Eating fish by the Bosphorus

The Hungry Traveller: Bingeing along the Bosphorus
Kevin Gould
The Guardian, Saturday 25 March 2006
Article history

Spring displays Istanbul in all her magnificent melancholy, her lost Empire splendour. Warm shimmering sun plus a wind straight off the Steppes suggests factor 20 and a scarf. Aboard the Bosphorus ferry, a tulip-shaped glass of tannic tea brought by your dolorous, mustachioed waiter is cue for the Old City to dissolve into a hazy horizon of putty-coloured domes and thrusting minarets, sea walls and sultan's palaces.

Fifteen minutes later you're in Asia and Uskudar - the Scutari of Florence Nightingale. A warm breakfast pastry of sweet sesame tahini borek fills the gap before the next ferry arrives to throb east, honking like a swan at the lesser craft that crowd its course to Cengelkoy.

Asian Istanbul is quieter, lower rise than the crowded European side of the Bosphorus. You berth beneath the bridge at Ortakoy, alongside the most Hollywood of Istanbul's mosques. Later in the evening, the imam's call to the faithful will mix with the beats of the DJs at a neighbouring club.

Further up the river, Tarabya and Emirgan have floating fish restaurants, while Beykoz is famous for its kelle paca corbasi, the sheep's head-and-hoof soup which is a patent remedy for a raki hangover, the flu and lovesickness.

Eating fish by the Bosphorus is a must. Of the many hundreds of simple bank-side fish restaurants, I'm never disappointed by Takanik 2, at Yenikoy.

There's no menu, just a few mezze or delicious fish soup followed by the freshest fish, grilled or fried, served with baskets of fresh bread and great bowls of lemon-dressed rockety salad. Here, I've eaten oily fresh anchovies, fried turbot, grilled tunny, rich mackerel, baby sardines, stripey sea bass. A meal for two including cold beers costs £15.

Smarter, clubby, still fishy but with a menu is Cengelkoy Iskele Lokantasi. Of the many excellent tray-borne mezze, keep an eye out for lakerda. This Sephardic delicacy of lightly salt-cured bluefish is served with lemon and crunchy red onion. A good place to drink raki, Turkey's pastis/firewater, providing you have the sea legs. Rarely more than £20 per head including enough raki to make you think you speak Turkish.

Chef Vedat Basaran skillfully recreates Ottoman court and regional dishes at Feriye Lokantasi, a stroll from the Ortakoy Iskele. Dress up for dishes such as artichoke hearts stuffed with pilaf and wrapped in a skein of filo, accompanied by some of Turkey's finest boutique wines such as Sarafin, grown at Gallipoli. Blow-outs from £50 a couple.

The joy of the Bosphorus is that it flatters your every mood and appetite, and a floating journey along it allows you time to space out and reflect on Istanbul's crowded past and crowded present. Borne back to the Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman Old City on an ebb tide, washed by history and buoyed by a day of savoury delicacies and sweet snacks, the Topkapi palace hoves imperiously into view.

· The lovely little Empress Zoe Hotel in the old city has a secret courtyard: Adliye Sokak 10, off Akbiyik Caddesi, Sultanahmet (00 90 212 518 2504, doubles around $100 B&B.