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Local fish, hamsi

Grilled local blue fish from Sinop, Turkey

What: The Black Sea coast in general, and Sinop in particular, is celebrated for its fish—haven’t you noticed all those busy fishmongers in town? The most prized fish is also the most ubiquitous, during the winter season anyway: hamsi, the Black Sea anchovy (lesser versions are hauled from the Sea of Marmara, south of Istanbul, as well). From here to Istanbul you’ll see lots of love for this cold-water fish, beginning around November—by December for sure—and extending through February or March. But Sinop is ground zero for hamsi, with all of those fishmongers bringing in their own local catch of the little silver swimmers and countless restaurants frying, grilling, and baking them up. Of the many ways the Turks eat ’em, among the more common preparations are tava, or dipped in cornmeal and pan-fried; izgara, or grilled; içli tava, baked in rice; and ekmeği, in a sandwich—but stay awhile along the Black Sea and you’ll find it many other ways, incorporated into breakfast, lunch, and dinner. What do hamsi taste like? They’re rich and oily, with an irresistible sea flavor well complemented by a turn in a hot pan and a squeeze of lemon.

If you miss hamsi season here, fear not. There’s lots of other good local fish for the taking, varying by season: bonito (palamut), scorpion fish (iskorpit), bluefish (called ҫinekop or lüfer, depending on size), red mullet (barbunya), sea bass (levrek), mackerel (istavrit), and turbot (kalkan), to name a few. Just take a look at what’s being sold in the markets and ask for that in a restaurant.

Where: Better yet, eat your fish at a restaurant attached to a market, as is the case at Okyanus Balikevi (0-368-261-3950; Meydankapı Mah. Kurtuluş Cad.), a new family-owned spot located two stories above Mevsim Balıkҫılık, one of the town’s oldest fish markets. Chances are, if you’re poking around Sinop asking about fish—and you don’t speak much Turkish—you’ll be directed here to chat with owner Mert Kanal, a hamsi devotee and local fish expert who happens to speak fluent English.

When: Daily, 11am-midnight

Order: Sadly, hamsi season was late during our visit, due to unseasonably warm fall weather, so we missed the good stuff by just a few weeks. But we were thrilled by what Mert served us anyway: a generous heap of mild and meaty scorpion fish (15 TL), breaded and perfectly pan-fried, served bite-size and boneless with lemon, onion, parsley, and a garlicky yogurt dipping sauce; and grilled whole ҫinekop (pictured), a small and surprisingly mild bluefish, its delicate flesh drizzled with olive oil. A locally sourced rocket and cabbage salad and sautéed green-bean dish with dense cornbread—another Black Sea favorite, this version Mert’s mother’s specialty—rounded out our excellent dinner here. There was no menu to speak of, but you’ll be served whatever’s freshest, and you won’t be disappointed.

Alternatively: This is a seafront town, and as such, fish restaurants abound. Of those scenically located on the busy harborfront, we liked Saray (0-368-261-1729; Iskele Cad. Rıhtım Sokak No. 18, map), where we indulged in a plate of early-season hamsi tava—the staff swore they were from the Black Sea (and fresh, not frozen), but it’s likely they were from the Georgian side. Despite not being true Sinop hamsi, they were finger-licking good—literally, as they are most easily eaten by holding the tails and digging in. Deliciously crispy and ideally paired with a cold Efes beer!


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