Balik Ekmek – Fish Sandwich (Turkish Street Food)

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Balik ekmek, a classic Turkish street food, is a delicious blend of fresh, deboned fish grilled to perfection and served with fresh fixings. This popular sandwich, often found near Istanbul’s waterfront, combines crispy white fish filets, tangy pomegranate molasses sauce, fresh vegetables, and lavash bread. Discover how to recreate this iconic Turkish sandwich at home with my easy recipe.


balik ekmek or Turkish street food fish sandwich served on a decorative blue and white plate with more sandwiches and a veggie mix in the background


 

Turkey has delicious traditional street food choices depending on which area you’re visiting. Some of my favorites include Kumpir (Turkish Stuffed Baked Potatoes), Borek (Sigara Borek), Lahmacun (Turkish Pizza), and Gozleme (Turkish Stuffed Flatbread). Today I’m going to show you one of my absolute favorites: Balık ekmek, which literally means “fish in bread”, is a Turkish fish sandwich that has evolved so much through time – yet always stayed delicious!

Balık Ekmek – A Love Letter To Istanbul

When you walk around Eminonu, a very busy neighborhood in the historic center of Istanbul, you won’t miss the fish sandwich sellers. You’ll see them right by the water, near the Spice Bazar (mısır çarşısı) and just downhill from the Grand Bazar (kapalı çarşı). You’ll see the boats in the water, grilling or searing fresh caught fish and turning it into this delicious sandwich using rolls. It’s an experience of its own.

Now if you walk a bit, and cross the Galata bridge, you’ll be in Karaköy. Along the waterfront there you will find vendors selling another version of this sandwich, this time made into a wrap. I accidentally ended up finding one of these vendors in spring 2018, and that’s when my perception of Istanbul’s iconic balık ekmek changed.

It took me a few tries to get it all correct, from the type of fish to the cooking techniques and fixings. But let me tell you, this recipe has the exact same flavor as that vendor I found in Karaköy, all the way down to the spices and herbs used. Let’s go!

Recipe Highlights: Balik Ekmek

Cultural Influence: Turkish street food

Primary Cooking Technique: Grilling and frying

Suitable for: Pescatarians

Dominant Flavor Profile: Tangy, savory, and fresh

Skill Level Required: Beginner-Friendly


Why You’ll Love this Turkish Fish Sandwich

Authentic Flavor: You get to experience the taste of Turkish street food in the comfort of your own home thanks to this recipe that has been in the making for decades!

Quick and Easy: A few simple steps and you’ll have a delicious meal that everyone will love.

Versatile: Perfect for lunch, dinner or a gathering! You can double or triple the recipe to feed a crowd.


Key Ingredients

ingredients for balik ekmek including lavash bread, fish fillets, green and yellow peppers, spices, olive oil, and lettuce
  • White Fish Fillets (Mackerel, Flounder, or Tilapia): These types of fish are perfect for grilling or searing and provide a light, flaky texture.
  • Salt and Pepper: Essential seasonings to enhance the natural taste of the fish.

Sauce

  • Olive Oil: Adds richness and helps blend the flavors of the sauce together.
  • Pomegranate Molasses: Provides a tangy, sweet, and slightly tart flavor. You can use my homemade pomegranate molasses recipe to make yours at home.
  • Sumac: Brings a lemony tang and vibrant color to the sauce.
  • Paprika: Adds a smoky depth to the sauce. Use smoked paprika for an extra layer of flavor.
  • Oregano: A classic herb that adds a hint of earthiness.
  • Dried Mint: Offers a refreshing note to balance the richness of the fish.
  • Salt: Enhances all the flavors in the sauce.

Fixings

  • Lavash Bread: Soft and pliable, perfect for wrapping the fish and fixings. You can use my homemade lavash bread recipe or no yeast flatbread recipe.
  • Chopped Lettuce: Adds a fresh, crisp texture to the wrap.
  • White Onion (Thinly Sliced): Brings a sharp, crunchy bite.
  • Red and Yellow Pepper (Thinly Sliced): Adds sweetness and color to the wrap.

How to Make Balik Ekmek

Step 1

Mix the olive oil, pomegranate molasses, sumac, paprika, oregano, mint, and salt to make your sauce.

