Fish, Bosphorus and beyond
We were in a boat with a large group of foreign journalists, sunset cruising on the Bosphorus Strait. It was a picturesque midsummer’s evening, the perfect moment for a drink.
As the only food writer in the group, I soon found myself desperately trying to persuade them to try rakı, the ubiquitous but little understood Turkish spirit.
All seemed pretty unconvinced, or let’s say, hesitant. Describing the taste profile or suggesting food pairing did not help. All the food, which ranged from delicious mezes, to seafood and fresh fish, could match perfectly with a chilled white wine or ice-cold beer, and the smell of anise in a drink just seemed odd. None of my arguments seemed to hit the point. Feeling like I was in a losing battle, I uttered a rescue sentence as my last attempt:
“If you are going to taste this stuff ever and ever in your whole life, it has to be on the Bosphorus, right here on the water. This is the exact locality to enjoy and savor rakı.”
I nailed it. In a second, tall slender glasses were clinking, ice cubes swirling with the cloudy bluish white shade of rakı, perfectly in harmony with the deep blue background of the Bosphorus. All of a sudden, they had felt they were about to miss an experience of a lifetime, all laid in front of them.
After all, they could give up after a taste. The rest came fluidly. The first sip, refreshing and cool, with the magic aura of the Bosphorus, bewildering and intriguing, and they were taken…
It is true that some drinks belong to certain moments, seasons or localities and of course, to certain food. For many Turkish drinkers, a meze table and a fish feast are always associated with rakı, and that is why it is considered the unofficial national drink. In the past, there has been hot debate between food writers in Turkey, whether fish should be accompanied with rakı or white wine.
Though no one seemed to win, in the hearts of general public, the winner was clear: fish always belonged to the anise-infused spirit. After all, there is a much-repeated saying, “Fish is caught, not with net or rod, but with rakı!”
This was very true for me, growing up in land-locked Ankara. Fish belonged to Istanbul, especially to a table right at the brim of Bosphorus, and in my mind, rakı was attached to it. Fish could only be savored on the seaside, be it Aegean or Mediterranean, but most preferably on the Bosphorus.
That was my father’s cliché. A graduate of Robert College, he always missed the Bosphorus, and whenever he traveled back
to his favorite city, he had to have fish at a table closest to the sea as possible.
The Bosphorus is undoubtedly unique, and no other seashore matches its magic. Sometimes, I’m appalled to hear some tourists calling it “the river”: no river can match its beauty and its unmatched status as being the borderline of two continents together with the other strait we own, the Dardanelles.
These two straits are the points where Asia and Europe meet face-to-face, separated but united in a strange way.
The merits of the Bosphorus are countless. Apart from its breathtaking views, the breeze of the Bosphorus is the most refreshing blessing Istanbul has. Even on the hottest summer days, one may feel chilly on the Bosphorus shore late at night. The constant currents ever-flowing between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara, which further connects to the Aegean, is reflected in this ever-present breeze.
The continuous sea currents flowing on the surface and deep water in both ways enable seasonal fish migrations, making the Bosphorus the most bountiful source for fresh fish. Seagulls, the iconic birds of Istanbul, are constantly chasing the fish. Bosphorus with its two separated shores, its fishes and seagulls, is an entity of its own, never ceasing to surprise us with its nonstop dynamics.
The Bosporus is indeed the borderline, also in our minds, between reality and dream, especially at the afterglow of sundown. Sometime between day and night, it is unworldly!
Fork & Cork of the Week:
On a midsummer night, the place to be is on the Bosphorus. Unfortunately, there are fewer and fewer places just at the rim of the water to dine, and when you find one, there is always the fear of being ripped off, to wake you up from the dream-like evening when the bill comes.
That was my feeling when I was heading to the very newly opened Ringa Balık, located within the premises of the seaside club Oligark in Kuruçeşme.
The name of the club is a bit off-putting, but Ringa is separately owned by the team who successfully renovated the iconic Istanbul restaurant, Pandeli, also in charge of successfully run favorite new-wave meyhanes such as Firuze and Rana and the good old Escale in Kanyon.
To my delight Ringa Balık is a place where one can live the dream and not wake up to a nasty surprise.
It is a reliable, no nonsense seafood restaurant, catering both for the budget conscious who will only have a modest selection of their delicious and innovative mezes, or just have a seafood pasta or paella, or splurge on a lobster feast.
The raw fish selections are not to miss either. Their choices are plenty, all worthy of several visits, once for pasta and a cold Sauvignon Blanc, or for fresh fish and a bottle of triple distilled rakı.