is leading this year’s NSLI-Youth program – a program which I led in 2012 and I highly recommend to any American high school students aspiring to learn Turkish or other critical need languages.

Cat was taking her students on a field trip to nearby Iznik (Nicaea), and on the way out of Bursa, they had planned to stop at an Iznik tile workshop in Yeniceabat. After perusing a map, Gurkan and I were surprised to find ourselves only a five minute drive from Yeniceabat – we had been having coffee at Anatolium waiting for Cat’s call. We headed out to the village and despite it’s deserted appearance, we found it was home to not just one, but three different tile workshops. One of the NSLI-Youth drivers met us on the main village road, jumped in the car and directed us to the correct workshop (take a right at the kiraathane located on the main village road).

When we arrived, the workshop was bustling with activity. One group of students was milling around outside chatting, another was hand painting tiles in the workshop, and still another was preparing for a tour of the kiln room. Gurkan and I chatted with one of the artisans and saw how the tiles were glazed and fired. We learned that the workshop uses quartz which is more difficult to work with (it shrinks when fired and needs to be done in small batches) but of higher quality than the material most workshops use.

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Glazing tiles in the kiln room

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Dipping tiles in the glaze

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A close-up of some traditional Iznik designs

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A variety of pieces waiting to be glazed and fired

I noticed the workshop had a small showroom off to one side, and Gurkan managed to persuade one of the workers to let us have a look inside. It was a very small space but had pottery stacked in all corners and spread across the floor. On some of the pieces, we were surprised to find Paşabahçe – one of my favorite Turkish home goods store – written underneath. According to the worker, the workshop sells their items to Paşabahçe which in turn sells them in their retail locations at three times the price. Although I would have loved to fill up a whole box to take back with me to Istanbul, I used my discretion and ended up purchasing just a couple pieces for wedding gifts.

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Painting pomegranates with Iznik designs

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The workshop’s small showroom

Afterwards, Cat and I talked with one of the workers who I assumed was the owner about the possibility of returning in the fall for informal classes for just the two of us. At first, he seemed hesitant – the art of making tiles isn’t just a hobby, something you can learn over a few days he said – but he softened up as the day went on. Maybe Cat and I will get our very own private Iznik tile class after all.

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Even the outside of the workshop is stacked high with pottery

 

 

An organic farm trip with Plus Kitchen

Now that I am trying my hand at writing on food sustainability issues here in Istanbul, a lot of awesome opportunities have fallen into my lap including an invitation to join an organic farm trip. The trip was organized by Plus Kitchen – a restaurant located in Trump Towers specializing in local, organic, and all around healthy foods. We departed from Plus Kitchen early Sunday morning and found ourselves on the road headed to Beykoz about a half an hour later. Somewhere along the Beykoz road, we stopped at Demircan Restaurant where we were welcomed by Derya of Plus Kitchen. We started off the day with a magnificent village-style breakfast – warm bread, butter, creamy yogurt, cheese, olives, tomatoes, cucumber, fried eggplant, mucver (zucchini pancakes), menemen, several rounds of tea, and of course, Turkish coffee. Everything was organic and fresh, fresh, fresh. 

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Our first stop: Demircan Restaurant

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Gurkan and I enjoying our breakfast

The organic farm was located down the road so after breakfast we gathered ourselves together and started off down the path. Before making it to the farm, we stopped at a roadside stand to admire the produce. Gurkan and I couldn’t help but bag a supply of beans and tomatoes for the week. Once we arrived at the farm, our guide Beytullah Bey took us under his wing and explained the crops one by one. We started in the greenhouse-like tent where the tomatoes and cucumbers were growing. We saw rows and rows of beautiful green – soon to be red – tomatoes and cucumber plants gently grazing the ground (the cucumbers were being grown upside down!). We also learned a few tricks: Beytullah Bey told us that the flowers on the tomato plants indicate how many tomatoes will grow, and if you want one gigantic tomato, you can simply take a few of the flowers of the plant leaving only one to blossom. Similarly, we were surprised to learn that the leaves of the green tomato plant give off a green color that cannot be removed with soap and water but only by rubbing the tomato itself on your hands. Seriously, these plants are pure magic.

