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Istanbul has a multitude of memorable experiences for visitors, one of which is to enjoy a balık ekmek (fish sandwich) while strolling by the Bosphorus. For all its simplicity, the famous street food has an interesting history, as well as only a few spots where the authentic version can still be found.
Quite a simple yet delicious meal made of grilled white fish, raw onions, and salad in a half loaf of white bread, the balık ekmek (fish sandwich) is an Istanbul classic. The usual tourist stops in Eminönü often serve imported fish, while the city’s lesser-known spots in Beykoz and Yeniköy continue to serve the authentic sandwiches with fresh fish.
The Istanbul fish sandwich has been around since the mid-nineteenth century, when fish freshly caught from the Bosphorus were grilled and served 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, balık ekmek continued to be popular in former fishing neighborhoods by the Bosphorus. Many of the city’s oldest fish restaurants originated as docked boats that served to a few tables on the shore.
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 the famous fish inside the balık ekmek is often imported because of high demand and the high price of local fish.
There are still a few places to eat the authentic balık ekmek, far removed from the Ottoman-decorated Eminönü boat-restaurants that are aimed at attracting tourists. In Beykoz, Muradoğlu Balık Ekmek has a few wooden table and chairs and no cutlery, because the main serving is fresh fish served in a sandwich and nothing else. In Yeniköy, Taka Balık Ekmek is also a great spot right by the Bosphorus to eat a balık ekmek that’s fresh and authentic.
Muradoğlu Balık Ekmek: Gümüşsuyu Mahallesi, Kelle İbrahim Caddesi, Beykoz
Taka Balık Ekmek: Yeniköy Mahallesi, Köybaşı Caddesi, No 44, Sarıyer