Besiktas Fish Market

It rained today and I had calls sprinkled through the afternoon, keeping me hotel bound except for a dash across Barbaros for a couple beef kebab rollup things called durum and a spicy cold meat thing called kofte. The weather was just sucky and I had no remorse about missing a day out on the streets and in the bazaars.

Finally, around 5 pm, as it was getting dark, the thought of room service  again was too depressing so I bundled up and walked down to the port of Besiktas, a very busy, vibrant intersection where the ferries dock and a big monument to Ataturk stands in a plaza surrounded by smoking buses and a perpetual queue of yellow taksis. After five days poking around the city, I realize my hotel is beautifully situated between some great neighborhoods, the Golden Horn, and the modern era of digital agencies and the like to the north.

I’d noticed a  busy little alley down at the bottom of the hill the other day, so I headed there and turned in with the crowd of commuters heading out to pick something up for their dinners. The lines at the ATMs were ten people deep. The rain was at a mist stage so my glasses were dazzled with the lights.

The fish market had more species on display than anything I’ve seen outside of Tokyo. I recognized a few things — especially the ubiquitous brawling bluefish — but there were some little fish in abundance that were staggering to behold and smell. There were some super weird fish.

The square with the fish stalls was ringed with fish restaurants of course, so I had to enter one to see what the fuss was about. Indeed, the fish was ordered, the order was taken outside, the fish was filleted on the spot, and brought into the kitchen to be cooked. I consider that fresh fish.

Now the restaurant was very nice, the Ahtapot Restaurant to be precise, and the proprietor overloaded me with mezze and salad and cheese. When we got to the discussion of the main course I was trying to convey that I wanted his freshest fish — whatever was in season — but NOT bluefish as I had eaten that a few nights before in Ortakoy. He put his finger on the bluefish entry. I shook my head. He nodded his head. I shook my head. I pointed at bonito. He shook his head. I shook my head. I asked: “What’s fresh.” He pointed at the bluefish. I pointed out the window at the market. He smiled. I gave up. “Get me whatever you think.”

I ate bluefish.

No complaints. I had to walk that monster off, so I toured the bazaar for an hour, snapping pictures of nut stores and pastry shops and white box PC sellers. I  passed a shop that sold water pipes, or nargile, or hookahs.

The bazaar felt like a real neighborhood. There were no tourists. Just locals getting bread and stuff for their dinners. It was very interesting in its own non way: a functional souk that the neighborhood depended on for life’s essentials. Each alley had a theme. There was washing machine alley and bedding alley, there was pharmacies and spice shops. The fast food — the doner spots — were bewildering in their numbers and variety. Guess who added insult to injury and threw a doner kebab on top of his fish dinner?

I walked up the hill past a monster traffic jam where the cars were spinning their wheels on the wet cobblestones and the air was filled with the stink of burning clutch. I descended along a little urban park, made my way back to the Conrad, and now must do some research on the Eastern Orthodox church as I am attending a service in the morning at St. George’s, the Rum Patrikhanesi, conducted by the current Patriarch, or supreme leader of the Orthodox Church, the religion of the Byzantines and Constantinople.

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

2 thoughts on “Besiktas Fish Market”

  1. Great stuff, David. Having been in Istanbul a few times, I’m beginning to think I need to go back. As usual with your writing, I can smell the fish cooking in the stalls and the burning clutches.

    I had visited the Blue Mosque. I hope you do the same and tell us about it. Alternatively, the Suleymaniye Mosque, which I did not visit.

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