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Buying vegetables on the roadside

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Our guide, Beytullah Bey, explaining the secrets of the trade

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Tomato close-up. See those red ones peeking through in the background?

Outside the tent, we checked out the zucchini, eggplant, and pepper plants. The last crop was a special type of tomato plant that cannot be grown inside the tent (which does a nice job of protecting the plants from bugs). It’s also  a late bloomer scheduled for harvest in early August, and as a result, we didn’t get a chance to marvel at its fruit. As Beytullah Bey gave us a quick lesson on the best time of the day to water plants (hint: you don’t want them to burn), Gurkan asked a good deal of questions about best practices for growing fruits and vegetables. His family grows a variety of fruits and vegetables as well as pine trees in Turkey’s Black Sea region so the organic farm trip hit close to home.

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A young zucchini plant

After the tour, we headed back to Demircan Restaurant where Derya was waiting for each of us with a bag of goods from Plus Kitchen! Each bag was filled with green peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, village eggs, yogurt, fresh milk, and honey packed in vintage-looking glass jars and wrapped in lovely green Plus Kitchen hankies. In addition to the tomatoes and peppers we had picked up at the roadside stand, we knew we would be eating well (and organic!) for at least a week. Indeed, that week our veggie dishes and salads were tastier, our milk and yogurt richer, and our egg yolks more deep in color. We are the newest fans of Plus Kitchen, and we can’t wait for their new location in Kanyon to open.

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Farm-to-table with Plus Kitchen!

Plus Kitchen has a great social media presence. Check them out on Instagram and Twitter @pluskitchentr.

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Thanks #pluskitchentr!

 

Armenian-inspired Jash Istanbul

The place: Jash
The offerings: Huge selection of mezzes, entrees, and drinks
Price range: 12-20 for mezzes, 26-40 for entrees
The pros: Delicious mezzes, great hospitality, live music
The cons: The main entrees paled in comparison to the mezze selection


According to its website, Jash specializes in  traditional Istanbul cuisine. It’s a fair description, but perhaps, not quite correct. Most people know Jash as an Armenian restaurant, or at the very least, an Armenian-inspired restaurant. Sure it serves the standard mezze selections found in any Istanbul meyhane, but its Armenian owner has also added a few Armenian specialities to the menu, including topik which my readers will already be familiar with. A visitor to Turkey may not easily pick up on the Armenian influence, but a resident of Turkey would understand from the decorations (a small Jesus hangs by the front door) or the clientele (we met the owner’s Armenian cousins who were visiting from Montreal).

In many ways, this restaurant feels like you are eating in someone’s home not unlike the familial atmosphere at The Galata House. Like the Galata House, Jash also has an old-time feel to it, but in opinion, it’s done even better. Antique decorations, family photographs, and feel-good hospitality abound. Mari(a), the owner is very hands-on, she gave us recommendations when ordering, asked us what we thought of our selections, and went from table to table to make sure all her guests were happy. The restaurant has a good amount of seating with a downstairs and upstairs as well as an outdoor patio area – but as this place is quite popular, a reservation is a must. You can tell from the picture below that we were the first guests of the evening besides one large group of tourists sitting outside. Shame on us for arriving so early to a meyhane, but someone had some plans that he had to set in motion!

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Jash is know for its mezzes and they did not disappoint. I had my heart set on the topik so we ordered that along with cerkez tavugu (literally translated as Circassian chicken this dish is a special chicken salad with walnuts), sarma (stuffed grape leaves), and melon to go with our raki. The topik was among the best I’ve ever had and it was well worth the 20 TL price tag which I had originally found pricey. The sarma, too, were delicious and extremely fresh. I was surprised to find that they were much better than any homemade sarma I’d ever had – the chef at Jash certainly knows what he is doing. The chicken salad was also good but the portion a bit small. I took a look at a few other mezzes as waiters were serving them, and the midya dolma will definitely be on my list of things to order next time. They were HUGE and overflowing with rice stuffing.

