Turkey’s Fish Sandwich (Balık Ekmek): The Popular Street Food of Istanbul

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Turkey and Istanbul, of course, has a lot of memorable experiences for visitors. So certainly, one of those is to enjoy a fish sandwich (balık ekmek in Turkish). While enjoying your fish sandwich, you may also enjoy Bosphorus. What a perfect match! You can also take a look at our Best 25 Turkish foods list which includes Balık Ekmek, as well.

Balık Ekmek boats in historical Eminonu square is always crowded.
Balık Ekmek boats in historical Eminonu square is always crowded.

For all its simplicity, the popular and preferable street food has an interesting history. However, there only a few spots where you can still find the authentic version of the food.

Fish sandwich or 'fish and bread' is the most famous member of Turkish street food. (Image Credit-Flickr)
Fish sandwich or ‘fish and bread’ is the most famous member of Turkish street food. (Image Credit-Flickr)

Popular vs. Authentic Fish Sandwich

Fish Sandwich (balık ekmek) is quite a simple and also delicious meal. Balık ekmek contains grilled white fish, raw onions, and salad in a half loaf of white bread. So, it is an absolute Istanbul classic. The usual tourist stops in Eminönü often serve imported fish. But, the city’s lesser-known spots in Beykoz and Yeniköy offer more delicious ones. These two neighborhoods of Istanbul continue to serve authentic sandwiches with fresh fish.

Balık ekmek contains grilled white fish, raw onions, and salad in a half loaf of white bread. (Image Credit-Flickr)
Balık ekmek contains grilled white fish, raw onions, and salad in a half loaf of white bread. (Image Credit-Flickr)

Evolution of Turkey’s Fish Sandwich

The Istanbul fish sandwich has been around since the mid-nineteenth century. Then, people were freshly catching the fish from the Bosphorus. And so, they were grilling and serving it on bread by the waterside. Back then, fishermen would set up small grills right on their boats to serve the public with this simple treat. By the 1990s, fish sandwich (balık ekmek) continued to be popular in former fishing neighborhoods by the Bosphorus. Many of the oldest fish restaurants in Istanbul originated as docked boats. Further, they served to a few tables on the shore.

Taka Balık Ekmek, Yenikoy, Istanbul. (Image Credit-Zomato)
Taka Balık Ekmek, Yenikoy, Istanbul. (Image Credit-Zomato)

An Iconic Picture of Istanbul: Fishing in Galata Bridge!

Istanbul’s Galata Bridge is one of the most touristic and iconic symbols of the city. It is a true tourist attraction. However, the bridge is not only famous for foreigners but it also quite precious for local people. The reason why the bridge is worthy for locals is fishing, which makes the bridge picturesque. Any season of the year, you can see people with their fishing tools fishing above the bridge in the Golden Horn. Watching people in the Galata Bridge must be in your “Must Do List in Istanbul”…

Historical Galata Bridge and the Golden Horn.
Historical Galata Bridge and the Golden Horn.

Increasing Demand on Fishing Industry

After the late 1950s the effects of industrialization, urbanization, and rapid population growth affected the fishing industry. Fish stocks decreased while demand increased. Nowadays, Istanbul’s fishermen are unable to make a living. And on the other hand, the famous fish inside the balık ekmek is often imported. The reason for that is the high demand and the high price of local fish.

You should try a fish sandwich with salgam (a reddish color beverage, resembling a brine with a slice of lemon and a salted cucumber floating inside the glass). (Image Credit-Oddviser)
You should try a fish sandwich with salgam (a reddish color beverage, resembling a brine with a slice of lemon and a salted cucumber floating inside the glass). (Image Credit-Oddviser)

Where Can I Eat the Best Authentic Fish Sandwich?

There are, nevertheless, still a few places where you can find and eat the authentic balık ekmek. They are far different than the Ottoman-decorated Eminönü boat-restaurants. Because Eminönü boats only aim to attract tourists with less quality and imported fishes. As a matter of fact, they are the real authentic ones! In Beykoz, for example, Muradoğlu Balık Ekmek has few wooden tables and chairs and no cutlery, because the main serving is fresh fish served in a sandwich and nothing else. In Yeniköy, moreover, Taka Balık Ekmek is also a great spot right by the Bosphorus. They both promise to offer you the real fresh and authentic balık ekmek.

Muradoglu Balık Ekmek, Beykoz, Istanbul. (Image Credit-Zomato)
Muradoglu Balık Ekmek, Beykoz, Istanbul. (Image Credit-Zomato)

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