How do you eat fish in Turkey and where are the best places?
Built around the Marmara Sea and the Black Sea, Istanbul is full of fish restaurants called “meyhane“. These establishments exist since the Byzantine empire, they were located in the coastal cities and used to welcome the sailors who wanted to drink while having a nice meal. They developed in the Ottoman era where Muslims who could not drink wine fell back on the rakı, aniseed alcohol similar to Ouzo or Pastis.
You can bump into a “meyhane” in every corner of the city during your holiday, however, we strongly advise you not to enter the first one you see, avoid the ones in the old town and under Galata Bridge: they often serve farm fish and the prices are incredibly high for lower quality.
In these establishments, we usually drink rakı (Turkish pastis) while eating mezes as starters, followed by fish. This kind of meal gave birth to an expression “let’s have a rakı-balık” (“rakı-fish”). It is a Turkish tradition, a “rakı-balık” usually lasts for hours, and all topics of conversation are discussed. It’s really a very friendly meal, definitely a must-do during your stay.
The starters consist of cold and then hot mezes. There are so many sorts of them that the easiest way to know what you want to eat is to ask for the presentation tray of mezes (say “meze tepsisi”). Do not miss the marinated sea bass with mustard, the levrek marin, many salads or vegetable mezes, hummus, karides güveç (small shrimps cooked with mushrooms, tomato, and cheese), squid or fried squid plancha, octopus salads, the ahtapot salatası, and many others.
If after this you are still hungry, you can eat hot meze or a fish that will be grilled without sauce accompanied by a salad, and a nice slice of raw onion, and lemon.
Depending on the season, the price of fish is variable, it is not always indicated on the menu, so don’t forget to ask the price. You can find here our table of fish by season.
Eating good fish in Istanbul is possible if you know the right places!
In addition to the “meyhane” (taverns), you can eat very good fish in more luxurious restaurants on the shores of the Bosphorus in a heavenly setting:
Our selection of good fish, seafood, and mezes restaurants in Istanbul :
We love the Arnavutköy district, it is one of the most beautiful areas of Istanbul with beautiful wooden houses, super local, and there are several nice restaurants like Sur Balık (the classy one with a breath-taking view on the Bosphorus), Lipari (cheap, local and very good) Arnavutköy Balıkçısı or Eftalya (two of the neighborhood’s institutions, good service, and great food). They are all located on the same street. Remember to book for the weekend because there are always a lot of people.
You will also find in Arnavutköy several nice bars to continue your evening: Alexandra Cocktail Bar, which is a wonderful bar that offers delicious homemade cocktails (the rooftop is very nice), and Any Istanbul, a small pub with live Turkish music from time to time.
Here is the address of the street: Arnavutköy Mah. 1. Cad, Arnavutköy
It is a beautiful terrace on Istiklal Avenue overlooking the Bosphorus, the mezes are fresh and delicious, and the prices are reasonable; what else? In addition to the Turkish mezes, you will also find delicious Greek mezes and lots of small surprises offered by the house. Remember to book a table a few hours before on weekdays and a few days in advance for weekends before you go there.
This is a real institution and also a safe bet! Carefully renovated in beautiful turquoise colors this historic tavern is a must-go! The restaurant is comfortable, there is not much choice in terms of dishes, we advise you to take the mezes tray rather than fish, the value for money is excellent and the ingredients are very fresh. If you are in the area we really recommend going there than to go to the Galata Bridge restaurants which are poor tourist attractions. At noon they also offer daily menus of homemade dishes, succulent! This restaurant is very often full in the evening, so remember to book in advance.
Address: Kemankes Karamustafa Paşa Mh, Kemankes Cd. No: 37, İstanbul
Web site: karakoylokantasi.com
It’s a Bosphorus restaurant on the Asian side of town, great food and a fantastic view of the city and the strait. They pick you up and take you back by boat from Europe, which adds a touch of romance. Do not miss the octopus carpaccio, fried shrimp, and yogurt ravioli, but also the good fish and Turkish mezze. The great wine list (and rakı) and perfect service will also satisfy you! A little more expensive than average, but the quality of the meal, the romanticism of the place and the setting totally justify the price!
Address: Çengelköy Mahallesi, Kuleli Cd. 45-1, Üsküdar/İstanbul
An exceptional place that can only be reached by boat. To get there, go to the platform at Rumeli Hisari and take the boat that will take you to the other side of the Bosphorus shore. The period from April to October is the best time to go there. You can eat by the sea, a few meters away from the water. An experience not to be missed. Go there in the evening or on a sunny afternoon. The appetizers are superb, sea bass with basil or squid a la plancha with walnuts, and many others. This place is very popular, and you must make a reservation if you want to have a nice table. The price is high but largely worth it.
Located in the old Jewish district of Balat, this tavern dating back to 1890 was bought two years ago by a Turkish film producer. The boss, Ezel, has tried to recreate the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the district and gives particular importance to the tradition of raki. Everything is very good and fresh and homemade, even olive oil comes from their own fields. The subdued atmosphere also recalls the taverns of yesteryear. This is one of the most interesting places in the city foodwise, the only problem is that the area is not very lively at night, but you can always hop in a taxi and go party elsewhere. Remember to book during the weekend.
Do not hesitate either to tell us about all your discoveries!
To discover in more depth the Turkish cuisine, and also to discover local neighborhoods like Beşiktaş and Üsküdar, you can take part in our culinary and cultural walk on two continents.