Istanbul – Karaköy Fish Market & The Perfect Snack

Tucked away, just to the edge of Galata Bridge is the not-very-big, but hugely exciting Karaköy fish market. If you’ve read any of our past posts on the wonder that is Istanbul, you may remember us gushing over the freshness of the Black Sea hamsi (seasonal anchovies) and getting all over excited about our hamsi ekmeği (deep fried anchovies served in a half bread).

Karaköy fish market, Istanbul

Karaköy fish market, Istanbul

Well, maybe we’re easy pleased but I’ve just re-read the Black Sea hamsi post and I must have done a pretty good job because I can just imagine us sitting in the Karaköy fish market right now, chomping our way through a mound of fresh fish.

Of course, we couldn’t spend our whole time in Istanbul hunting out fresh hamsi. We all need a bit of variety in our diets but, as we were so fixated by the fish market, we decided we’d go for an alternative fish meal.

Mackerel on Karaköy fish market, Istanbul

Fresh mackerel on display at Karaköy fish market, Istanbul

Watch any cookery programme on television and the tips you always get for buying fresh fish are, it should smell of the sea (not of fish) and the gills should be deep red. Well, at Karaköy fish market, there’s no need to rummage around in the gills of üskümrü (fresh mackerel). Each fish is displayed with gills on full show, loud and proud. Maybe not to everyone’s liking but we were in our element! Oh yes, and it doesn’t smell of fish either.

Fresh mackerel was available on every stand and if we were forcing a bit of variety into our Istanbul street food diet, there was only one thing for it – üskümrü ekmeği. Yes, we moved on from anchovy sandwich and instead, plumped for a mackerel sandwich.

Mackeral at the fish market in Istanbul

Preparation of the mackerel half bread

Our sandwich was expertly prepared for us by this friendly looking chap. A fillet of mackerel, mixed herbs, chilli flakes, crispy salad, the juice of a wedge of lemon, all served between fresh Turkish bread. Not too bready, not too fishy. Just the perfect 3 lira snack.

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  1. I love these mackerel sandwiches…with the onions in there too! I love this area of Istanbul.

  2. Oh the onions. sliced really thinly and loaded into the big plastic tubs. Gorgeous! We struggled to leave this area when we were last there Peter. Great isn’t it?!

  3. Looks great. I always love a good market!

  4. This Karaköy fish market looks very interesting. I will def include it on my upcoming trip to Istambul:) and will try Fresh mackerel as well! Thank you for recommending and sharing this info:))

  5. I do love a fish market. I saw a program last night on cooking in Greece wth fish with Jamie Oliver (UK). He was cooking a fresh tuna, yet burnt it to cinders on a BBQ! Woops!

  6. The smoke from the street stalls is making me hungry because I know how good street food can be.

  7. eatlaughloveanon says:

    Wow! They have blokes to cook up your sandwich for you. What a place!
    (Note to self: Don’t read this blog before lunch or you might die from food porn-induced hunger)

  8. Lovely. I managed to pick up some fresh sardines the other week. Had them with tomato and onion salad and black olives. You are right though, the man in the last photo does smile a lot doesn’t he!?

  9. @ Jozef: Hope we’re going to be seeing some markets from your travels! :)

    @ Steffy: You’ll have to let us know what you think of it. There are a couple of little sit-down places too that are fab!

    @ John: Seen that programme. Jamie Oliver is our hero! Can’t believe he would burn the fish! :)

    @ Nisrine: You can’t beat good street food. Somehow feels more satisfying than going to a restaurant.

    @ eatlaughloveanon: Great isn’t it?! :) The problem is, it’s hard to pull yourself away and try other food.

    @ Natalie: What? Is this comment demonstrating to me that you’re getting a foodie?! :) Ha ha, no the guy didn’t smile but he’s got one of those sad, cute, friendly faces don’t you think?

  10. I love this part of Istanbul and the hamsi is amazing..makes me hungry just thinking about it!

  11. Funny that, I’ve written about the fish buns on several sites. Us insiders just know where the best things are in Istanbul and we love to share the knowledge.

  12. The mackerel is glowing, it looks so fresh! I’m not a fan of anchovies in general but I would at least give it a try.

  13. @ gotourturkey: Much better than the hamsi we get in these parts.