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From L to R: melon, chicken salad, topik, and sarma

By the time our main entrees came, we both agreed that we were already quite full and it probably wasn’t necessary to order two full entrees (next time, we are sticking to the mezzes). I tried the harisa which is only available on the weekends and similar to traditional Turkish keskek which is made with chicken and wheat. Gurkan tried a kofte dish with meatballs on toasted bread with tomato sauce poured over and yogurt on the side. The concept was similar to Bursa’s pideli kofte, but not quite as tasty in our opinion. In the grand scheme of things, we weren’t overly impressed with the main entrees but it may be because nothing could compare to the delicious selection of mezzes we had just devoured.

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Harisa, similar to keskek

Jash has an accordion player that starts to play in the evenings around 8 p.m. On the night we were there, he took up a place outside on the patio to play. The real surprise of the evening was when the accordion player came over to our table and Gurkan PROPOSED. That’s right, he proposed in Jash and I said Yes! Everyone in the restaurant was clapping for us and snapping photos. After everything had calmed down a bit and we had gone back to our table, guests continued to congratulate us from their tables and one couple even beckoned us over to them in order to wish us well in life. I’m telling you this place has the coolest atmosphere. Mari also came over with little gifts including a bookmark and bag holder with the restaurant’s name on them, and we told her we’ll be back every year to celebrate (as long as we are in Turkey). Gurkan proposed on the longest day of the year, so it shouldn’t be too hard for us to remember our annual date at Jash.


How to get there:

Jash is centrally located and easily accessible from Kabatas or Taksim. In typical Istanbul fashion, it rained the evening we visited, so we went by taxi which may also be a good idea for first time visitors since Jash is tucked away in Cihangir.

A coffee break in Istanbul’s Old City

The place: Brew Coffeeworks
The offerings: Coffee & baked goods
Price range: 5-8 TL for coffee and espresso drinks
The pros: Strong coffee & funky decor with blue accents
The cons: Located in the old city, the clientele is mostly tourists


Normally, we don’t go to the Old City – it’s far too crowded and touristy for our taste. We only cross the Karakoy bridge unless we have a specific mission in mind – such as buying baking utensils in the bazaar, begging the Fatih Emniyet for my residence papers, or trying a new restaurant (the last one in Fatih was a major fail – #thanksbutnothanks Anthony Bourdain and his Turkey Youtube video). This Sunday, however, we had a mission and that was to help our roommates find new bikes. Gurkan had the bike know-how and I was just there for moral support, and of course, to help Nazli find a snazzy basket for hers.

Before even making our way to the Eminonu bike shops, we chanced upon Brew Coffeeworks, a cafe I remember one of our guests had mentioned he had found while touring. He had said that it was a nice place but in a strange location, and he couldn’t have been more on point. In the midst of unsupervised children, squawking pigeons, and haggling bazaar sellers, Brew Coffeeworks is a beacon in the chaos. Located in the same building as the Ottoman Legacy Hotel, I imagine the clientele is mostly made up of tourists either staying at the hotel or following their tour books to the Spice Bazaar and fish stands of Eminonu.

At first, we wavered about whether we should go in (we were after all on a mission and we had already agreed to eat at Cigkofteci Ali Usta if we were able to find it), but the cafe’s cool blue inside was welcoming and I hadn’t had my morning cup of coffee, so I nudged the others and they soon followed. Surprisingly, the cafe was also completely empty except for another table of two ladies. If the cafe wasn’t located in the Old City, but rather, somewhere in Taksim or Besiktas, I have no doubt it would have been packed. With Wi-Fi available and a decent amount of seating, it is a perfect place to study or work, but given its present location, people probably pop in to take a quick breather after visiting the Spice Bazaar.

Between the four of us, we ordered a few iced lattes and an iced americano for me. In the summer, cold press iced coffee is my drink of choice, but very difficult to find in Istanbul, so an iced americano is a fairly good substitute. We were pleased to find the expresso drinks at Brew Coffeeworks good and strong (none of that fake coffee masquerading as espresso in this joint). Besides the espresso, I really liked the funky blue accents – from the bright blue ceiling, to the blue accented photos, and even the blue display book about Şile cloth (which I mentioned in my last post about Şile), the concept was well executed and the cafe a welcome respite from the chaos of the Old City.

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Cafes in Cape Town & Zurich and a recently opened one in Izmir as well.

