Last orders: Istanbul’s ancestral fish sandwich boats close down by authorities

3 min read

They come one after another, a correspondents of Turkey’s several TV channels: set pieces to camera subsequent to dozens of frying fish; interviews with decrepit waiters in carmine jackets; vox-pops with diners about how they feel about it. They’ve all come here, to Istanbul’s Eminönü district, to request a final day of a balık ekmek boats.

According to Istanbul lore, they have been throwing fish here, cooking it on rug and offered it in sandwiches given a 1800s. The product is balık ekmek (“fish bread”) – fish (typically mackerel or a identical greasy fish), onions, lettuce, a fist of lemon juice, all inside a white hurl – a simple mixture hinting during a origins, a proceed for fishermen to whip their additional locate after abounding hauls.

And while a boats have dwindled over a years – with city authorities penetrating to clamp down on this mostly unregulated, infrequently unsanitary trade – it’s a tradition that has been carried on by 3 boats moored only off Galata Bridge, that spans a Golden Horn. More gaudy, golden, floating kitchens than fisherman’s skiffs, they have been handling underneath a municipality proposal given 2007; a garsons in faux-Ottoman blazers and captain’s hats portion hundreds of Turks and tourists each day.

Photograph: Sami Kent

But no more. As İstanbullus found out this week, all 3 boats – together combining a Balık Ekmek Turızm Kooperatifi – see their franchise end on 1 November. The owners have vowed to stay open, and a brawl initial with a police, and afterwards in a courts, might ensue. But a municipality clearly has no skeleton to reinstate them, with designs for a “more holistic” proceed to Istanbul’s ancestral centre. As a mayor explained to journalists, “No-one owns a permanent skill in any partial of Istanbul.”

As a lady tells a TV camera how many she opposes a decision, a surrounding throng detonate into applause. It seems in partial a confected debate – influenced adult by a media fervent to uncover a new mayor as out of hold – and some-more than one proprietor rolled their eyes during a tiny discuss of a boats. Others forked to online report about a darker side of it all, about a purported connectors a owners contingency have to have cumulative such a remunerative spot. But there is genuine unhappiness here too.

Ibrahim, a retirement with black painted hair and a troops jacket, tells me with some clarity of ire that he comes to a boats maybe each other day. With a lunch costing only 15 Turkish lira (£2), it is, he reasons, simply a cheapest dish around. Indeed, while Istanbul’s other executive districts can be prohibitively costly – quite for those from a city’s fringes – Eminönü has defended some renouned appeal. The famous lyrics of an 1980s Turkish strain even prolonged for a days of holding a minibus around town, and “köprüde balık-ekmek yemek” – eating balık ekmek on a bridge.

Which taps into something deeper too, for few places can be as ever-willing to welcome nostalgia – and a bitter-sweetness of detriment – as Istanbul. Karin, who has now changed distant divided to a Black Sea coast, told me she lived here for years and did not go to a balık ekmek boats even once. Now, somehow, it’s a thing she misses most, a initial place she visits when she returns. “There is no Eminönü though this,” she says.

It is an open tip that a balık ekmek fish no longer comes from a Bosphorous strait. The Golden Horn – a indicate where a pickle meets a Sea of Marmara and supposed for a contentment of dolphin and fish that once upheld by it – no longer teems with life. It now comes from Scandinavia, around Istanbul’s indiscriminate fish market.

It is though one tiny change in a city that has remade over all approval given a fishermen started offered sandwiches on a side dual centuries ago. But no matter a boats’ gossamer tie to a past, for some İstanbullus, it was enough: this is a tradition now, in all a kitsch glory. As Ibrahim shouted to me, and all passers-by, ‘This is history!”

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