The arrival of fall in Istanbul usually means one thing for us: hamsi season is about to begin. Hamsi, of course, are the minuscule fish (Black Sea anchovies) that Istanbulites are mad about, and the coming of fall and the cooling of the waters of the Black Sea mark the beginning of the best time of the year to eat the little suckers. In honor of hamsi season, we offer a list of six of our favorite places to try these tiny fish.
We always feel a bit like a cheating spouse when we walk past our longtime favorite (albeit dry) fish spot – Arnavutköy’s Adem Baba – toward Hayri Balık, a lovely little fish shack up the street. But sometimes, well after the brunching hour, we like to have something a little stronger than a Fanta with our fish. Any sense of guilt is quickly numbed, though, as we drain a cold beer in the afternoon sun sitting outside Hayri’s humble dining room. Read the full review here.
Çukur serves up meyhane classics, such as grilled lamb chops and köfte, but – somewhat unusually – the folks at Çukur have also figured out how to grill hamsi. Long considered a lost cause by grill men for their tendency to slip through the grill and into the coals, hamsi are usually fried or baked. At Çukur they throw caution to the wind, working about 10 of the squirmy little fish onto a skewer and bookending them with tomato and pepper. Hamsi is agreeable in just about any form, but fresh off the grill the fish’s characteristic smack of the Black Sea is even more pronounced. Read the full review here.
From the outside, Fürreyya Galata Balıkçısı, a tiny restaurant in Beyoğlu’s quaint Galata area, doesn’t look like much: two tables, two stools at a short counter, a smoky grill and not much else. But inside this modest fish shack beats the heart of a more ambitious venue. The friendly husband and wife team who own the place and share kitchen duties used to run a restaurant in Istanbul’s upscale Bebek neighborhood, and it’s clear that Fürreyya is in experienced hands. Read the full review here.
The neon sign in front of Kemal’in Yeri shines like a “Last Chance for Gas” sign seen on the highway before entering the desert. In your rearview mirror are the crowded tourist traps of the Galata Bridge. Ahead lie the shipyards and decrepit chandleries of the Golden Horn. But Kemal’s Place is not only the last place to eat on this stretch of the Golden Horn, it’s one of the last places in all of Beyoğlu where you can eat reasonably well on a reasonable budget sitting outside beside the water without another hungry soul in sight. Read the full review here.
Mohti Laz Meyhane
(Editor’s note, 2015: We’re sorry to report that this venue has closed permanently.)
There was a time when every meyhane had a true character at the helm, someone who knew how to work the crowd, comp a drink and indulge in the art of hospitality every night. Now, sadly, as Asmalımescit and other traditional dining zones go upmarket, the only trace of that old-school proprietorship is found in yellowed photos on the wall. In this sense, Hüseyin, the artist turned owner/operator of Mohti, is almost as odd a fit as Mohti’s concept: thoroughly home-style Black Sea cooking in a meyhane setting. Read the full review here.
The Black Sea area is Turkey’s culinary misfit; it’s not really about kebabs or mezes. If anything, the food there seems to have been mysteriously transplanted from the American Deep South. We’re talking cornbread, collard greens and smoky bean stews. It’s simple, filling, down-home food, and Hayvore is a great – and affordable – spot to get acquainted with it. Read the full review here.
(photo by Yigal Schleifer)