“KOKOREÇ! KO KO KO KO!” I faintly notice the praising screams as I push myself through a narrow yet crowded lane in Beşiktaş. Little did I know at this point that what the proud food shop owners were selling was one of the most popular and infamous national dishes that the Turkish cuisine offers. I would have my chance though.
Kokoreç is so deeply enrooted in the traditional Turkish dining culture that it almost hurts me to say this, but it is actually of Greek origin. Known as the Greek Kokoretsi and possibly carrying some Albanian roots as well, the history of this dish is still quite unexplored. In most Slavic languages a similar term refers to a corn cob, which could describe its shape will still being grilled, but that is more speculation that fact-based research.
The main ingredient for Kokoreç, also giving it its ill-famed reputation, are lamb intestines. These are thoroughly cleaned and afterwards wrapped around a piece of lamb fat that sits on a large skewer. A proper preparation requires the intestines to be cooked for several hours, before the skewer is horizontally placed over a charcoal grill. At this point it is roasted until it reaches a crispy brown, then cut up into small pieces and mixed with salt, pepper, oregano and some bell pepper powder. In Istanbul usually chopped up tomato and onion are also added to the mouth-watering mix, in other regions like Izmir they swear on the pure flavour of it without adding any taste-irritating vegetables. The spicy mixture is usually served in a piece of bread that has also been slightly roasted over the grill.
It is 4am and I am in a side alley of İstiklal Street, making my way home after one of those typical Erasmus student's nights. The smell reaches me before I even see it: Spicy, greasy Kokoreç. Hungry from hours of dancing I remember someone telling me that this is the thing to eat after partying, not only because it satisfies the desire for something rich to eat but also because it might curb the next-day hangover a little. I will not vouch for the latter though. My first bite indicates me that this is different than the usual Kebabs that I enjoy from time to time. Its spicy, has a full, delicious flavour and together with the crispy bread it is indeed the perfect snack for this time.
It seems odd how with the on-going debates and considerations for an EU-membership of Turkey, Kokoreç has reappeared in the spotlight. According to EU-regulations, the sale of intestines, liver, spleen, brain and eyes of meat stock is forbidden, as a measure of keeping BSE from spreading. At the present this does not appear to be an option, the Turks love their Kokoreç and they do it for good reason. This is to such an extent that there is even a song about it, telling of the passion and adoration that this dish enjoys.
A few weeks later I received the opportunity to try and write about Kokoreç. This time I would not let any sort of intoxication cloud my judgement and prepared for the authentic Kokoreç experience at a place so famous for it that pretty much everybody who is anybody in Turkey has been there. For another time, Kokoreç did not let me down. Whatever scepticism there is towards this snack, it is based upon the knowledge about its ingredients. I dare you however to try it. Kokoreç is Turkey and if we know anything about the Turkish cuisine it's that it has come up with an uncountable number of surprisingly delicious foods that we may feast upon these days.
An exchange student from Germany, trying to get as much out of Istanbul as he can.
Photo Credits: , Arne Krueger