When you think about Turkish food, do meat and kebabs come to mind? Believe it or not, fresh fish is also a very important part of Turkish cuisine.
What species of fish are the best and most popular? What should I ask for when I eat out in Turkey? Where do the fish come from and how are they cooked?
Many of your questions about Turkish fish are answered below.
01 of 10
Bluefish, or ‘lüfer’ (loo-FEYR’)
Bluefish is one of Turkish cuisine’s most common fish. Bluefish has a heavy fat content, so it’s best when grilled or broiled. A brush of olive oil and some salt and pepper are all that’s needed to achieve a golden crust and wonderful flavor.
You’ll find bluefish cooked the same way almost everywhere in Turkey. The fresher the fish the better. The best season for bluefish is August through December.
The tastiest bluefish are said to come from the Bosphorus strait which runs through Istanbul,... Turkey’s largest city, and connects the Black Sea with the Marmara Sea and Aegean Sea further South.
02 of 10
Bonito, or ‘palamut’ (pah-lah-MOOT’)
The Bosphorus is also a good fishing destination for bonito, or in Turkish, ‘palamut.’ Similar to the bluefish, bonito is best during the fall and winter months.
Bonito has a rich, dark color and firm texture. It’s known by the locals as the ‘quintissential Bosphorus fish.’ Bonito is more economical than bluefish, so it’s often a better option for larger families or those who choose to eat fish more often.
Bonito also has a high fat content and only requires a light brush of olive oil and some... seasoning before placing it on the grill. If you can’t wait until September for fresh bonito, you can try to find ‘gypsy bonito,’ which is caught further North in the Black Sea as early as July.
03 of 10
Red Mullet, or ‘barbunya’ (bar-BOON’-yah)
Red mullet is highly prized in Turkish cuisine. As it thrives in colder, deeper waters, the best red mullet are caught in the Aegean and Mediterranean seas. They are a lovely reddish color similar to red snapper and have an earthy, ever-so-slightly bitter taste.
Some people prefer red mullet fried but the most popular way to serve it in Turkish cuisine is 'pilaki' (pih-LAHK-ee)-style. 'Pilaki' refers to a method of cooking common in Turkish and Greek cuisine characterized by the... use of garlic, fresh herbs, carrots, spices and tomato.
If you're eating out, ask for 'barbunya pilaki,' and you'll get a wonderful, fragrant platter of red mullet cooked in its own juices with all of the above.
04 of 10
Sea Bass, or ‘levrek’
Sea bass is perhaps the most coveted of all Turkish fish. So much so that massive hatcheries raising ‘domestic’ sea bass now dot the Turkish Aegean coastline to meet the ever-growing demand.
The best season for farm-raised sea bass are the summer months, from late May through early August. Sea bass is best when grilled, again with a little olive oil and light seasoning.
Several restaurants in Istanbul are famous for roasting a whole sea bass encrusted in a thick shell of hardened sea salt that is... set aflame with bourbon before serving. Imagine a 30-pound sea bass wheeled out to your table on a special serving cart and set ablaze!Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10
Wahoo, or ‘torik’ (tor-EEK’)
The wahoo, also known as the ‘peto’ or ‘ono,’ is popular with sport fisherman due to its speed and aggressive nature. Wahoo is common in tropical and sub-tropical waters, and it also thrives in the Black Sea.
In the Turkish language, wahoo is called ‘torik’ and it’s prized for its meatiness and silky texture. In Turkish cuisine, wahoo is mainly used to make a popular appetizer, or ‘meze’ (meh-ZEH’) called ‘lakerda’ (lah-KEYR’-dah).
‘Lakerda’ most resembles sushi. Basically, it’s large chunks of... high quality, uncooked wahoo that have been pickled in a brine of lemon juice, ice water and salt, then stored in olive oil.
06 of 10
Turbot, or ‘kalkan’ (kahl-KAHN’)
Turbot is very common during the winter in the sandy, muddy harbors of the Black Sea. When you choose fresh turbot at your local restaurant or fish market, the hardest decision will be how to cook it.
Turbot is very popular served grilled, but it can also be cut into thick strips, coated with flour and fried. Both ways are delicious, so it will be up to you.
To make things even more complicated, I have a recipe of my own for steamed turbot. Simply line a large oven tray with aluminum foil, set... down your fresh turbot, add generous amounts of salt and pepper, a generous drizzle of olive oil, sliced lemon, sliced tomatoes, bay leaves, peppercorns and chopped fresh herbs of your choice.
Cover the top with more foil and close the edges completely. Bake at about 400° F/210° C oven for about an hour and a half.
07 of 10
Sardines, or ‘sardalya’ (sahr-DAHL’-yah)
Sardines are very popular in Aegean regional cuisine, especially during the early fall when they’re in season. Some of the best Turkish sardines are harvested near Gallipoli, where the Aegean and Marmara seas meet.
The locals in this region insist that the best way to prepare sardines is not pickled or fried like one may think. They have a wonderful way of wrapping fresh sardines in vine leaves and grilling them to perfection.
08 of 10
Mackerel, or ‘uskumru’ (oos-koom-ROO’)
It's said that this tasty species was once abundant in the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara, but due to overfishing and pollution, populations are dwindling. Today, fishing for mackerel is only permitted in limited areas near Gallipoli and Saros, just South of Istanbul.
Mackerel is cooked in white wine and capers.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10
Pandora, or ‘mercan’ (meyr-JOHN’)
Pandora is known in Turkey as the ‘fish of summer.’ Its delicate flavor is as lovely as its light pink flesh.
The best time to eat pandora is during June and July. Pandora can be found nearly everywhere but it’s said to be best in the Aegean Sea.
Pandora can grow to be quite large, reaching up to 30 pounds. The smaller fish between two and ten pounds are preferred.
The delicate flavor lends to delicate seasoning. A brush of olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper is enough to let the natural flavor... come through. Just put them on a grill and you’ll be ready to go.
10 of 10
Anchovies, or ‘hamsi’ (hahm-SEE’)
The Black Sea region in the North of Turkey is famous for its anchovies. Anchovies are a staple in this region and they are used in everything from soups and salads, appetizers and main courses, to breads and even pickles and sweets.
In the Black Sea, the best anchovies arrive in the thick of winter, between December and February. If you go a bit further South to the Sea of Marmara, the anchovies are larger and meatier but are said to have much less flavor.
The most popular way to... prepare anchovies is to debone them with your fingers, coat them with a light dusting of cornmeal and fry them. A large platter of crunchy, fried anchovies makes a great appetizer. When in season, you can find fried anchovies everywhere from the fanciest fish restaurants to your neighbor’s kitchen.