When Jesus told his disciples, “I will make you fishers of men,” I’m pretty sure he wasn’t talking about what Ceyhun Baldan and Steve Ridvan are up to. But every night, on a bridge in Istanbul, Ceyhun and Steve and dozens of men like them toss out the bait and try to reel in the catch.
Ceyhun and Steve are hawkers at Balik Noktasi, (or Fish Point in English) a seafood restaurant located on the Galata Bridge over the Bosphorus. It is one of dozens lining the lower level of the car and pedestrian crossing that offers a variety of fresh-caught fish. Each and every one of these establishments employ personable men who keep their wits honed-all the better to go out and turn passers-by into diners.
Like many Westerners, I’m sometimes uncomfortable when people try and engage me in conversation that I know is a disguised sales pitch. What I did not realize until I found myself talking to Ceyhun the other night, was that it’s not all that much fun for them either.
“We are calling to people and they pass. It’s hard to connect,” Ceyhun told me. “We don’t want to be rude, but we have to do it. The competition is very hard.”
I spent some time on a Saturday evening, watching as Ceyhun and Steve approached one potential dining party after another. Ceyhun got far enough with a couple to actually show them the menu before the man decided the prices were too high.
Bluefish, bonito, sea bream, gold bass, sardines and mackerel were displayed in a basket along with the particularly large and unattractive Red Scorpion fish that Ceyhun insisted was delicious. Prices range from $7 to $15 a plate. Had I not already had dinner plans, I would have had a meal there. The food looked good, the kitchen was clean and I was entranced by the location and the fact that on the second level above all these restaurants, hundreds of people were working to resupply them by fishing off the bridge. Every 3 or 4 feet, I could see a thin white filament dropping from above and disappearing into the water.
Thirty years ago when I last visited Istanbul, I remember seeing all the merchant activity on the Galata Bridge, but I never checked it out. That bridge is long gone, damaged by a fire in 1992 and replaced with the present one about 10 years ago. The tradition that continues here is one of fishing, selling, grilling, selling again, and then eating the fish from the Bosphorus.
Back on land, there are even more outdoor fish restaurants perched along the water’s edge. Casually cheerful and energetically noisy, the cooks prepare the food while balancing themselves in small boats that bounce around on the waves.
They deliver what they prepare into the outstretched hands of waiters and inevitably some of it lands in the water. The purpose of this cooking arrangement is not clear to me but the boats, gaily painted and illuminated in colored lights make the scene unquestionable charming and down right alluring – pun intended.