Turkish "Fishwich" (Balik Ekmek)
Updated: Apr 26, 2021
Under the Galata Bridge and along the nearby banks of the river, where the Golden Horn meets the Sea of Marmara, there are lots of small boats moored up, on which fish fillets are grilled or fried and served up with salad in baguette-style bread as a sandwich. One blogger  has referred to it as a "fishwich" although, according to Wiktionary , the fish must be breaded in order for it to qualify as a fishwich.
In any case, on a trip to Istanbul I sought out the fishwich vendors beneath the Galata Bridge and bought one of their offerings. It was delicious and so simple. I thought this was a touristy gimmick but have since found (see ) there is actually a genuine history behind it and Balik Ekmek is, in fact, an offering rooted in tradition.
I will clarify the details with my Turkish friends and colleagues and update this post accordingly. In the meantime, the essence appears to be that that fishermen looking to earn an extra crust (not an accidental choice of word!) installed grills and fryers on their boats and sold Balik Ekmek to the locals. Lucky locals!
But lucky us too. It looks like the mackerel might just have decided it's about time to be swimming back to the market stall for a few months...?
There doesn’t seem to be any hard-and-fast rule as to what goes in a Turkish Fishwich, only that it’s fish and salad. But the consensus seems to suggest that the fish should be mackerel or a closely-related species. I'm sure it was mackerel that featured in mine. It also definitely contained onion, but I am proposing a quick-pickled onion, because the tartness goes so well with mackerel. The salad I propose contains just lettuce and fresh coriander, with a simple dressing.
Although I’m sticking here with the baguette-style bread in the way that my fishwich was presented in Istanbul, my father once suggested to me that it would be nice served up in a freshly-made chapati, as a wrap. He was very right, and I’ve made it that way many times, and certainly will again (interestingly, see ).
I don’t claim this to be the one and only authentic Balik Ekmek, but it’s a seriously tasty way of enjoying mackerel when it's in season. And I really enjoy it for breakfast, especially after the hard graft of queuing for my mackerel in the market.
No quantities here, we’re only making sandwiches with a quirky name!
Turkish "Fishwich" (Balik Ekmek)
Red onion, finely sliced
Red wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper (black or white)
Little Gem or Cos/Romaine lettuce, finely shredded
Fresh coriander, finely chopped
Baguette, cut into mackerel fillet length pieces, then halved lengthways
Extra virgin olive oil
Limes/lemons, as preferred
Red chilli (optional), deseeded if preferred, finely chopped
Put the red onion in a bowl, sprinkle over some salt and a drizzle of red wine vinegar. Leave to steep for about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile prepare the salad. Toss the lettuce and coriander with a little lemon or lime juice, some olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.
Warm/toast the bread, possibly coated with a little olive oil.
Grill or pan fry the mackerel fillets to your liking, seasoned to taste.
Fill the warm bread with the salad, the mackerel fillets (over which you can drizzle a little lemon or lime juice, as preferred) and the pickled red onion, and the chilli if using.
"Barry's Fishwich" (accessed 7 July 2019): https://www.travelblog.org/Photos/7744017
“Fishwich”, Wiktionary (accessed 7 July 2019): https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/fishwich
"Istanbul Fish Sandwiches, Turkey" (accessed 7 July 2019) https://turkeytravelplanner.com/details/Food/balik_ekmek.html
"Hit Istanbul's streets for a fish sandwich at sidewalk vendors" (accessed 7 July 2019): https://www.dailysabah.com/feature/2017/02/18/hit-istanbuls-streets-for-a-fish-sandwich-at-sidewalk-vendors