“I want to go to the soccer match, everything must go! Game day discount! Hamsi, one Lira! One Lira!” the fishmonger shouted from a rickety stand spread with fresh fish glistening under a bare lightbulb. Judging by the cackles coming other fishmongers and tables at the adjacent fish house, this man was a common source of amusement, a well-known village idiot. “I just sent a message to one of my customers to come and buy these fish for one lira. He sent a reply that he’s in America! Imagine that, America!” he said, navigating the menus on his cell phone to show us.
Unlike the fish markets of Beyoğlu and Kumkapı, which have grown savvy to the tourist hordes that trample through, that of Samatya – a thoroughly authentic neighborhood by the southwestern edge of Istanbul’s city walls – seems a place frequented mostly by Samatyans. The feeling, upon entering this small plaza of meyhanes and fish stands, is that you’ve wandered into the kitchen of a very hospitable, curious family.
That’s the Samatya fish market for you – a sleepy place with small town main street atmosphere à la Turca, where a text message sent from America is a newsworthy event. In this case, it was a way of introduction to the table of foreigners eating plate after plate of grilled anchovies so moist and tender that they seemed to liquefy on the tongue.
On one recent Sunday afternoon stroll we’d set Samatya as our destination for its homey village vibe and small streets dotted with Greek and Armenian churches to explore, but we decided to stay because of the hamsi and cold beer on offer at Küçük Ev, a corner fish shack with but a handful of tables.
The Black Sea anchovies on offer were plump and finger-length, their silver streak capturing our attention like a fishing lure saying “eat me.” The grill man took a handful and dusted them with red pepper flakes and thyme before tossing them on a flat-top grill in the kitchen, flipping them quickly and then plating them.
The salad accompanying our hamsi was most notable for its dressing of lemon, olive oil and tangy pomegranate molasses, perfectly balancing the sweet/bitter range of rocket greens, carrots, dill, red onions, scallions and carrots.
Six beers and four plates of hamsi came to 70 TL, making this the best deal in town, aside from the fellow next store selling hamsi by the kilo for one measly lira. But clearly, he was not to be taken seriously.
Address: Kuleli Caddesi 46, Samatya
Telephone: 212 588 5101
(photo by Yigal Schleifer)