Turkish cuisine is diverse. The variety on offer ensures everyone can find a dish they like. Hardcore meat lovers will be satisfied with tasting their way through the 40 different varieties of kebabs and even vegetarians can find a wide choice from the simple Gozleme to a complex stew or meze tray.
One cuisine is seldom mentioned though and often overlooked by the stereotypical kebab. It is popular, cheap, tasty, and widely consumed, even in the big cities away from the sea.
That cuisine is seafood. Fish restaurants across the country receive good business and every day, fishing boats set off from all the major harbors across the coastline.
So why is seafood popular in Turkey?
The Seafood Cuisine of Turkey
Often called Mediterranean or Aegean cuisine, seafood in Turkey is so popular because it is widely available. The country is surrounded by four different seas and there are many lakes and rivers inland. In certain areas, fish farms have also been set up to cope with the demand.
Wide availability ultimately means cheap prices and with the cost of red meat in Turkey at an all-time high, it is no wonder why people often turn to seafood.
Even in the bustling city of Istanbul, seafood culture is a big thing with specific fish markets scattered around various neighborhoods and let us not forget about the famous fish boats by Galata Bridge. Of course, if you are not restricted by a budget, then feel free to indulge in the more expensive lobster.
One of my favorite aspects about eating fish is actually the purchasing process. I have gone to great lengths to find out the telltale signs of a healthy fish and one that is fresh.
I also have a big distrust of major chains of supermarkets so prefer to walk down to my local harbor and buy fish that has been caught that morning by the local fishermen.
Some restaurants latch onto this trend and you can buy fish from the boats and take it into the restaurant to be cooked. Fethiye fish market is also popular with locals and holiday makers. The square of fish stores is surrounded by restaurants so you can take your fish home or eat it there and then.
In the summer time, Turkey also has the perfect weather to sit outdoors in the evening and strike up the BBQ. Many Turks insist the best way to cook fish is over a BBQ, as the charcoal smoke enhances the taste and flavor.
To further the experience, a plate of roka, some mezes and thinly sliced onions are placed on the table for everyone to share. On these summer evenings, I prefer to sip a beer but the traditional accompanying drink is Raki
Whether you call it Aegean, Mediterranean or seafood cuisine, it is important to know that it is not a dish to be rushed. Expect to spend all night, sitting with good friends in a comfy environment, enjoying light-hearted conversation while eating your way through numerous seafood courses.
If you really want to splash out, order fish that is encased in sea salt and then baked in the oven. Restaurants sometimes make a big deal out of this dish by bringing the encased fish to your table and setting it on fire but once the show is over, you can enjoy delicious fish cooked in a unique way.
The more squeamish readers among us may also be put off this cuisine when they learn that it is often served to your table with head and tail intact. It is quite easy to debone and discard the inedible bits but if you do not want to do it, simply ask the waiter.
Popular Seafood cuisine in Turkey – My three choices
The hamsi season sparks excitement in many people. The traditional way to cook this small anchovy-like fish is to coat it in flour and then plunge it into hot oil. If eating it as street food, it is often served in-between a loaf of bread with salad.
Midye is mussels that are still in their shells and filled with rice. This type of seafood cuisine is more popular as street food and it is traditional to sprinkle fresh lemon juice over it before consuming.
Last but not least, my final choice is Levrek (Sea Bass). I always enjoy this fish and it is available all year round. Cook it in any way you like, but I prefer to accompany it with some crispy roasted potatoes.
Taste the best of seafood cuisine in Turkey by gulet cruising the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts. Learn more…