Even though Turkish cuisine is well known for its meat Istanbul, and Constantinople before it, arose as a city because of its naval location. And if I’ve learnt anything about travel, traditional cuisine is always made from readily avilable food items (not always the case today obviously).
Despite knowing that fact, it still came as a relative surprise to me to sample the amazing seafood flavours that were on offer in Istanbul. Stereotypes die hard, I guess.
Restaurants in Istanbul make it apparent that they sell seafood, by the word Balikci (seafood). Almost all their seafood comes from the Sea of Mamara and the Bosphorus Sea, which makes the seafood as fresh and as local it can be.
While most of the tourist sites in Istanbul are located on the European corner, the best eating spots are located on the Asian side. And one of the most popular seafood restaurants, for the locals is Balikci Lokantasi.
You know its a local haunt, when the staff don’t speak English or have English menus (i.e. not a tourist trap).
It was a feast of fish in their place, amazing Sardines, soft Seabass were on order and they didn’t cost much.
But perhaps the star of the show was the Salmon, black salmon from the Bosphorus it was called, a rare local catch with a soft flaky meat. The meat was flavoured in a nice savoury sauce and cooked in a claypot on service. Delicious.
Another local haunt is Okyanus in the Uskudar Fish Market. Its location does say it all, a seafood restaurant in a fish market.
Rather than intricate preparation, Okyanus was all about the simple methods that highlighted the raw ingredient.
“Mother Nature is the artist, and our job as cooks is to let her shine.” – Marco Pierre White.
I could get behind that idea. Fresh seafood grilled in front of you, and served pipping hot to your table when it is ready. From a starter fish soup to Octopus, anchovies and seabass its hard not to enjoy what was put on the table.
Then there is the the old brand name that has stood the tets of time. Sitting in the Kadikoy Fish Market for close to a century, Kadi Nimet Balikcilik made its name because of the iconic seagull that used to sit outside waiting for scraps and for its very fresh and wide range of seafood.
The restaurant is now run by the descendants of the original founder but continue to serve up good dishes. From Mussels, to calamari, to fish.
The star here was freshly caught oysters from the sea of Mamara. While farmed oysters are sometimes overly plump, wild oyster tend to be less ‘fat’ and have a richer flavour to them. Despite being tiny in size, they oysters packed a punch.
The most touristy of the restaurants we visited, was on a island full of tourist, and yet Balikci Süleyman on Prince’s Island, served up some amazing seafood.
A wonderful Turkish fish soup, savoury and full of chunky fish meat,
Mussels with rice, topped witj a drizzle of lemom and served in bite sized portions almost like a snack.
Phenomena grilled squid with its flavpr enhanced with a helpful dollop of butter on a grill.
And a very fresh grilled Seabass.
An absolute delight.
Of all the seafood and shell fish on offer at the various restaurants, one particular shellfish stood out for look precisely unfresh – prawns. That’s because prawns are not local widely available in the Bosphorus or the Mamara Sea.
Regardless, if there was a culinary surprise waiting for me in Istanbul its was the fresh and surprisingly affordable seafood on offer. Simple preparation, focused on the freshness of the produce, a different style of seafood from the misty salt-cooked seafood in the Nordics (Gothenberg’s Fish Church for example) and Singapore (seafood flavoured with Spices and hebs).
ON THE MAP (Balikci Lokantasi)
ON THE MAP (Okyanus)
ON THE MAP (Balikci Süleyman)
ON THE MAP (Kadi Nimet Balikcilik)