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Hamsi: Six Favorite Spots to Eat the Little Fish

The arrival of fall in Istanbul for us usually means just one thing: hamsi season is about to begin. Hamsi, of course, are the minuscule fish (Black Sea anchovies) that Istanbulites are mad for, and the coming of fall and the further cooling of the Black Sea’s waters mark the beginning of the best time of the year to eat the little suckers. In honor of hamsi season, we offer up a list of five six of our favorite places to try the little fish:

Hayri Balık [2]
We always feel a bit like a cheating spouse when we walk past our longtime favorite – albeit dry – fish spot, Arnavutköy’s Adem Baba [3], toward Hayri Balık, a lovely little fish shack up the street. But sometimes, well after the brunching hour, we like to have something a little stronger than a Fanta with our fish. Any sense of guilt is quickly numbed, though, as we drain a cold beer in the afternoon sun sitting outside of Hayri’s humble dining room…..

Çukur Meyhane [4]
Çukur serves up meyhane classics, such as grilled lamb chops and köfte, but – somewhat unusually – they have also figured out how to grill Black Sea sardines, or hamsi! Long considered a lost cause by grill men for its tendency to slip through the grill and into the coals, hamsi is usually fried or baked. At Çukur they’ve thrown caution to the wind and worked about 10 of these little squirmy fish onto a skewer and bookended them with tomato and pepper. Hamsi is agreeable in just about any form, but fresh off the grill the fish’s characteristic smack of the Black Sea is even more pronounced….

Fürreyya [5]
From the outside, Fürreyya Galata Balıkçısı, a tiny restaurant in Beyoğlu’s quaint Galata area, doesn’t look like much. Two tables, two stools at a short counter, a smoky grill and not much else. But inside this modest fish shack beats the heart of a more ambitious place. The friendly husband-and-wife team who own the place and share kitchen duties used to run a restaurant in Istanbul’s upscale Bebek neighborhood, and it’s clear that Fürreyya is in experienced hands….

Kemal’in Yeri [6]
The neon sign in front of Kemal’in Yeri shines like a “Last Chance for Gas” sign seen on the highway before entering the desert. In your rearview mirror are the crowded tourist traps of the Galata Bridge. Ahead lie the shipyards and decrepit chandleries of the Golden Horn. But Kemal’s Place is not only the last place to eat on this stretch of the Golden Horn, it’s one of the last places in all of Beyoğlu where you can eat reasonably well on reasonable budget sitting outside beside the water without another hungry soul in sight…..

Mohti Laz Meyhane [7]
“My heart starts pounding when a pregnant lady enters the room,” said Hüseyin, the artist turned owner/operator of Mohti, a new “Laz Meyhane” in the back of the backstreets of the Asmalımescit area. While this might sound to some like the unsavory confession of a man with an exotic fetish, to us it was a breath of fresh air, redolent with the old-style charm of a classic meyhane patron, something that’s increasingly harder to come across these days….

Hayvore [8]
The Black Sea area is Turkey’s culinary misfit – not really about kebabs or meze. If anything, the food there seems to have been mysteriously transplanted from the American Deep South. We’re talking corn bread, collard greens and smoky bean stews. It’s simple, filling, down-home food and Hayvore is a great – and affordable – spot to get acquainted with it….

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