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Seafood on the Turkish Coast

The kebab might be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Turkish food, but in Istanbul and along Turkey's Aegean, Mediterranean, and Black seas, fresh seafood is readily available.

Considering the long coastline, it's not surprising that fish is an integral part of Turkish cuisine, and locals eat it at lunch or dinner, usually either grilled or fried, and served with little more than a squeeze of lemon and a side of fresh arugula or slices of raw onion. In winter, hearty fish soups—similar to chowder—are added to many restaurant menus. Varieties might be a bit different from what you're used to, but these are some of the more common ones you'll find.

Fresh fish served in restaurants is usually sold by weight, so be sure to ask the price before ordering.

Wild vs. Farmed

Although many of the fish served in Turkey are seasonal, the growth of aquaculture here has led to a more dependable year-round supply. Many diners, however, still insist on eating the more flavorful (and more expensive) wild variety. If you want the open-sea version, ask for the deniz type, which is "from the sea."

Barbunya

The tasty small red mullet is a top choice in Turkey. As the name implies, its skin is speckled with glistening reddish spots. Mild-tasting barbunya, usually only a few inches long, are typically panfried whole; an order can easily be shared. The prime season for them is spring through early summer.

Çipura

Gilthead bream is the most popular fish caught in the Aegean area. Like levrek, it's mild tasting with white, flaky meat, usually grilled whole and served unadorned. Fish farms now supply much of the çipura sold in restaurants, but the wild variety, known as deniz çipurasi is also available.

Hamsi

Size isn't everything. The finger-length anchovy is often referred to in Turkey as the "little prince" of fishes. In the Black Sea area, where hamsi are caught, they are used in numerous dishes and form an important part of the local economy. Hamsi typically comes fried in a light coating of corn meal, but hamsipilav—a rice and anchovy dish infused with an aromatic mix of herbs and spices—is also common. Hamsi season is fall and winter.

Levrek

Sea bass, one of the most popular types of fish in Turkey, is prized for its delicate, almost sweet taste and firm white meat. Levrek is usually charcoal grilled whole and served with a drizzle of oil and a squeeze of lemon. Or a whole levrek might be encased in sea salt and baked in the oven. Many eateries serve the cheaper, smaller farmed variety. Wild levrek is called deniz levreği. Both are available all year.

Lüfer

This is the general name for bluefish, which are generally tastier than the U.S. varieties. Bluefish is common enough that the different sizes have their own names: small bluefish are çinekop, large bluefish are kofana, and medium bluefish are sarıkanat.

Palamut

Also known as bonito, palamut is related to tuna. Unlike levrek and çipura, it's a strong-tasting, oily fish, similar to mackerel. Palamut fillets are often grilled, but another popular—and perhaps tastier—way they are prepared is baked in the oven with an onion and tomato sauce. Palamut appear in Turkish waters fall through winter.

Updated: 2014-04-03

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