In the winter, hamsi, a small anchovy-like fish from the Black Sea, are in season. They hatch in Odessa and swim clockwise around the Black Sea coast, many caught in the nets of fishermen and destined to be sold and consumed in Istanbul. I was lucky enough to be in town for part of hamsi season, which is reaching its tail end now. Apparently, I missed the peak time when the fish are fattier, and therefore tastier. By the time they land on tables in March, they have burned off much of their fat reserve and lose their characteristic taste. I had hamsi prepared in a few different ways this month, but tava, fried, is definitely my favorite preparation: tossed in flour, submerged in oil, and served with a lemon wedge, and a salad. This huge pile of hamsi, water and a big fresh salad of pickled beets, arugula, turnips, radishes, onions and carrots that I ate at a fry shop beside the Karaköy ferry dock cost me a mere 7 lira (around $3.50). When picking these seaside dining spots, do what I do: go to the one most crowded with locals. The odds are, if Istanbullus have chosen it over the half dozen others nearby, it will be good.
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