My favorite cheap dining experience in Istanbul was at a seriously no-frills balik (fish) place along the water, at the back of the Karakoy Fish Market. Although I have a business card telling me the place’s name is Furran Balikcilik, there’s no signage anywhere, so you’d have to recognize it by the bright red, checked tablecloths made of some type of scratchy wool synthetic (I’m assuming they don’t change table linens). We came across this particular balikcisi after having braved the scary tout gauntlet known as the lower level of the Galata Bridge. Spotting the Karakoy Fish Market, we figured where there’s a fish market, there’s bound to be a fish restaurant, and sure enough, there were several to choose from.
What this particular place lacked in style, it made up for in fresh seafood at low prices. There was no menu, but even if there’d been one, I’m sure it wouldn’t have been in English. Our server didn’t speak English, but no worries – he walked me over to a nearby fish market stall so I could pick out what I wanted: sea bream, mackerel, calamari, and anchovies.
The “kitchen” is a shack made of what appears to be blue scrap metal, and while most of the cooking is done over a fiery grill, there does appear to be some electricity coursing in there via a portable generator.
Fifteen minutes later, our server brought all our goodies, along with a basket of cheap bread, iceberg lettuce, chunks of raw onion, and wedges of lemon.
Every table around us ordered these plates of fried anchovies. So we had to have them. And these were really good. Lightly battered and expertly fried, the anchovies were meaty and juicy inside. Just a squeeze of lemon and I was set. The anchovies alone would’ve made the meal worthwhile, especially for 6 Turkish Lira (£2.40) a plate.
Grilled sea bream was one of the pricier items at 10 Turkish Lira (£4), and of course it was still the bargain of a lifetime. Those guys working in the makeshift kitchen should come over to London and open up a fish restaurant, because the perfectly salted-and-crisped skin on this thing was how fish should be made. Always. Same with the grilled mackerel (a humbler fish with a humbler price tag of 6 Turkish Lira).
Last, but not least, our fried calamari was definitive proof that the man working the fryer at this place is a genius. All the makings of dream calamari came together – fresh calamari, a light batter, and a guy who must practice making this dish hundreds of times a day.
With drinks, our lunch for four people cost 40 Turkish Lira (£16), total. Everyone traveling to Istanbul should give this place a try. It brought to mind summertime eating at lobster shacks in Maine. I loved it.
Furran Balikcilik not far from the much-written-about Tarihi Karakoy Balik Lokantasi. From Eminonu, cross the Galata Bridge and turn left. Walk through the Karakoy Fish Market, and when the fish stalls end, you’ll see this place on your left, right on the water. There’s no sign, so look for the bright red, checked tablecloths made of some type of scratchy wool synthetic. If you want to keep your lunch down, try not to look at the frantically-rocking boats moored nearby.