Are you a big fan of lamb? Istanbul’s got it. Fancy some eggplant with your meat? No problem! How about saucy beef on an inviting bed of pureed potatoes? Welcome home! For all you hot-blooded meat lovers, Istanbul is the perfect meat market! This is your chance to sink your teeth into some delicious red meat and fall for the dish of your dreams.
We’ve listed the city’s 10 most beloved kebap and the best places to plan your perfect date with them.
Status update: A daily, reliable favourite for all seasons
Appearance: This saucy stew, hence the name "tas," which means "bowl," is usually made with succulent lamb’s meat, though it’s also been known to be prepared with beef. Ideally, the meat for this what-you-see-is-what-you-get dish is first marinated in milk, rosemary and onions. These deliciously marinated cubes are then joined in a saucepan by spices of all kinds and mixed with tomatoes, onions, garlic, sugar and white wine. When you first set eyes on this delectable dish, it’ll likely be sitting beside a bed of white rice or pureed potatoes
Interested in: Someone who will appreciate this Ottoman dish for its multitude of spices, including rosemary, bay leaves, cinnamon, oregano, parsley and cloves
Favourite hangout: Kanaat Lokantası, (0216) 341 54 44. Selmanipak Caddesi 25, Üsküdar
Status update: Where tender eggplant and succulent beef collide
Appearance: Rather than the cut-up meat variety, this kebap introduces ground beef or lamb to the table. First, eggplant is divided up into pieces, and placed between each gap is a ball of seasoned ground beef. The bond of these two ingredients flourishes as the two cook together in perfect harmony and are then served on a large platter accompanied by rice, potatoes, veggies, or all of the above.
Interested in: The unconventional kebap eater who likes to mix and match
Favourite hangout: Develi Restaurant, www.develikebap.com, with numerous branches in the Samatya, Kalamış, Etiler, Marin, Ataşehir, Florya and Eminönü districts
Hometown: Eastern Turkish Mediterranean
Status update: Hot and spicy – what more could you ask for?
Appearance: Hand-minced meat (from lamb and tail fat) is carefully seasoned with Adana’s finest spices, mounted on a skewer and then barbequed over an open grill of charcoal embers. It is said that the kıyma kebap, which is what this dish is called in Adana, is not meant to be spicy, but its evolution into the Istanbul meat market led to its acquisition of this title and reputation. If you prefer to sit down and savour this dish at a restaurant, this kebap will be accompanied by roasted vegetables like tomatoes and peppers and laid ever-so-carefully over pide (flatbread) for your enjoyment. For those of you who might like to sample this tasty snack on the go, a dürüm version (wrapped in tortilla and stuffed with veggies) is also an option.
Interested in: A daring partner who lives on the spicy side of life
Favourite Hangout: Adana Özasmaaltı Kebap, (0216) 380 17 10, Bağdat Caddesi 535/A, Alt Bostancı, Kadıköy
Status update: Well worth the wait
Appearance: Feast your eyes on this hot dish cooked in a clay pot with onions, tomatoes, potatoes, cumin, pepper and lots of butter. This kebap is normally made out of small-diced goat meat, with flour and water added to give it that thick, rich texture
Interested in: A patient patron who is willing to call in 3-4 hours ahead to place an order for this culinary masterpiece
Favourite hangout: Hamdi Restaurant, (0212) 528 03 90, Tahmis Caddesi, Kalçın Sokak 17, Eminönü
Hometown: Bursa region
Status update: King of the kebap
Appearance: Imagine a beautifully set table and, sitting in the middle, a long oval dish with warm pide doused in hot butter cradling thinly sliced, juicy leaves of beef covered in a rich tomato sauce, topped with some more savoury butter. Not just any beef is used for this dish; the meat from rams that feed on herbs from the hills of Mount Uludağ in the Bursa region are especially chosen for this masterful meal. When life gets you down, this is one of the edible wonders reminding you that there is a heaven (whether above or on this earth is up to you). With some yogurt on the side to cool off this hot and steamy number, İskender is proof that life just doesn’t get better than this
Interested in: A bold and beautiful diner who won’t shy away from its gregarious presence among others in the meat market
Favourite hangout: Hacıbey – Bursa Kebapçısı, (0212) 231 71 34, Teşvikiye Caddesi 8/B, Teşvikiye, Nişantaşı
Hometown: Southeast Anatolia
Status update: Try this hunk of juicy meat for a change
Appearance: Also prepared on a skewer, don’t just cast this dish aside for being the "plain, boring and spice-free" cousin of Adana kebap, Urfa locals (called "Urfalı") claim that their kebap is the original and boast that theirs is the best way to prepare and eat this slab of moist beef
Interested in: A carnivore who will appreciate the Urfa for what it is
Favourite hangout: Çiya Kebap, (0216) 336 30 13, Caferağa Mahallesi, Güneşlibahçe Sokak 48/B, Kadıköy
Status update: Wrapped and ready to go!