    @ Inka: And funny you should say that, too because another blog we follow has also just done a post on hamsi – same day as us! :) The fish sandwich is just a dream though, isn’t it?!

    @ Corinne: The mackerel is super fresh. I didn’t think I’d like it much because I’d only ever had smoked mackerel in the UK and you can taste it for the rest of the day. This mackerel was just so light and tasty.

  14. I love local markets, everywhere I go I always visit them, you can sense so much of a society. In Istanbul I’ve only visited Grand Bazaar and Spices Bazaar though, I might need to come back 😛

  15. @ Angela: We’re obsessed with markets. They have a life of their own don’t they? Grand Bazaar – I have to admit, we’ve only walked through really quickly just because we felt we should! :) We love the great outdoors.

  16. I just recently went to the Dar Es Salaam fish market, an amazingly lively seaside auction! However, I think I’m going to have to get to Turkey for that mackerel sandwich! Sounds great!

  17. @ Migrationology: I bet a seaside auction was loads of fun! Would love to see that. Yes, you MUST try a mackerel sandwich if you’re ever in Istanbul.

  18. yet another spot I need to hit in a few weeks!

  19. I agree markets are fascinating to explore, not just for the smells and visual feast, but you also get a handle on how well the general economy is doing. The markets in Ethiopia were overflowing with produce, and livestock everywhere being traded. Dispelled our perception of it being a country of famine.

  20. I LOVE fish, about as much as pork. Perhaps Turkey IS the place for me :)

  21. @ Solo Traveler: It’s worth trying to squish into your schedule – we’ve been to Istanbul a few times now but this place really sticks in our head.

    @ Jim: Very true. :) Fethiye market tells us that (thankfully) the people here stillprefer market produce above the supermarkets’. The fish market in Istanbul – it was packed! Great to see.

    @ Ayngelina: The only problem is, you’d have to fork out some extra cash for your pork at the specialist pork shops! :)

  22. I love the smell of stinky fish :)

  23. I love visiting markets when I’m travelling abroad, and I love seafood. Next time I’m out in Istanbul I’ll be visiting!

  24. @ Poi: Think I know what you mean! :) Actually, the smells from Karaköy fish market are the smells of fish cooking.

    @ Andrew: It’s a must-see as far as we’re concerned. We love markets, too.

  25. Anonymous says:

    So sorry but mackerel is not local produce, it is imported from scandinavia. Good eat anyway

  26. @ Anonymous: Thanks for your comment. Maybe the English word ‘mackerel’ could be misleading. In English, ‘mackerel’ is a family / species of fish which we think is generally üskümrü (which is normally translated as mackerel into English). In this family in English, we would also include palamut (normally translated as bonito). On Fethiye fish market, there is also freshly caught akya (which everyone here says is large bonito).
    We saw fish from this family being offloaded from boats in Karaköy and just this week, we watched a diver spear a huge fish of that family just offshore, here in Çalış.
    We fully appreciate this is a cloudy area but a lot of it is probably due to translation issues.

  27. You make me so hungry with your food posts! And now that I live in Moldova without a coast line, I wish I were in Turkey on the coast somewhere!

  28. A walk around that market and one of those appetising sounding fish sandwiches sounds ideal!

  29. @ Miss Footloose: Well, you finally got to visit the Turkish coast from your home in Moldova! :)

    @ Andrew Graeme Gould: Karaköy fish market is one of our favourite places in İstanbul. :)

  30. Anonymous says:

    I will be in Istanbul during the Ramadan fasting period, does the fish market open during the day time? Or do they have a specific operating hours?

    • The fish market should still be open during the daytime as will most other places. Especially in that area of Istanbul and around Sultanahmet, too, you shouldn’t be too much affected by Ramazan as there will be lots of tourists around. Hope that helps. :)

  31. Anonymous says:

    Hello, what kind of fish do they sell on this market? I would love to get some shellfish and cook it myself. Do they sell lobsters or crayfish there? Thanks a lot!

    • Apart from the mackerel for the fish sandwiches ,as far as we know, most of the catch is local so we’ve never seen any shell fresh shell fish on there. They do sell crab when they catch it, though. There’s a fish market in Beşiktaş too which we intend to visit next time we’re in Istanbul in a few months. We’ll be taking photos / videos of that and will try to ask what’s available, too. :)

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