Last orders: Istanbul’s historic fish sandwich boats shut down by authorities

The closing of the last three balık ekmek boats on the Golden Horn marks the end of an Istanbul culinary tradition

They come one after another, the correspondents of Turkey’s various TV channels: set pieces to camera next to dozens of frying fish; interviews with grizzled waiters in scarlet jackets; vox-pops with diners about how they feel about it. They’ve all come here, to Istanbul’s Eminönü district, to document the last day of the balık ekmek boats.

According to Istanbul lore, they have been catching fish here, cooking it on deck and selling it in sandwiches since the 1800s. The product is balık ekmek (“fish bread”) – fish (typically mackerel or a similar oily fish), onions, lettuce, a squeeze of lemon juice, all inside a white roll – its basic ingredients hinting at its origins, a way for fishermen to flog their excess catch after rich hauls.

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