While no one in Turkey works to hide their love for red meat, it can be said with some truth that we tend to neglect the fresh fish all around us. Perhaps steep rises in the price of red meat will help turn this trend around, but in the meantime, it is a sad fact that, despite the fact that our nation is literally surrounded by water, our fish-eating culture is not so developed. One of the reasons for this might be our love for spicy foods. Because after all, one of the only real ways to spice up a fish is by squeezing lemon onto it, right? No, not true! The Sandal Balık Evi in Yeniköy might be a small place, but it’s got a rich menu full of fish and other items and is really working to bring new interpretations to fish through some other classic dishes.
Owner Burak Akın notes that before he had a fish restaurant, he actually ran a köfte place in the same spot. But when he started losing customers and money to fish boats anchored nearby in 2006, he decided, with the encouragement of a waiter who worked for him, to open up his own fish restaurant. And so it was that one Sunday he closed down his köfte restaurant, and by the following Thursday, he had opened up a fish place. A former football player, Burak Bey actually trained for the lower leagues of the Galatasaray club. And he notes that nowadays, many Galatasaray players head for his place to try the interesting tastes here. The restaurant is also a favorite spot for some of Istanbul’s more famous artists, like İbrahim Tatlıses, Kibariye and Seda Sayan.
Burak Bey has taken the step of bringing the staples of classic Turkish cuisine, like mantı, börek and kokoreç, together with fish. He notes that some customers are wary at first and make comments such as, “How can there even be such a thing as fish mantı?” or “Fish kokoreç? What is that?” but that they all answer their own questions once they get a taste of the incredible dishes being produced in the kitchen here.
Though all the dishes feature fish in some form or other, they do not have an overwhelmingly “fishy” taste. This is probably due to the careful use of spices and cooking skills. Which is why, strangely, the menu here is ideal even for people who really don’t like to eat fish that much. Of course, you can also find the more classically presented fish dishes here too, such as grilled or fried fish. Interestingly, the fish served at the restaurant is cooked at a special kitchen right next to the restaurant but not connected to it, which means there is no overwhelming smell of fish here, either. So, in the end, what we are saying is this: If you are looking for a culinary adventure, here are some taste sensations you should definitely go try. After all, you only live once!
Fish mantı: Before you get all indignant and ask, “How can yogurt be put with fish?” try this dish out. Boiled and de-boned levrek (sea bass) is placed in mantı dough and then fried. It is served up with the classic yogurt sauce and red pepper oil that come with normal mantı. Burak Bey notes that the extreme freshness of all the ingredients used here is assurance that no one will ever “feel sick” from these admittedly unusual combinations. What’s more, we tested these dishes too -- and loved them.
Fish kokoreç: This is a new alternative for the Turkish nation, so traumatized as it was by the news that “if we enter the EU, they will ban our kokoreç.” Yes, this dish is the same kokoreç you know, though with one significant difference: It’s made from fish! You will find red pepper flakes, thyme, and tomatoes in the mix, just as you would with regular old kokoreç. Actually, one significant difference between fish kokoreç and regular kokoreç is that the fish version is cooked up in stew pots. So I guess it won’t present a problem if we eat fish kokoreç when we enter the EU?
Fish köfte: Boiled fish are kneaded with delicious cooking spices. Then they are fried up in köfte form on the grill. Difficult to believe when you first hear about it perhaps, but this dish is delicious. One element that gives these fish köfte a truly wonderful flair is the walnuts they boast. Might give all those other kinds of köfte out there (Tekirdağ, İnegöl and Akçaabat, to name a few) a run for their money!
Fish börek: Definitely give these a try if you are a fan of Paçanga böreğini, or börek with pastırma. Filled with a mix of fish, peppers, cheese, and tomatoes, these are wrapped in dough, dipped in breadcrumbs and then fried. Not the lightest dish, but not terribly heavy, either.
Fish pizza: A dish designed to draw in pizza fans who want to taste fish at the same time. You will find sea bass, tongue fish, shrimp, and calamari on dough, with lots of spices, baked like a regular pizza. A new alternative, perhaps, for young people not all that interested in classic fish dishes.