Mix the olive oil, pomegranate molasses, sumac, paprika, oregano, mint, and salt

Step 2

Next, slice the onions and peppers thinly and add them to a bowl with the lettuce. Mix in a couple of tablespoons of the sauce.

Slice the onions and peppers and mix in a couple of tablespoons of the sauce and add to shredded lettuce

Step 3

Fry your fish fillets in a pan for about 5 minutes on each side until cooked through and brown and crispy on the outside. Alternatively, you can grill the fish fillets.

Step 4

Remove the skin and start assembling the sandwiches. Add the fish fillet, vegetable mix, sauce, and pomegranate molasses to the lavash bread and roll tightly.

Final Step

Brush the outside with more sauce and sear in the pan (or grill) for a brown and crispy outside. Serve warm.


Serving Suggestions

Use my lavash bread recipe to make your own bread at home for the base of the wrap/sandwich.

Don’t have pomegranate molasses – or are you interested in making your own? I’ve got you covered! Just check out my How To Make Pomegranate Molasses recipe.

A big part of the flavor in this sandwich is the fixings. From the veggie mix to the sauce, there’s so much depth of flavor depending on how you like it. A great addition to this wrap is Turkish sumac onions.


balik ekmek or Turkish fish sandwich served with veggie mix on a blue and white serving platter garnished with lemon wedges and parsley

Tips, Tricks, and Hacks

  • Fresh Fish: Always use fresh fish if available for the best flavor and texture. If possible, buy your fish from a local fish market.
  • Preheat Your Oil: Ensure the oil is hot before adding the fish. This prevents the fish from sticking and ensures a nice, crispy exterior.
  • Prevent Overcooking: Fry the fish for about 5 minutes on each side. Overcooking can make the fish dry and less flavorful. Keep an eye on the fish and remove it from the pan as soon as it’s cooked through.
  • Marinate the Onions and Peppers: Toss the onions and peppers in some of the sauce to let them marinate while you prepare the fish. This step adds extra flavor to the fixings and enhances the overall taste of the dish.
  • Grill the Wrap: This is where all the flavor comes in! After assembling the wrap, brush the outside with the sauce and grill it in a grill pan. This adds a delicious charred flavor and a bit of crunch to the lavash bread.
  • Make Ahead: Prepare the sauce and chop the vegetables ahead of time. Store them in the fridge separately to save time when you’re ready to cook.

balik ekmek or Turkish fish sandwich served on a blue and white serving platter garnished with lemon wedges and parsley

Variations and Substitutes

Fish Options: While mackerel, flounder, or tilapia are great choices, you can also use other white fish like cod, haddock, or sea bass.

Lavash Substitutes: If you can’t find lavash bread, use any other soft flatbread you have on hand.

Spice Adjustments: Adjust the spice levels by adding chili flakes or cayenne pepper to the sauce for a spicier kick.

Sauce Customization: Experiment with the sauce by adding a splash of lemon juice for a tangier flavor.


balik ekmek or Turkish fish sandwich served with veggie mix on a blue and white serving platter garnished with lemon wedges and parsley

How to Store

Refrigeration: Store leftover balik ekmek components separately to maintain freshness. Keep the cooked fish in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. The sauce, chopped vegetables, and lavash can be stored separately in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Reheating Fish: To reheat the fish, place it in a preheated oven at 320°F (175°C) for about 10 minutes, or until warmed through. Alternatively, you can reheat the fish in a hot skillet for a few minutes on each side. Whatever you do, don’t heat fish for more than 30 seconds in the office microwave!

Freezing: It is not recommended to freeze the assembled balik ekmek as the texture of the vegetables and lavash may become compromised.


balik ekmek or Turkish street food fish sandwich served on a decorative blue and white plate with more sandwiches and a veggie mix in the background

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I prevent the fish from sticking to the pan while frying?

Make sure the pan and oil are hot before adding the fish. Also, avoid moving the fish too much during cooking. Let it cook undisturbed for a few minutes on each side to develop a good sear.

Can I make this recipe gluten-free?

Yes, you can make this recipe gluten-free by using gluten-free lavash or another type of gluten-free flatbread. Ensure all other ingredients are gluten-free as well.

Can I use a different type of fish for balik ekmek?

