Located at the mouth of the Bosphorus and enclosed by seawater on three sides, Istanbul is, geographically speaking, a city perfectly situated for military defense in more ancient times, a hotspot for intersecting trade routes and, perhaps most important for modern-day tourists, a fish eater’s paradise.
Just as there are plenty of fish in the sea, so there are plenty of fish restaurants in Istanbul. So many, in fact, that one shouldn’t be criticized for experiencing the paralyzing effect of choice overload. The Paradox of Choice, a term coined by the philosopher Barry Schwartz, leads to a decrease in your motivation to choose and a dissatisfaction with your ultimate choice.
We can’t be having that. So we’ve narrowed the options down for you.
The number one rule for eating fish in Turkey is, as the famous Turkish saying goes, “Ne ağ, ne olta, balik rakiyla yakalanir.” In English, “Fish is caught, not with net or rod, but with raki.”
For any complete and authentic Turkish fish experience, be prepared to down some raki. This means that, as delicious as some of the fish sandwiches from carts and pop-up shops along the Bosphorus may be, they simply don’t cut it.
Without further ado, the top 5 Istanbul fish restaurants.
Located near the Blue Mosque and not difficult to find, this restaurant is easily our most highly recommended fish haven. It’s fish, fish and more fish. If you’re traveling with somebody who has yet to develop the finer set of taste buds that appreciate fish, you should… Well, just leave them at the hotel. Because you can’t miss this. When you arrive, the servers will bring you a tray with 12 cold mezze.
You choose what you want. They then return to your table with a complimentary tomato chilli paste. You can’t go wrong with any of the fish on the menu. Just close your eyes and point. It’s all going to make you go balik-listic. (Balik is Turkish for ‘fish’.. You can smile, you liked that).
Simple, traditional, delicious. The restaurant is conveniently located in Sultanahmet, yet is surprisingly frequented by more locals than it is tourists. In what it lacks for in glitz and glamour, it makes up for in flavor, warm and friendly service and an inviting atmosphere.
We recommend the Blue Fish and the Swordfish. An appetizer of calamari. A bottle of raki. Perhaps some Turkish sweets for dessert. And, and this one we really mean, a reservation. The place is usually popping.
This restaurant is a bit more upscale and classy than the previous two. If you want to look fancy and impress someone special, you should probably come here.
Plus, it’s located in Bebek; a beautiful and impressive little area on the Bosphorus well worth exploring. This is one of those restaurants that attracts the ultra-elite, boasting such famous guests as Al Gore and Jean Claude Van Dame.
The appetizers, both hot and cold, are absolute delicacies. We usually go with an eggplant or parsley salad and fish balls (yup) or fish cooked on paper. The restaurant’s self-declared specialty is its fish in salt. Again, a reservation is required. It can take a while to get there from downtown Sultanahmet, so you don’t want to risk being turned away at the door.
If you want to be able to lean over and touch the water that is home, or was home, to the fish you’re about to eat, check out Poseidon and be sure to request the terrace dining. Also known as the Fish and Wine Center, raki actually takes a back seat to the various wine options at Poseidon.
The marinated sea bass is the highest rated fish on the menu and the baked octopus and Poseidon fish balls are great ways to begin your feast.
Another fish restaurant on the Bosphorus. We advise coming here in the late afternoon and enjoying the views of the setting sun reflecting off the water, boats returning to their posts with their day’s catch, birds engaging in a fish-feeding frenzy of their own.
The menu is simple – so simple, in fact, that there is no menu, and the fish is as fresh as can get. You can’t go wrong with fried calamari, fava (mashed broad beans), fried anchovies and mullet and homemade baklava to top it off.