Mercan, and another fish market

Fish markets are a huge part of Istanbul that they are not difficult to miss it. Unlike the U.S., the Turks don't go to a grocery store to buy fish when freshly caught ones are so readily available at fish markets around town. One is easily spoilt for choices of seasonal fish. Along Istiklal Caddesi, known as the heart of modern Istanbul, a fish market or Balık Pazarı [bah-luhk pah-zah-ruh] exists alongside restaurants fundamental to the seafood scene. In fact, it very much makes up the life of the restaurants along the narrow pedestrianized Balık Pazarı.

Many, if not most, of the restaurants at this Balık Pazarı have fresh fish on display outside. Some of the restaurants, like Mercan, have their chefs cook right outside the entrance. A "street stall" is set up outside the restaurant adding to the lively atmosphere of being able to enjoy popular street foods inside a restaurant setting. Mercan is one of the more popular restaurants that makes very good kokoreç [koh-koh-rech]. These grilled lamb intestines are a favorite part of street food culture among Istanbullus. The cooking stall that is set up outside Mercan's indoor dining room specifically prepares deep fried mussels and kokoreç. With a large pot of oil used for deep frying the mussels and a flat top grill for the lamb intestines, the chefs are seen to work continuously while following the non-stop rhythm of customer orders being taken.

Every night out for dinner among the Turks involve drinking rakı [rah-kuh] and enjoying seafood. At almost every table is a bottle of rakı, a clear Turkish liquor made from grapes and tastes very much like licorice. The alcohol content is 45%, so yes, it can take you down if you forget to eat! The way to drink rakı is to fill about 1/3 of it into your glass, then fill the rest of your glass with water (when you order a bottle of rakı, it comes with a tall bottle of mineral water). When water is added to the liquor, the drink becomes cloudy.

Served on skewer sticks, the deep fried mussels have the perfect balance of being light and crisp outside and moist inside. For the brave who have eaten (pig) intestines in Chinese cuisine, the offal is commonly prepared and served in slices about an inch thick each. Here in Turkey, the lamb intestines are first threaded and grilled on a rotating skewer. As the orders come in, bits of the intestines are sliced off from the skewer and then further chopped up finely to be stir-fried quickly on a flat top grill. The kokoreç is seasoned with oregano, olive oil, lemon, salt, and pepper.

A popular wintertime snack, and thus only found during the colder months, is the stuffed mussels with rice, herbs, and spices. Besides restaurants, they can be found at numerous street corners in the city sold by street vendors. Hamsi (anchovies) are in season during the cold season and they are perfect when lightly fried. They may be small but juicy and the flesh is moist inside. Munch on a couple of pieces and then take a sip of the rakı. Repeat. A wonderful time all around.

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