Hamsi may not be the king of fishes or the fish king itself for most of us, but Karadenizliler -locals of Black Sea region- have an emotional attachment to hamsi. It is more than a fish, but a life culture there. Even when you ask a Karadenizli about another fish, he will tell you that it is the relative of hamsi, like any other fish. Sürmene, Trabzon and Sinop are the three place that are famous with hamsi in Black Sea region.
A whole cuisine is devoted to hamsi at Karadeniz, in Istanbul we only can find couple of different dishes, yet enough for many to quench their appetite. Here are some dishes from Karadeniz: hamsi buğulama -stew-, hamsi köftesi -fishballs-, hamsi kayganası, -with eggs-, grilled, pan fried, deep fried, hamsi dolma, hamsili pilav -pilaf with hamsi-, hamsili ekmek– -hamsi bread-, içli tava -tray of hamsi fillet topped with a special rice stuffing then another layer of hamsi fillets, hamsi turşusu –pickles-, hamsi reçeli –hamsi jam-… Couple of years ago there was a delicious trend in Istanbul to deep fry the bones of hamsi and served alongside the afternoon drinks.
Almost everywhere in Istanbul, you may find a different sorts of hamsi dish these days. But hurry, its season will be ending around the mid February.
I fell in love with the salt cured hamsi of Kantin, amongst other dishes they make with it. Hamsi quiche, hamsili pilav…
Kantin: Akkavak sok: No:30
Chef Didem Şenol of Lokanta Maya has hamsi on her menu, çıtır hamsi tava, so crispy you want to order two and also sometimes she wraps them in swiss chard, depending. As she changes her menu depending on the availability, check the menu before you go, or end up with the other feasts await you.
For one of the best grilled hamsi, you have to go Tarihi Karaköy Balık Lokantası, leave yourself to Muharrem Usta.
Tarihi Karaköy Balık Lokantası: Tersane Cad, Kardeşim Sokak, No:45/A, Karaköy
From a Karadenizli, hamsili pilav, pan fried hamsi or hamsi buğulama, Hayvore. The pan fried hamsi coated with corn flour is crispy, delicious and enjoyed best with a slice of corn bread, onions and if you fancy drops of lemon.
Hayvore: Turnacıbaşı Sk. No:14, Beyoğlu
My favorite esnaf Lokantası, Şahin Lokantası, if you are lucky Ali Usta made the big tray of hamsili pilav, rice pilaf topped with hamsi.
Şahin Lokantası:Orhan Adlı Apaydın Sok. No:11 Asmalı Mescit, Beyoğlu
For balık ekmek -fish sandwich-, it is best if you stop at the small eateries at the end of Karaköy’s Balık Pazarı, the daily fish market, enjoy fried hamsi sandwich served up with onions, parsley, grab an ice cold beer to devour it.
But have to admit, my favorite hamsi dish is hamsi kuşu, as cooked at Kumsal, Ankara! I grew up eating that, when Nazmi Baba was alive and managing that famous restaurant Körfez, soon closed down and the staff opened Kumsal, all good memories and best food!
Kumsal: Inkılap Sok, No:9/D, Sakarya Caddesi, Ankara
I leave you with a very common local song about hamsi, türkü…
(briefly, as I put hamsi on the pan, it started fidgeting, I looked there isn’t left any, I started crying)
Hamsi koydum tavaya,
Baktım hamsi kalmamış,