TURKISH SEAFOOD & FISH DISHES
Four seas (the Black Sea, Marmara Sea, Aegean and the Mediterranean) surround the Turkish landscape and residents of the coastal cities are experts in preparing fish. However, the best of the day’s catch is immediately transported to Ankara, where some of the finest fish restaurants are located. Winter is the premium season for fish, as many species migrate from the Black Sea to warmer waters and reach their mature sizes.
Every month offers a new delicacy of fish at its prime, served along with certain complimenting vegetables. For example, the best Bonito is eaten with arugula and red onions, Blue Fish with lettuce, Turbot with cos lettuce. Large Bonito may be poached with celery root. Mackerel is stuffed with chopped onions before grilling, while summer fish, which are younger and drier, are poached with tomatoes and green peppers, or fried. Bay leaves always accompany both poached and grilled fish.
Grilling fish over charcoal, where the fish juices hit the embers and envelope the fish with the smoke, is perhaps the most delicious way of eating it, as it brings out the delicate flavours. This is also why the grilled fish and bread sold by vendors on their boats are so tasty. “Hamsi” is the prince of all fish known to Turks: the Black Sea people know forty one ways of making hamsi including hamsi borek, hamsi pilaf and hamsi dessert! Another common seafood are deep fried mussels, poached, or as a mussel dolma with rice and mussel pilaf.
Along the Aegean, octopus and calamary are added to the meze spread. The best places for fish are in the fish restaurants and taverns. Not all taverns are fish restaurants, but most fish restaurants are taverns and these are usually found in the harbours overlooking the sea. The Bosphorus is famous for its fishermen’ taverns, large and small from Rumeli Kavagi to Kumkapi. The modest ones are small with wooden tables and rickety wooden chairs, nevertheless they offer delicious grilled fish.
Then there are the elaborate, fashionable ones in Tarabya and Bebek. These fish restaurants always have an open-air section taking up space right by the sea; the waiters run back and forth between the kitchen, perhaps located within the restaurant across the street and the tables on the seaside. Other casual fish restaurants can be found near the Black Sea mouth at Anadolu Kavagi, on the Princes Islands or at other places along the Bosphorus.
After being seated, it is customary to visit the kitchen or the display to pick your fish and discuss the way you want it to be prepared. The price of the fish is also disclosed at this time. Then you swing by the meze display and order the ones you want.
So the evening begins, sipping raki in between sampling of meze, watching the sunset and slowly setting the pace for conversation that will continue hours into the right. Drinking is never a hurried, loud, boisterous or a lonely affair. It is a communal, gently festive and cultured way of entertainment.
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