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Funky decorations with bright blue accents.

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Ample sitting space to study or work

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Iced Americano (not a cold press iced coffee, but honestly, a close second)

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I didn’t try the baked goods, but they looked awfully delish

On the Black Sea at Ağva and Şile

Last weekend was another rainy Istanbul weekend (thank goodness because the newspapers are forecasting a major drought this summer), and our roommates Nazlı and Berk had the luck of having a rental car on hand after attending a wedding the evening before. We woke up early and Nazlı told us we were heading out on a road trip. To where I asked? Ağva and Şile. I didn’t know much about either, but I jumped in the car still half asleep and we were soon on our way to Kurtköy to pick up our friend Başak.

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The usual suspects: Nazlı, Berk, Gürkan and Başak

We took a few wrong turns on the way from Kurtköy to Ağva, but eventually ended up in Ağva just in time for breakfast. The rain hadn’t let up, so we found a rustic cafe along the river flowing into the sea. The cafes were set up on the pier, and the space between the cafes and the river was home to a number of furry critters. At first, we had no idea they were there until a few random paws started to reach up over the ledge.

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Puppy paws trying to get into the cafe

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The whole clan comes out to play

After breakfast, we walked out to the lighthouse which is what everyone visiting Ağva on that rainy morning was doing. It’s surprising how one can live surrounded by water in Istanbul and never have a chance to enjoy it, so it was a real treat to feel and hear the sea in Ağva. We didn’t come prepared to go swimming but we were able to stick our feet in, and it was incredibly refreshing.

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Heading out to the lighthouse

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The Ağva hangout

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The beach at Ağva

Our next stop was the İmrenli Koyu Plajı, a gorgeous beach in a semi-protected cove. We grabbed refreshments from the nearby convenience store and lounged around on the beach enjoying the feel of sand and the first rays of summer.

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Nazlı, Berk, and I on the beach at İmrenli Koyu beach

Next was Şile’s Saklıgöl (Hidden Lake) which was aptly named. The lake had several cafes around it as well as a walking path. A perfect place for a peaceful family outing.

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Cafes line the lake

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A peak at Saklıgöl through the trees

Lastly, we stopped in Şile for fish and fried mussels (I had been craving midya tava all day!). The restaurant we ate it had a lovely view overlooking the Şile harbor, and afterwards, we walked on the pier among the fishing boats. I also learned about the famous Şile bezi or Şile cloth, a light woven gauze-like cloth ideal for the summer heat.

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The Şile harbor

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Dusk falls on Şile

Where is Şile? Located on the Black Sea, Şile is approximately an hour and a half outside of Istanbul. We headed to Ağva first, followed by İmrenli Koyu Plajı, Saklıgöl, and finally the town of Şile. When the weather is nice, both Ağva and Şile turn into summer resort towns, full to the brim with people. We were lucky to visit before the summer season officially started.

The verdict is in on Bursa’s Mahkeme Hamamı

One of my best friends, Heidi, was in town for the week, and of course, it wouldn’t be a proper Turkey vacation without a visit to Bursa. We went for the day on the new BUDO ferry line direct from Kabataş to Mudayna which cost us 40 TL/person round-trip. For those who live in Beşiktaş, the BUDO ferry is a huge improvement. Previously, we would take the İDO ferry from Yenikapı in the wee hours of the morning. All too often, we missed the bus from our neighborhood, or more than often than not, it never came. The result? We would end up taking a taxi to Yenikapı which canceled out the cheap cost of the İDO ferry tickets.

Overall, we were pleased with the new BUDO ferry and landing in Mudayna (not Güzelyalı) was a nice surprise. We made our way downtown on one of the new, spiffy city buses, felt the earthquake in one of Bursa’s old wooden buildings, and headed to the Mahkeme Hamamı after an ample fill of gözleme. As everyone knows, Bursa is famous for Turkish baths especially those found in the Çekirge district. Last time, my roommate Nazlı and I had gone to the Kervansaray hamam, arguably Bursa’s most famous hamam. We were disappointed to find the the women’s section small and crowded, the service dismal and the massage unimpressive. Gürkan, however, who had gone to the men’s section had come out a new man. He couldn’t stop singing Kervansaray’s praises – a gorgeous hamam and a personal attendant all to himself. Without fail, the men’s sections are always the better of the two (unless it’s one hamam with different visiting hours for men and women) – something which confounds me  since hamam culture seems to be more prevalent among the country’s females.

