I fell head-over-heels in love in Istanbul. With a fish wrap.
Have you ever experienced time-slowing moment? Perhaps you locked eyes with someone on a train and felt a spark that never had the chance to ignite. Maybe you walked into a building and felt the presence of a memory that seemed to belonged to someone else. Call it what you will – coincidence, luck, fate – but I had one of these moments in Istanbul’s Karaköy with balık durum.
The first meal of the trip followed a long-haul flight and preceded an early start. It had to tick the boxes of being quick, nearby and satisfying. A quick Google returned a tiny shop selling balık durum (fish wraps) within walking distance of my hotel, and within seconds of taking that first bite, I knew I’d vividly remember how it looked, tasted and felt for the rest of my life.
It occurred to me that I might have been overreacting, exhausted from travel. But I returned multiple times and each fish wrap was as good as the last. I’ve since had emails and Instagram messages from people who followed me there, reinforcing that time really does slow down when you eat this balık durum.
That single bite is representative of Istanbul city. It’s hectic, traditional, contemporary and one of the best places in the world to eat street food. A city of contrasts, its 16 million people sit for hours both drinking çay (tea) and stuck in traffic, crossing the Bosphorus Strait from Europe to Asia and back again. Even tourist-friendly, gentrified neighbourhoods still buzz with local life, whether tradesmen eating at lokantas in Karaköy or the market that snakes through Balat’s colourful Instagram-friendly cafes and buildings.
I could wax lyrical about the grandeur and exotic nature of the mosques, markets and squares scattered with street vendors (though I hate the word “exotic” – a better way to look at it is somewhere that makes me feel very far from home in a stomach-tingly, adventure-loving sort of way), but my first and last stop in Istanbul will forever be for that fish wrap.