For perhaps a century,
fishermen brought their catch from
the Bosphorus and
of Marmara to Istanbul's Galata
Bridge over the Golden
A few enterprising boatmen had an
idea: why not cook the fish
right on the boat and offer it for sale ready-to-eat?
They built grills and fryers
right in their boats, built fires in them,
grilled fish fillets, stuffed them
in half a loaf of bread, and handed
the fish sandwiches from the boat to thousands of hungry,
thrifty Istanbullus every day.
Balık ekmek! Balık ekmek! they
shouted. (Fish in bread! Fish in bread!)
||Making a fish sandwich
on the boat...
For as long as I've been visiting
Turkey, which is now nearly 50 years, there have always
sale at the mouth of the Golden Horn.
I loved the weirdness of
seeing a cooking fire raging in a boat,
I loved the flavor of the fresh
and I loved the price—cheap!
And I've never been ill from eating
Then came Turkey's aspiration to join
the European Union,
and such old-fashioned, romantic, but
perhaps unsanitary practices were discouraged.
Istanbul's newspapers were filled
with requiems for the Galata
sandwich, paeans to its flavor, nutritional
value, cheapness, and tradition. A
part of Istanbul's
age-old culture died.
Or did it?
I'm happy to report that the
Istanbul fish sandwich lives!
sandwiches are still being served daily in
the traditional boats tied to the quay,
and also at little restaurants beneath
Just go to Eminönü,
then to the western (Golden
of the Galata
Bridge. You'll see the gaudy
balık-ekmek boats bobbing
in the water between the bridge
and the TurYol
ferry docks, and on the bridge's
lower level you'll find several small
restaurants with low tables and chairs.
Waiters will cajole you in with shouts
ekmek! and Buyrun!
("Come on in! Help
Sit at a table and a waiter will bring
a grilled fish fillet inserted in a
half-loaf of bread along with a scoop
of salata (lettuce, tomatoes
Order a drink—the
traditional accompaniment is a Southeastern Turkish weirdness
called şalgam (SHAL-gahm), a blend of water, juice of salted, pickled black carrots and çelem turnips, and boiled, pulverized bulgur wheat. It's sour and salty, and you can get it with spicy pepper (acılı) if you like. You can order water or a soft
drink instead. (No alcohol is served.)
On some days the crowds are such that
long lines form at the boat of hungry
Istanbullus waiting to buy balık-ekmek.
You can avoid the crowds, and have
a somewhat more refined and comfortable
experience, by choosing one of the
balik-ekmek restaurants beneath the
Galata Bridge instead.
If you're there in
the evening, you'll have a sunset
view of the Golden
and a good, cheap dinner:
the bill should be less than TL10
According to a February 10, 2014, report by Reuters, "overfishing, pollution, habitat loss due to shipping and climate change" seriously threaten the Turkish fishing industry, and today the fish in your balık-ekmek is more likely to be "frozen mackerel from Norway or imports from Morocco."
Actually, I think the balık-ekmek of the former Kumkapı fish market, now moved to Samatya on the shore of the Sea of Marmara, tastes better, with fresher fish. More...
—by Tom Brosnahan