Fish Sandwich in Istanbul (Balik Ekmek) – Popular Street Food

First published: May 17, 2013 – Updated: September 25, 2021

Who doesn’t like fresh fish? One of Istanbul’s favorite lunchtime street foods to munch on is balık ekmek or ‘fish sandwich’.

Found readily in the suburbs bordering the Golden Horn and the Bosphorous, balık ekmek is a delicious sandwich priced at between only 10 Turkish lira to 15 lira.

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The fish is grilled with herbs and crushed red pepper, before being placed inside bread with 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 with a fish sandwich in hand.

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Bread roll fish sandwich filled with fish, lettuce, onion wrapped in paper on wooden table

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!

However, upon further investigation when I afterward chatted with the cafe owner he chuckled when I enquired as to the origin of the fish sandwich 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!

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After taking this issue up with 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; Istanbul fish sandwich chefs turned to alternative sources for consistent supply. Hence the introduction of Norwegian fish to the Istanbul street food scene.

Although a little dejected, my tastebuds and my tummy were still happy. And I will continue to join the locals in Karaköy for a tasty Norwegian mackerel fish sandwich in Istanbul.

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