Kebab is another category of food which, like börek, is typically Turkish and dates back to the days when nomadic Turks learned to grill and roast their meat over their camp fires.
Given the many types of kebabs, it is helpful to know that they are categorized according to cooking method. The Western world is familiar with “shish kebab” and “donair,” introduced by Greek restaurateurs with a canny business sense. Shish kebab consists of grilled cubes of skewered meat, while donair kebab is made by stacking alternating layers of ground meat and sliced leg of lamb on a large upright skewer, which is slowly rotated in front of a vertical grill. As the outer layer of the meat is roasted, thin slices are shaved off and served.
There are numerous other grilled kebabs besides those cooked in a clay oven. The unique taste of kebabs is due more to the breed of sheep and cattle, attentively cared for in open pastures by shepherds, than to special marinades and cooking methods. Therefore, you need to stop at a kebab restaurant in Turkey to taste the authentic item.
The “kebabci” is by far the most common and least expensive type of restaurant in Turkey, ranging from a hole in the wall to a large lavish establishment. A generic kebabci will offer lahmacun (meat “pizza”) and Adana (spicy skewered ground meat, named after the southern city where it was born), green salads with red onions, and to top it all off, baklava. Beyond that, the menu will tell you the kebabci’s particular specialty. The best plan is to seek out a highly-reputed kebabci and to try the less spicy varieties if you are not used to kebab. Once you develop a taste for it, you can have inexpensive feasts by going to neighborhood kebabci anywhere in Ankara or Istanbul.
Izgara, or mixed grilled meats, are offered in all meat restaurants. Mixed grills are likely to include lamb chops, köfte, or sis (select cubes of meat).
Ground meat is used to make köfte, which are grilled, fried, cooked in the oven or boiled, after being mixed with special spices, eggs and grated onions and carefully shaped into balls, oblongs, or round or long patties. Another popular dish, inspired by the nomadic Turks who carried spiced raw meat in their saddles, and known to Europeans as “steak Tartar,” is raw köfte. Here it is made from raw twice-ground meat kneaded vigorously for a few hours with fine bulgur and hot spices. Then bite-sized patties are made and served with cilantro, known for its stomach-protecting qualities.
Restaurants specializing only in grilled meats are known as meat restaurants. The fare will be a constant stream of grilled meats, served hot in portions right off the grill, until you tell the waiter that you are full. If you go to Turkey, make a trip to the renowned Beyti restaurant in Florya on the outskirts of Istanbul, where you can sample grilled meats prepared in the authentic Turkish tradition.
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