Appearance: This is not just any minced-meat kebap. This enigmatic kebap, grilled on a skewer, is cloaked in a thin layer of lavaş (thin flatbread). The zesty combination of coriander, cumin, black pepper, salt, hot pepper flakes, onion, tomato and parsley are what make this dish completely irresistible. Not to mention the balance of its must-have toppings, piping hot tomato sauce and fresh creamy yogurt.
Interested in: That special someone who enjoys a bit of mystery and intrigue
Favourite hangout: Han Restaurant, (0216) 302 19 19, Bağdat Caddesi, 353, Şaşkınbakkal, Kadıköy
Hometown: Southeast Turkey
Status update: One bite is all it takes...
Appearance: Every so often a kebap comes along that looks and feels like your run-of-the-mill kebap but, upon closer examination, manages to set itself apart from all the rest. Could fıstık kebap be that knight in shining armour to wash the boring old memory of those regular kebap away? Will this special kebap decorate your food fantasies in years to come? If minced meat joined by onions, chilli peppers, sweet red peppers, parsley and spices, coated with shavings or slices of roasted pistachio nuts and cooked over a grill, get your heart racing, this is definitely the dish for you.
Interested in: A fan devoted to the nutty goodness of this delectable and original dish
Favourite hangout: Fıstık Kebap, (0212) 257 11 23, 1. Cadde 40 (across from the pier), Arnavutköy
Çöp şiş kebap
Hometown: All over Turkey
Status update: A cure for the common 4 a.m. hunger attack or weekend picnic Appearance: Tiny bite-sized chunks of tender beef, all lined up in perfect succession on a metal skewer, grilled over an open fire and carefully placed in a pide bun with shredded lettuce, carrots, cabbage and onions make up this delicious after-hours snack. However, the versatility of this "snack" is what makes it one of the most popular hot-weather BBQ treats. Take a whiff of this meat being grilled on portable hibachis at any seaside park along the Bosphorus on warm autumn evenings and weekends.
Interested in: A chameleon-at-heart who is comfortable at any occasion
Favourite hangout: Günaydın Et, (0212) 287 82 35, Nispetiye Caddesi 104/F, Etiler, Beşiktaş
Hometown: The Black Sea region
Status update: So famous that there was a Kuyu Kebap Festival held in the Black Sea region this summer
Appearance: In English, "kuyu" means "well" or "pit." This kebap is named after the method in which it is cooked – suspended down a well or pit of fire. Locals of the town of Taşköprü in Kastamonu call it "perive," while the inhabitants of Siirt call their version "büryan kebabı." What makes this dish so special is that it is made from the meat of lambs that graze in the mountains. The tender meat is then sliced off and served with rice or pide.
Interested in: That mysterious someone who will adore its charming smoky taste – which it owes to the evergreen branches added to the fire during the cooking process
Favourite hangout: Meşhur Hamdi Usta’nın Yeri, (0212) 682 05 05, on Terkos Yolu in Arnavutköy
Döner kebap (the most common kebap, found on any street corner – just keep an eye out for a huge slab of meat rotating in front of a vertical grill), tandır kebap (made from lamb shank), tencere kebabı (cooked in a pot), tavuk kebabı (chicken kebap), Ali Nazik kebabı (sizzling beef on a bed of yogurt and eggplant puree), Erzurum cağ kebabı (a hardcore meat lover’s dream that looks like a döner grilled horizontally), Topkapı kebabı (a palatial delicacy), tantuni kebap (another great 4 a.m. snack), çiftlik kebabı (a rustic kebap), Bolu orman kebabı (Bolu forest kebap) and yoğurtlu kebap (kebap with yogurt).
*Originally published in the September 2011 issue of Time Out Istanbul in English.