Here comes the bonito…
The fishing season has started and the bonito fish is knocking on our door. But do not rush to eat the first bonitos of the season that have survived the massacres of illegal fishing. This fish will become much tastier in one week. For one week, try to absorb this information about bonito and hang on…
Do not believe those who say, “This year, there will be plenty of fish.” Illegal fishing has destroyed the young fish since the beginning of August. They did not give them the opportunity to grow into full bonitos. The first bonitos that escaped the massacre are now in fish market stands. But I would recommend you be patient for one week because, in the meanwhile, the fish will fatten and become tastier. The bonito is extremely delicious starting mid-September to mid-February.
One of Istanbul’s symbols
The bonito is the heritage of Byzantium and one of the symbols of Istanbul. According to the history books, a bonito was engraved on the back of bronze coins minted between the 1st and 3rd centuries, because it was the bonito that saved the population living inside the city walls during sieges that lasted for years.
The Black Sea is the gathering place of bonitos. They enter the Bosphorus Strait and follow the route along Istanbul’s Sarıyer, Kireçburnu, Tarabya, Bebek and Ortaköy districts to reach the Marmara Sea. They always swim on the right side of the Bosphorus. Fishermen say the left eye of the bonito is blind and for that reason they flow on the right.
Grilled or baked
Allegedly, the reason Byzantium was founded not on the Chalcedon (Kadıköy) side but at Sarayburnu was the bonito, because this fish never goes near the Chalcedon shores. It comes from the Black Sea and fills up the Golden Horn. Historian Plinius explained this phenomenon thusly: “There is a wonderfully shining white rock in the water near Chalcedon. When the bonitos see this rock suddenly in front of them, they fear and change their direction to the other side to the Byzantine cape.” Is that white rock the one the Maiden Tower sits on today?
In my childhood, I remember the days when bonitos were in abundance in the Bosphorus. We would fish near the Ortaköy Mosque. I would keep two of the biggest for my home and then offer the rest to neighbors.
The circular cut bonito is best grilled. The fattened bonito in this season should be grilled or baked. Frying would be too much. A green salad generous in arugula should not be neglected. Of course red onions should accompany this feast. It can also be prepared as a stew with onion, oil and vegetables which can be eaten cold or warm. It can also be prepared with finely chopped onions, leeks, parsley, dill, bread crumbs, allspice, cinnamon, salt, black pepper and an egg as fish balls; they can be fried in olive oil after immersing them in flour and whisked eggs. Steaming or making a soup out of the bonito is not recommended.
If you ask me where to eat bonito, I would say you can eat it at all fish restaurants during this season. The griller should grill them properly so they don’t dry out.
Beware of fake bonitos. They may want to pass off the bullet tuna, little tuna and tunny caught in the Aegean as bonito to you. The bonito has seven lines from head to tail. Four of them are dark, three are light metallic blue. The others have waves of speckled bands and spots. Their taste cannot be compared to the real bonito.