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Jun 22
Monday
Reviews (Eats)
Siirt Şeref Büryan Kebap Salonu: The Lamb Underground

The buryan master at work -- photo by Melanie Einzig

Editor’s note: This post has been updated to reflect the fact that the restaurant has changed locations. The food remains as good as ever.

The Kadınlar Pazarı – a very pleasant, pedestrian-only square in Istanbul’s Fatih neighborhood – is the closest the city has to having a “Little Kurdistan.” The surrounding area is populated by migrants from Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish Southeast region, and small markets and butcher shops selling honey, cheeses, spices and other goodies from the region surround the square. Visiting the atmospheric area is certainly a good way to get a taste of Turkey’s east without having to leave Istanbul.

The square is also home to numerous restaurants, most of them selling büryan kebabı and perde pilavı, two dishes that are a specialty of Siirt, a city not far from Turkey’s Syrian and Iraqi borders that’s home to both Kurds and Arabs. Büryan is a bit like Turkey’s version of Texas pit BBQ. To make it, a side of a small lamb is slowly cooked over coals in a deep hole in the ground, resulting in exceptionally tender meat covered in a thin layer of fat that has turned crackling crunchy. For perde (the word means “curtain” in Turkish), a fragrant and peppery pilaf made of rice, chicken, almonds and currants is wrapped in a thin pastry shell and then baked inside a cup-shaped mold until the exterior turns golden and flaky. Both dishes, when done right, are the kind of food that leaves you thinking about it fondly for days – even weeks – after you’ve eaten it.

We are big fans of sitting down for a meal at the breezy outdoor space of one of the restaurants on Kadınlar Pazarı, where we were recently directed to Siirt Şeref Büryan Kebap Salonu, a büryan and perde joint right on the square that left us begging for more. Originally from Siirt, the restaurant’s proprietors (who claim to have been in the pit cooking business since 1892) keep things simple: take meat, cook it in a pit, serve it for lunch. “Cooking in the pit makes the lamb tastier,” says owner Levent Avcı. “It doesn’t need any spices or anything else to make büryan taste good.”

At the front of the restaurant, an usta working at a marble counter carefully watches over an assortment of cooked sides of lamb hanging off a hook. When an order is made, he slices off a hunk of tender meat, cutting it into small cubes that he places on a round flatbread, sprinkling it with a touch of salt. The meat and flatbread (which soaks up the fat) are then rushed to a nearby wood-burning oven to be quickly warmed up.

The perde pilavı, meanwhile, emerges oven-fresh from somewhere in the back of the restaurant, its flaky pastry shell not so thick that it overwhelms the rice and chicken mixture inside, but not so thin that it doesn’t have any crunch. When you cut through the pilaf’s shell, a cloud of aromatic steam rises upwards and lodges in your brain as a nagging memory. As with büryan, the only way to deal with that nagging memory is to come back for more – frequently.

Address: İtfaiye Caddesi 4, Fatih (new location)
Telephone: 212-635-8085
Web: www.serefburyan.com

(photo by Melanie Einzig)

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16 Responses to “ Siirt Şeref Büryan Kebap Salonu: The Lamb Underground ”
  1. Everything about the food is true and the people running the show are friendly and generous. They are Arabic , however, not Kurdish as implied in the review and regard the food as traditional
    Arabic fare from Siirt..

  2. Thanks for the comment. We’ve corrected the writeup to reflect that information.

  3. Hi there,

    I have been visiting your website and Istanbul regularly over last year and have tried some of your recommended foods and places. I have not been disappointed a single time – on a contrary, all you write is very true and the guide is fantastic thing for the foddie – lamb meat lower of my kind! I’m now a regular visitor to Zubeyir and I’m going to to add Seref Salonu to my “to do” list on every next visit in Istanbul.
    Especially after I went there some 2 weeks ago…
    Firstly, I made quite an impression when I showed up there – they don’t seem to have a lot of foreign visitors and certainly when they do booking via hotel’s consierge service… I do not speak Turkish and they do not speak English which added a lot of fun to the visit (e.g. when I tried to order a beer not realizing that they actually do not serve alkohol :), but following your advice I ordered buryan and perde pilav. The food was absolutely spectacular… I havetriad lamb in many different forms and in many different countries, but buryan way makes it certainly on the podium (perhaps even tops Morroccan meshui, which I did not think would ever be possible!)
    Secondly, they did not want me to pay a single lira, claiming that I was their guest, not a customer. They also needed to ask one of their local guests to come and translate, because I was really puzzled…
    I did not pay at the end, but promissed I would come back – something I’m not going to do with much suffering.
    Well… such things do not happen often elsewhere.

  4. Thanks for the great feedback, Adam! Really glad you’ve enjoyed our recommendations. Zubeyir and Seref are at the top of our list, too.

  5. Would you still be able to recommend any other lamb specialty as unique as buryan? I have tried all “common” ways (adanas, doners, kaburgas, etc.)… Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining (in fact I could keep on eating all of these forever), but perhaps there are some other undiscovered wonders…

    Many thanks
    Adam

  6. Good question. Sounds like you’ve tried most of the lamb preparations out there. Have you tried the salt-baked lamb at Hatay Akdeniz sofrasi (reviewed on our site)? It’s quite nice.

  7. anselmullins

    May 2, 2010
    Reply

    Adam,
    You might want to try kelle, or sheep’s head, boiled and chilled. It is a nice experience and quite different from the usual preparations. Have a look here:
    http://istanbuleats.com/2010/03/kelle-sogus-vs-kelle-tandir-faceoff/

  8. Thanks guys.
    Kelle seems a little adventurous for a European (uhhh… am I actually that conservative?), but the boxing style review is very encouraging. As for the salt-baked lamb – will give it a try next time I’m in the city.

    cheers
    Adam

  9. Readers should be aware that by “old” location the writer means “closed”. Seref only has one location, the “new” one on the square.

  10. Thanks for the note. Good point. We’ve updated the writeup to avoid any more confusion.

  11. I thank you humbly for saihnrg your wisdom JJWY

  12. RL Reeves Jr

    Jan 2, 2012
    Reply

    Thanks for the heads up on this little Kurdish barbecue joint. We wanted genuine Istanbul pit barbecue to see how it stacked up with what we get out here in Texas and their old school pit boss, or usta as y’all like to say, really knows his way around the pit.

    Our full review right here http://chowpapi.com/wordpress/wordpress-2.8.6/wordpress/?p=170

  13. rl reeves jr

    Feb 9, 2012
    Reply

    In the airport in Texas and pointing toward Istanbul. I’m having the cabbie drop me off at Doyuran Lonkantasi for my first meal then will be walking to Beyoglu where I’m staying. I loved Siirt’s pit cooked lamb and am interested in trying some other places that do pit cooked barbecue.

    I eat my body weight in barbecue out here in Texas and am looking to do the same [between Hamsi meals] in Istanbul.

    What’s everybody’s favorite barbecue joints in Istanbul?

    Thanks y’all
    RL Reeves Jr

    http://www.chowpapi.com


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