Kumkapı Restaurants in Istanbul

Kumkapı (KOOM-kah-puh, “Sand Gate”) is an old OttomanGreek and Armenian fishermen’s district near the Sea of Marmara shore due south of Istanbul‘s Grand Bazaar(map).

The Kumkapı district is centered on a small plaza where six streets meet. It’s surrounded by seafood restaurants, and restaurants line many of the streets radiating from the plaza.

Restaurants are open all year, but in the warmer months (usually April through October) tables are set outside, and every night is a lively, sometimes boisterous dining scenewith smiling customers, scurrying waiters and itinerant peddlars and entertainers.

You can reach it by taking a taxi, or the Bağcılar-Kabataş tram to the Beyazıt-Kapalıçarşı (Grand Bazaar) stop, then walking downhill along Tiyatro Caddesi (map) for 10 minutes (800 meters/yards).

A night in Kumkapı can be lots of fun, but there is a longstanding and intractable problem of cheating on the restaurant bills.

Dodges include: bringing you items you never ordered and charging for them; charging for items you never ordered and never received; overcharging for items (especially fish); recommending the most expensive items (such as out-of-season fish); faulty addition (always in the restaurant’s favor), etc.

A true Turkish dinner with lots of friends inevitably results in a l-o-n-g bill scribbled in cryptic Waiter Runic that lends itself handily to cheating. Stories abound of foreign visitors being presented with TL300 bills for meals that would’ve cost a Turk TL50.

Multilingual fish chart, Kumkapı, Istanbul, Turkey
multilingual fish chart, with prices, makes it easier to choose what you want and not be cheated on the main-course price….

That having been said, there have been efforts to clean up the problem, as some restaurateurs have come to realize that a reputation for poor business practices can last for years and drive tourists out of the area.

While I recommend that foreigners go to Kumkapı with a Turkish friend who is more in touch with local customs and prices, I realize that this is not always possible. If it’s not possible for you, heed these tips.

I’m sure there are plenty of Kumkapı restaurants where all this is not necessary, where the service is good and honest and the fish first-rate, and I wish I could tell you which ones they are, but I don’t dine there often enough to stay up-to-date on this constantly-changing picture.

My friend and colleague Mr Ersan Atsür of Orion-Tourrecommends the Okyanus and the Akvaryum, so you might give those preference.

Also consider walking under the railroad tracks and across the shore highway (map) to the waterfront Kumkapı Fish Market (Balık Pazarı), where simpler but still quite pleasant restaurants are lined along the shore just behind the fishmonger shops. Here you get a view of the harborand, at the right hour, of the sunset. Prices are similar to those at restaurants around the plaza in Kumkapı.

(The Balık-Ekmek fish sandwiches here at the fish market are cheap and perhaps the best in the city.)

In all probability you’ll have a fine Kumkapı fish dinner at a decent price, but do be active in the defense of your interests. The more active you are, the more pleasant (and inexpensive) your evening is likely to be.

—by Tom Brosnahan


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