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On a Stick - Istanbul: Kebab Paradise

[Do Not Use]DK Publishing logo[Do Not Use]DK Publishing 2/07/2014 DKBooks

Istanbul: Kebab Paradise

Sprawling, mysterious, difficult, vigorously young but drenched in faded grandeur, Istanbul is one of the world’s premier cities. It’s also, as we found when we traveled there, the world capital of kebabs.

Oh, there may be other places in the Middle East or even Southeast Asia where grilled skewers are more pervasive, but in this continent-spanning city they are a class of food unto themselves. Each individual version has a specific history and provenance, so spending time there with our friend Ihsan, who grew up in the city, is a kind of culinary history lesson. One night, arriving after a long drive from Bodrum, in southeastern Turkey, we were startled when Ihsan swerved across traffic to stop at a particular kebab stand. “Cop sis!” he shouted, with his trademark excitement: “Garbage kebabs!” These SoutheastAnatolian specialties, he explained, used up all the little pieces of whatever was left over in restaurant kitchens at the end of the night—hence the name. And it was like that day after day, as we discovered an incredible profusion of kebab options—simple skewers of tiny livers sprinkled with salt and pepper; chunks of spicy sucuk sausage alternating with kasar cheese; and infinite variations on the theme of lamb, either ground or in chunks, each with a different name depending on whether it is mixed with, for example, hot pepper paste and the spice mix known as baharat, or tomato paste and parsley—and on it went. There is more exotic food on the streets of this fascinating city (fatty, delicious intestine sandwiches, for example), but for sheer variety and inventiveness, the kebabs can’t be beat. A plate of these, a glass of the curiously delicious salted yogurt drink called ayran, and you’ll be happy as a pasha.

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