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Balik Ekmek (Istanbul Fish Sandwiches) (Turkey)


The classic Istanbul fish sandwich is simple, easy, and delicious. Fish, bread, a little spices, onion, lettuce, lemon. That’s it. Some recipes will include mayo, which isn’t my bag. Others get more complex with the salad topping. I like to keep it simple, to let the taste of the fish shine through.

Some notes:

  • If you don’t have fresh mackerel (or smoked), try something like sea bass or haddock. You’re going for a firm ocean white-fleshed fish.

  • Use an Italian-type bread - not as crusty as a French baguette. You’re going for pillowy but with a nice chew.

  • Za’atar is increasingly available as prepared blend. To make your own, mix 1 tbsp (15 ml) each of oregano, sumac, cumin, sesame seeds and 1 tsp (5 ml) salt and black pepper. 


Serves 4



  • 4 fresh ocean fish filets - preferably mackerel, but sea bass or haddock would do

  • handful of arugula

  • 1 small red onion, cut in half and thinly sliced

  • juice of 1 lemon

  • 1 loaf Italian bread

  • 1 or 2 Hungarian wax peppers (optional)

  • 2 tomatoes, thick-sliced

  • 1 tsp (5 ml) za’atar

  • olive oil, for bushing

  • salt



  1. Preheat the grill to medium-high.

  2. Sprinkle a little salt over the onions and mix well. Grill the peppers until they begin to char slightly. Remove from the heat.

  3. Cut the bread loaf into pieces the same length as the fish fillets. Split down the middle and lightly toast both sides on the grill. Brush the cut sides with olive oil. Keep warm.

  4. Lightly brush both sides of the fish with olive oil. Grill the mackerel fillets over a high heat, skin-side down for 3–4 minutes. Once the skin has begun to crisp up, flip and cook for another 3-4 minutes.

    • With an alternate fish, use a fish basket to ensure the fish keeps it shape.

    • With smoked haddock, you need not cook as long - you just want to warm it up.

  5. Take the warm toasted bread and place slices of tomato on one of the cut sides. Place the fish on top of the tomatoes and then add the other ingredients, finishing with grilled pepper and za’atar. Season, squeeze over a little lemon juice, top with the other half of the bread and eat immediately.


Recipe adapted from


Photo by Daniel Roy

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