Question: How many ways can you grill meat?
Answer: The possibilities are endless.
Enter any ocakbaşı or kebap restaurant and prepare yourself for a difficult time choosing between the ezmeli kebap or the beyti, the patlıcanlı, domatesli, yoğurtlu, urfa, adana or şaşlık kebap. In a good establishment, all these dishes would be delicious, juicy, well-spiced and gorgeously grilled.
Question: How does one choose between them?
Answer: You don't. You slowly eat your way through all the kebabs in the city.
So, where to begin?
A good introduction to the inventiveness of turkish cooking could well be the İskender Kebap. This dish is named after its creator, İskender Efendi, a chef from Bursa who took the tradition of kebab —skewered meat grilled or broiled horizontally— and crafted his own version in 1867. İskender's eponymous dish sees meat grilled vertically, an innovation at the time. But that's not the only special aspect which İskender brought to the table: instead of chunks, the vertically grilled meat was served in thin slices.
These slices of meat cover a layer of diced pide bread, over which a tomato sauce that incorporates garlic and melted butter is drizzled. Finally, a dollop of yogurt accompanies the meat, sauce, and bread as a side dish. This way, the dish combines several textures and flavours to create an intriguing and addictive dish: rough and fragrant sliced meat versus a soft and yielding pide that has been absorbing the juices of the buttery sauce and the meat; sweet and warm tomato sauce versus the tangy yogurt side dish. It is quite the succulent experience.
If you can't travel to Bursa for iskender kebap or its other hometown favourite, pideli köfte, you don't have to — Kebapçı İskender Yavuz İskenderoğlu has travelled from Bursa to istanbul to bring the original İskender kebab to Turkey's biggest city.
If you can't find İskender kebap on the menu, it also goes by the names of Bursa Kebap (reflecting the hometown of the dish) or Uludağ Kebap (commemorating the mountain that looms over Bursa). If none of these names are listed, you can check out a similar dish called yoğurtlu kebap. You won't get the thin slices of diner meat associated with the İskender, but you will get lumps of meat and pide bread a sitting in a bed of juicy tomato sauce, melted butter, and yogurt.
Singaporean born in late April ’93, studying in Boston and now beautiful Istanbul. Loves food and stories, reading and rock climbing.
Photo Credits: Yun Qing Liau