Balık Ekmek - One of Istanbul's popular street foods.

It’s finally summer and a perfectly warm weather for me means going out and eating out. After the cold winter months and wet spring in Istanbul, I think its just time to really get some sea breeze.  So I decided to go sightseeing and spend a lazy Sunday with my family in Eminönü, one of the busiest districts of Istanbul's Europe side.  My son wanted to get on a ferry boat ride from Kadikoy to Eminönü so we got on a local ferryboat from Kadikoy to Eminönü.

While on the boat, we had sucuklu tost (toasted sandwich with spicy sausage), freshly squeezed orange juice for my son, and a warm cup of Turkish tea for our breakfast.  It’s a slightly breezy Sunday morning and as usual, the pier was crowded with people mostly locals and a lot of tourists.  Weekends are usually the busiest and most crowded days in Eminönü not just in Kapalı Çarsı (the Grand Covered Bazaar) and Mısır Çarşısı but also at the pier for the Bosphorus Tours.  So should anyone want to just do some sightseeing or people-watching in these areas, weekends are the best times to visit the place.  

Right after we disembarked from the ferry, we went our way to Misir Çarşısı and then to the Kapalı Çarşı to check some local items there.  Misir Çarşisi is the best place to shop for various spices and the Kapalı Çarsı for lots of other stuffs you can imagine - bags, clothing, shoes, watches, household stuffs, souvenir items, paintings, almost everything you need to find including antiques and jewelry.  And after about a couple of hours strolling inside a labyrinth of small shops, we finally left the area feeling a little hungry. We're supposed to go to Cevahir Mall and have our lunch there but while walking our way back near the pier, we couldn’t help stopping by Tarihi Eminönü Balık Ekmek after smelling the aroma of freshly grilled fishes almost filling the air in the area.  I’m not really a fan of street foods but whenever I feel like eating one, I'd definitely go for it – and balık ekmek can be one of my favorites.  So we grabbed some fish sandwiches (not for lunch but just for a quick snack) since it’ll take time to arrive to the mall after Istanbul’s heavy Sunday traffic.

So what’s a balık ekmek?

Balık ekmek meaning “fish on bread” or “fish sandwich” is a popular Turkish street food usually sold at pier area of Istanbul’s Eminönü district.  It comes with a grilled horse mackerel inside a half loaf of a typical Turkish bread (the one that’s crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside).  Aside from the fish, the half loaf of bread is also stuffed with some slices of  onions, lettuce and a slight squeeze of lemon juice.  In some stalls, they may also add a few thin slices of red tomatoes.  There are several small wooden tables and chairs next to the stalls where people can seat down and eat and bottles of lemon juice and salt are readily placed on top of the small wooden tables so the patrons can have them whenever they want.  

Balık ekmek is commonly sold along the ferry docks of Eminönü and Kadikoy, but the famous place where most locals frequently go is at the Tarihi Eminönü Balık Ekmek fronting the mosque.  The balık ekmek sold in this area come from several beautifully decorated floating boats near the Galata Bridge. Aside from balık ekmek, there are also stalls nearby selling grilled and boiled corn on a cob as well as some pickles and brine.

In fact, I usually do this fish sandwiches at home whenever my son misses eating balık ekmek but unlike the ones sold in Eminönü, I always make sure I remove all its tiny bones to enjoy every bite. However, it still feels different when you eat balık ekmek in Eminönü because we enjoy watching those fishing boats rock with the sea waves while the local fishermen in their colorful Ottoman-style uniforms keep themselves busy grilling the fishes. That’s a fun and interesting sight that a child won’t have the chance to see at home while eating mommy’s home-made balık ekmek.  J

Patrons siting down on small wooden chairs savoring their fish sandwiches.

Several fish restaurants under the Galata Bridge.

Note:  Although balık ekmek tastes delicious, I don’t recommend giving them directly to small children as it can cause bone-choking.  However, if you want to let your children try it, then be very careful to make sure you’ll remove most of its bones before putting it in your child’s mouth. Although the grilled horse mackerel don’t have its head and tail, but it still has its spine and small bones which can even choke adults so just be very careful. But still, anyone who’s visiting Istanbul shouldn’t miss stopping by Eminönü and try this local street food. You’ll know when you are near the area because you will start smelling the aroma of grilled fishes even while you're still approaching the pier.  So try it and you’ll surely enjoy this great local experience while in Turkey.

Current price: balık ekmek (half bun) – 8 Turkish Lira
Recommended drink:  Şalgam (or just bottled water)

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