Istanbul – bridge between people and cultures

With his dinner menu shows “Sofra Del Sol – the Sun Table”, culinary artist and entertainer Metin Calis builds a culinary bridge across the Bosporus into the heart of our European soul. The Heidelberg native with Turkish roots traveled to Istanbul for FIRE&FOOD to show us the city through culinary means.

I will never forget my first visit to this city in 2009 – exactly 30 years after my last holiday as a child. Ali Güngörmüs, long-time head chef of the Hamburg Michelin-starred restaurant "Le Canard Nouveau", initiated the trip. From then on, I was in Istanbul every year until autumn 2015 – always with an internship at Haci Abdullah, a long-established restaurant with a history of over a hundred years and specialising in traditional Anatolian dishes. These stays strengthened my ongoing fascination with the world of spices, which I loved using in my mother's kitchen even as a small boy. But of course there is also the attraction of Istanbul, which always awakens in me the desire to experience the city anew.

Yavuz Zangoç stands on the Galata Bridge two to three times a week
while fishing.

Metin Calis, a native of Heidelberg with Turkish roots, is traveling to Istanbul for FIRE&FOOD and preparing typical local fish specialties.

If someone asks me where real life takes place in this vibrant city, several places come to mind, but the Galata Bridge springs to mind particularly quickly. It is a tourist magnet, as you can easily tell from the confusion of languages ​​around you, but it is also a place where East and West meet. The bridge crosses the Golden Horn, an arm of the sea that reaches into the Bosphorus, and connects the districts of Eminönü and Beyoglu on two levels. The former is the city's transport hub, where not only the European trains have their last stop, but also Istanbul's most important ferry port is located. You should definitely plan a visit to the bazaar here, and the Misir Carsisi in particular is one of my personal hot spots. Beyoglu is also a lively place, and from here you can reach the 14th century Galata Tower, which towers over everything and offers a spectacular view of the silhouette of the historic center, the Sea of ​​Marmara and the Bosphorus. Above all, you get a good impression of what life is like in a metropolis with an official population of 13.6 million. This figure is the result of the last census. However, more recent estimates suggest that around 20 million people will live in the rapidly growing city in 2025.

But back to the Galata Bridge and our main topic of fresh fish! Here it is offered, either freshly caught on site or pulled from the Bosporus in the morning by one of the many fishing boats, but unfortunately also - as is probably the case everywhere in the world where food tourism is an important economic factor - from some global stocks. Prepared as "Balik Ekmek" with a lettuce leaf in a bread roll or deliciously grilled. Available at one of the small stands on and by the bridge, on the boats bobbing on the bank or in one of the many fish restaurants that lie next to each other like pearls on a string and fill the lower level of the bridge with life. Those who eat their fish here often get to see the successes of the anglers above first hand. After all, the people of Istanbul have been supplying themselves with fish in a very pragmatic way for generations - not only on the miles-long banks of the Bosporus, but also everywhere on the bridge there are anglers looking for their next meal. If you have forgotten your equipment or want to stock up on a variety of baits and lures, there are plenty of opportunities to do so in the local shops. But this activity is not without its impact on the fish population, because more and more residents mean more and more anglers. As is so often the case, it is a balancing act between living tradition and economic necessity.

The most famous regional, authentic fish specialties include grilled lüfer (bluefish), cupra (sea bream) and levrek (sea bass). I combine them in my recipes with typical Turkish spices, which not only combine particularly well with smoky aromas, but also bring surprising chocolatey, fruity and sometimes earthy notes into play. Well dosed to highlight the fresh character of the fish without weighing it down. A culinary greeting from Istanbul, the city of contrasts.

Levrek Cim Bom with radish, tahini and almonds

Ingredients for 4 persons):
• 4 Levrek (sea bass)
• 4 spring onions,
grilled over the fire

For the salad:
• 2 black radishes, thinly sliced
• 2 red radishes, thinly sliced
• 2 leaves of red cabbage, stalk removed
and plucked into bite-sized pieces
• 1 bunch of rocket, washed and torn into small pieces
• 3 tablespoons almonds, left whole
• 3 tbsp carob syrup
• 2 tsp Turkish wild oregano, crushed with your fingertips
• 2 tsp dried mint
• 2 tsp cumin
• 5 tbsp olive oil
• Juice of ½ lemon
• 4 tbsp tahini (sesame paste)
• Salt, sugar

Gut the sea bass, remove the gills, wash out the abdominal cavity, pat dry and coat with rapeseed oil. Lightly salt and grill at around 180 °C. Then arrange the levrek and spring onions whole on the salad.

For the salad, mix both types of radish with the red cabbage, add a little salt and sugar and leave to soak for five minutes. Fold in the rocket and almonds and season with the remaining ingredients. Finally, spread the tahini over the dish.

This article with further recipes first appeared in the FIRE&FOOD issue 02/2019.