Who doesn’t like fresh fish? One of Istanbulus’ favorite lunchtime street foods to munch on (and a must eat for visitors to Istanbul) is balık ekmek or ‘fish bread’. Found readily in the suburbs bordering the Golden Horn and the Bosphorous, balık ekmek is a delicious sandwich priced at between only 2TL to 5TL. The fish is grilled wıth herbs and crushed red pepper, before being placed inside bread wıth a nice squeeze of lemon, and the eater’s choice of lettuce, tomato, onion and even peppers. Sellers are aplenty on both the Eminönü and Karaköy sides of the Galata Bridge, and there’s no more authentic way to enjoy Istanbul ‘seaside’ life than wıth a balık ekmek in hand.
This past weekend I excitedly decided to bask in the spring sunshine and headed to Karaköy in search of a great fresh ‘Bosphorous’ balık ekmek. What I found at the entry to the Karaköy Fish Market was indeed delicious! (as you can see from my photos below) However, upon further investigation when I afterwards chatted with the cafe owner he chuckled when I enquired as to the origin of the fish I just ate. I asked him if my delicious fish’s life was cut unexpectedly short by being freshly plucked from the shores of the Golden Horn. But, the lovely cafe owner politely explained that my wonderful fish had come on a boat to Istanbul from Norway!
Although a little dejected, my tastebuds and my tummy were still happy. And I will continue to join the locals in Karaköy for tasty Norwegian balık ekmek.
A note: After taking this issue up with many locals, I discovered that originally the fish was coming from the mighty Bosphorous. However, as acceptable fish stocks in the Bosphorous have faced significant depletion over many years, and the price of the fish became more expensive; the cafe owners turned to alternative sources for consistent supply. Hence the introduction of Norwegian fish to the Istanbul street food scene.