We’d been hearing from friends and neighbors for some time that we needed to take a night and visit Arap Şükrü, the famous seafood alley off of Altıparmak Avenue in the shadow of Tophane. The problem we’d been having, though, is that when the clock strikes 11 o’clock my wife and I tend to turn into pumpkins. So spending a late night on the town, though certainly appealing, just wasn’t always very practical for us.  Finally one evening a couple of months ago, we dropped the kids off for the night and made our way down to Arap Şükrü to enjoy a meal with our friends, Ahmet and Devrim, and to experience it for ourselves.

      Having lived most of my life nowhere near a seacoast, where the closest I ever really came to seafood was a McDonald’s fish sandwich, fresh fish is somewhat of a new taste that I’m acquiring in my old age.  But I had sampled the local seafood here in Bursa before and I had an inkling that the fish at Arap Şükrü would not only be fresh, but it would be good enough even to satisfy this steak-and-potato lover.  As it turns out, I was not disappointed—the fish was fantastic.  But we also discovered that evening that dinner at Arap Şükrü is more than just a nice meal, it’s a cultural experience.

      According to Ahmet, a lifelong local, back in the 1960s Arap Şükrü was just a fresh fish market at the front end of a narrow back street.  Eventually, some local fishermen opened up a restaurant next to the market, grilling up fresh fish for hungry customers.  As the grill gained in popularity, more restaurants followed suit, establishing the street’s reputation as a place to find good seafood.

      Today, the entire alley is lined with nice seafood joints serving fresh fish, excellent sides and appetizers, and rakı, Turkey’s famous anise-flavored beverage. Chairs and tables spill out of the restaurant doors into the cobblestone alleyway. White lights dangling from awnings twinkle in the night. Red and blue flashing neon signs light up the sky above the street. Hosts stand in front of their restaurants and beckon you to sit down at their tables. Roving three-piece bands play traditional, lively (and loud!) music. Flower peddlers roam the alley offering roses for your sweetheart.  Patrons engage in spirited conversation and hearty laughter.  And of course, tasty, perfectly cooked fresh fish is served at every table. The atmosphere is festive and the food is excellent.

      That evening at Arap Şükrü, my wife and I enjoyed good food, good company, and good entertainment in an enchanting back alley, certainly a Best of Bursa. And for a quieter after-dinner nightcap, we drove up the mountainside to enjoy a cup of tea in an outdoor café looking out over the city lights.

      A Few Notes on Arap Şükrü…

      • Things don’t seem to really pick up on Arap Şükrü until 9:00 or so. So if you’re in the mood for a quiet dinner, go earlier. If you like things lively, go later.
      • Expect to pay a chunk, especially if you order extras with your meal. Be sure to ask to see a price list before you sit down and order.
      • The roving bands that roam the alley work for tips. If you ask them to play for you, or if you just like them, be sure to give them a generous tip.
      • Arap Şükrü is one of the few places in Bursa (thankfully!) where you’ll get hounded by restaurant hosts to sit down at their tables.

      Besides fish, the Arap Şükrü alleyway (Sakarya Caddesi) is known for one other thing: just beyond the seafood restaurants is one of the few remaining Jewish synagogues in the city. Though the Jewish community seems to be largely gone now and the synagogue is no longer regularly used as a house of worship, it might be worth your walk just to take a peek and snap a photo.

      And if you continue up the alley just past the synagogue, you’ll find an eclectic mix of coffee shops, pubs, and music clubs.  Depending on your personal style, visiting one of these establishments after dinner might be a nice way to end your evening at Arap Şükrü.