Under its vine-covered facade, the loft of a cafe, Yumma, on the corner of a little, busy street in Moda, has a homey air, its interior entirely exposed behind glass walls that reflect wraparound outdoor seating
There is some kind of magic at Yumma, as its spatial dimensions unfold with a sense of surprise fascination by the tiny nooks and eccentric angles of its inner life. Behind glass jars of cookies and a refrigerated vitrine of cakes, just under an espresso machine that seems to fit against the back wall like the last piece of a puzzle, there is a tunnel-like stairwell leading to a cellar kitchen. Up from its oblique light, servers and cooks emerge, holding characterful plates and dishes with tasteful blends of recipes for all times of day.
Their breakfasts in particular, are a delightful smorgasbord of the Turkish variety, including at one time a very aromatic, country-like cheese that seems to have just arrived off the farm. And their toasts, spiked with oregano and sun-dried tomatoes, are perfect occasions to lunch in the urban environs of a most alleviating stopover in the midst of hectic commutes and nights out. What sets Yumma apart is their choice ingredients, prepared as part of a string of foods that instill a warm, nourishing rustic naturalism in the heart of Istanbul.
There are usually only three or four tables inside Yumma. It is a haunt of modesty amid the buzzing cafe quarter surroundings. And on its high shelves, there are thick volumes on regional cooking, travel and the like, coffee table books for a bistro that, in summer especially, looks more like an overgrown private residence than a commercial outfit. It is situated on a roadway that sees quite a lot of traffic, but that does not impinge on the breezy quiet of its pacific moods.
On sunny days, rays of natural light beam down over its tables that stretch languorous across the well-trod concrete. Across the corner, a massive, gray, furry, territorial dog sizes up new patrons while licking its lips, on the make for a handout. But its large, beautiful eyes, do not stoke fear, its tongue lolling with a kindred, innocent naivety to that of a young worker with a hankering for someone to make them coffee in the blustery, coastal district of Kadıköy. Even well into the evening, its calm is ripe for a herbal tea.
After sunrise, sunset
On cold, early mornings, there are oftentimes crates of fresh vegetables, raw and dirty from their agricultural source, awaiting the door at Yumma – as it sometimes opens later in the morning with more of a laid-back atmosphere ideal for brunch, or the lazy afternoon mix of jams and spreads with bread and tea that is a hallmark of the Turkish breakfast experience. Yumma adds generous heaps and dollops of its finest, ecologically sourced preserves and butters over dense breads.
One of the more curious features of Yumma is its half of a second floor, a raised platform up a narrow metal staircase, furnished with plushly cushioned seats and such. It is the kind of spot where a Turkish tutor might meet with their student to discuss the vocabulary and grammar of Turkey’s official language, or where a wizened American translator might meet with an erudite acquaintance and bookish compatriot as they discuss Chinese-Turkish literature. Like most cafes, it has a youthful spirit but entertains a mature poise.
There were times when cafes were refuges, stimulating and nutritive, places of relaxation within the eye of the storm, where a thinker could sit back and observe urbanization at work, its artificial ecology swarming with overpopulated mechanization with one nose deeply buried in an old book by Renaissance French writer François Rabelais, or something more local from a nearby secondhand bookshop, like a thinly disguised, modernist Ottoman romance by the midcentury Turkish novelist Suzan Sözen.
With that irresistibly foamy cappuccino of theirs, their bakery is a trove of treasures, from raw chocolate to spinach cake, red velvet mascarpone and eclairs, they have a special penchant for crepes, pancakes and French toasts smothered in berries, for a vital seasonality. And if just stopping by is more on the menu, they have a wealth of packaged goods inspired by Turkey’s shared regional palette with that of the Levant of the Eastern Mediterranean, such as muhammara, a red pepper walnut paste, and hummus.
When once a memory
It is said that the name, Yumma, refers to the sound of mother in Arabic, and that the owner called her grandmother that. In describing themselves, they identify as an ancestral, local kitchen. The personable woman behind much of their operations is Esra Hoşafoğlu, who also works as an astrological psychologist. With a perfect humility, their place on the map is an invitation to go within, as into a seed, in search of the sources of life that catapult its seer back into the stars.
Back on earth, the cats are ambling about, curling up to the legs of thirsty talkers with the name “Yumma” on their lips. They tell stories of their own past, the lives of their remembrance as they recount ventures abroad, or across the vast reaches of Anatolia, which, might begin after biting into an olive, listening to the wind through the low-rise neighborhood of Moda as the sounds of leaves swaying mixes with the clink of a metal spoon stirring sugar into a steaming glass of tea.
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