This is very much a hands-on recipe, requiring you to squeeze three egg-coated fish fillets into the shape of a bird (or what must have looked like a bird to the Black Sea chef who named this dish centuries ago). There’s a song about this dish, by local folk singer Volkan Konak, which goes: ‘I wish I was a hamsi bird, so I could fly up into the branches, and the mothers-in-law wouldn’t eat me.’
The strong-flavoured fish called hamsi (similar to a European anchovy) is the staple protein of the Black Sea region. In the season (autumn and winter) you find them everywhere in Istanbul, and you can buy them in the fish markets for as little as 2 lira a kilo.
Because they’re so plentiful, hamsi appear in hundreds of Turkish recipes—in simple dishes like pan-fried hamsi with cornflour, some more complicated ones (like this recipe), and some totally weird, like the cornbread in our breakfast chapter or ‘hamsi jam’ (which everyone mentions but nobody admits to having eaten). The best substitute for hamsi outside Turkey is sardines.