After that last experience, I knew I would never return to Kervansaray (not to mention it’s also one of the most expensive baths in Bursa). I did however have a pleasant memory of Mahkeme Hamamı (İbrahim Paşa Hamamı) which had been recently restored and reopened by Bursa’s Büyükşehir Belediyesi, the local municipality. While not in Çekirge, Mahkeme Hamamı is centrally located in Heykel on the way to Karabash-i Veli, Bursa’s whirling dervish lodge. The first time I visited was with my NSLI-Youth students in 2012 – the municipality had opened the hamam especially for us during Ramadan and waived the entrance fee for the entire group. Although not a huge fan of the local government, it was certainly a nice gesture and not easily forgotten.

Mahkeme Hamamı

That’s why Heidi and I also opted for a visit to Mahkeme Hamamı instead of one of the more well-known baths in Çekirge. We called ahead for the prices (very reasonable!) and were surprised to find that Mahkeme Hamamı only had a women’s section which meant Gürkan was on his own for the afternoon. We rang the doorbell and we were warmly greeted by a lady who later introduced herself as Ayşe. She showed us to a private dressing room with two lounge chairs and locked cabinets for our valuables. I explained we had come from Istanbul and didn’t have towels, peştemal, or shampoo, and Ayşe appeared with all the items very clearly explaining the prices of each to me. She also explained the bath process which you can read about here. Although I’ve been to several baths over the years, I appreciate it when they take the time to explain the process to you. Every hamam has its own culture and etiquette, and it can be awkward if you make a faux pas.

Entrance to the women’s section

We were given our own pair of wooden hamam slippers to wear and soon ushered into the bath. Imagine my surprise when we opened the door to find only two other women inside the hamam on a Saturday afternoon. Compared to 50+ women in Kervansaray’s one room, we had a huge hamam with multiple smaller rooms all to ourselves.  We were in hamam heaven. Heidi and I spread out in one of the smaller, more private rooms, soaking up the heat and relaxing. After 20 minutes or so, Ayşe recommended that we go to another room – the extra hot room – so that our skin would be ready for the impending kese scrub. Until I entered the hot room that day, I had never understood why people wore slippers in the bath, but the marble floors were so hot that I had no option but to manuever in the clog-like slippers. The benches were similarly hot and sitting down was quite a task. We lasted all about 10 minutes before heading back to the main hamam room.

Turkish bath accessories

It was soon our turn for kese and massage. Mahkeme Hamamı does both on a padded massage table rather than the marble slab. In my opinion, the massage table is definitely the way to go because otherwise – if the massage is good – you feel like you’re being slammed into the hardest piece of rock you’ve ever felt. Here the skin scrub was  done very thoroughly (face scrub optional) and the massage was out-of-this-world amazing. From out of nowhere, Ayşe appeared with a gigantic loofah full of bubbles, and I soon found myself swimming in bubbles on the massage table (she had told me ahead of time that she was going to do a very köpüklü massage for us). The massage was just what I needed. Ayşe took it extremely seriously and the amount of pressure she used was spot on. Covered in bubbles, I admired the sun shining through the hamam’s dome, and took note that this hamam had natural light unlike others I had visited.

After the massages, we were completely wiped out and had only enough energy to shampoo and head back out to the resting area. We bundled up in towels, found our lounge chairs, and Ayse appeared with our gazoz. She slid the curtains closed, we switched the lights out, and finally, we rested. I could have stayed the whole day but there was silk to buy and friends to meet, so our rest was cut prematurely short.

Next time you find yourself in Bursa, skip the Çekirge hamams and try this one! You won’t be disappointed.

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Bursa’s Uludağ gazoz

Mahkeme Hamamı prices:

Entrance: 15 TL
Skin scrub (kese): 10 TL
Massage: 10 TL
Peştemal: Free
Towels: 3 TL
Shampoo: 2 TL
Beverages available
Tip – up to you!