Yes, you can use any white fish fillets such as mackerel, flounder or tilapia. You can also try cod, haddock, or sea bass if you prefer. Just ensure the fish is fresh and deboned for the best results.

Can I grill the fish instead of frying it?

Absolutely! However, grilling the fish over grates can be a bit tricky. I recommend using a grilling basket when grilling fish and make sure to coat it with cooking spray prior to placing it on the grill. Simply season the fish and grill over medium heat for about 4-5 minutes on each side or until fully cooked.


Other Delicious Street Food to Try


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balik ekmek or Turkish street food fish sandwich served on a decorative blue and white plate
5 from 5 votes

Turkish Fish Sandwich (Balik Ekmek)

This recipe combines crispy white fish filets, a tangy pomegranate molasses sauce, and fresh vegetables wrapped in bread.
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes
Total: 35 minutes
Servings: 4
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Ingredients 

  • 4 Mackerel fillets
  • 1/2 Kosher salt, to taste
  • 1/4 pepper, to taste
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

Sauce

  • ¼ cup Olive oil               
  • 2 tbsp Pomegranate molasses
  • tsp Sumac
  • 1 tsp Paprika
  • 1 tsp Oregano
  • 1 tsp Dried mint
  • ½ tsp Kosher salt

Fixings

  • 2 cups Lettuce, chopped
  • 1 White onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 Red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 Yellow bell pepper
  • 4 pieces Lavash bread
  • 2 tbsp Pomegranate molasses

Instructions 

Fish:

  • Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium high heat. Season the fillets with salt and pepper on both sides.
  • Once the oil is hot sear the fish for 5 minutes on each side until fully seared and cooked.
  • Sauce and Fixings:
  • In a bowl, mix the olive oil, pomegranate molasses, sumac, paprika, oregano, dried mint and salt.
  • Mix the lettuce, sliced onion and peppers in a bowl with 2 tablespoons of the sauce. Set aside.

Assemble:

  • Place a piece of lavash on a plate or a board. Top with seared fish, lettuce, onion and pepper and a drizzle of pomegranate molasses.
  • Roll tightly and brush the outside with more sauce.
  • Heat a clean pan over medium high heat. Sear the wraps for 2-3 minutes on each side until a bit crispy and golden.

Video

Notes

Fish: You can use mackerel, flounder or tilapia for this recipe. Make sure the fish is deboned. 
Preheat Your Oil: Ensure the oil is hot before adding the fish. This prevents the fish from sticking and ensures a nice, crispy exterior.
Prevent Overcooking: Fry the fish for about 5 minutes on each side. Overcooking can make the fish dry and less flavorful. Keep an eye on the fish and remove it from the pan as soon as it’s cooked through.
Grill the Wrap: After assembling the wrap, brush the outside with the sauce and grill it in a grill pan. This adds a delicious charred flavor and a bit of crunch to the lavash bread.
Make Ahead: Prepare the sauce and chop the vegetables ahead of time. Store them in the fridge to save time when you’re ready to cook.
 

Nutrition

Calories: 620kcal | Carbohydrates: 20g | Protein: 46g | Fat: 39g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 7g | Monounsaturated Fat: 21g | Cholesterol: 106mg | Sodium: 501mg | Potassium: 1093mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 12g | Vitamin A: 1084IU | Vitamin C: 54mg | Calcium: 80mg | Iron: 4mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Like this recipe? Leave a comment below!

About Shadi HasanzadeNemati

I'm here to show you how to make delicious Persian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food at home. My easy to follow recipes will bring exciting new flavors to your table!

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5 from 5 votes

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Recipe Rating




5 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Incredible! Everything cooked perfectly and that pomegranate molasses in the sauce is just delicious. Thanks!

  2. 5 stars
    The flavors were vibrant and perfectly balanced, with the fresh fish and crunchy veggies nestled in a soft, warm bread roll. This Turkish street food classic has now become a favorite in our household, bringing a taste of Istanbul to our kitchen!

  3. 5 stars
    I love how easy this was to make! The fish turned out perfectly tender and flaky, and that sauce is so flavorful. Adding this to my favorites!

  4. 5 stars
    This was so good with tilapia, I had never had anything like this before! Your tips for keeping the fish from sticking to the pan were helpful. Looking forward to making this again soon!