According to the website of its registered trademark holder, Kebapçı İskender , it was a moment of great culinary revelation when the ingredients of İskender kebap first came together on a plate in Bursa back in the late 19th century. But we imagine this kebab’s creation as an elaborate ploy to trick a finicky child into eating his vegetables. After all, who wouldn’t gladly eat chopped tomatoes and peppers when served over succulent strands of grilled lamb that are laid atop a flatbread soaked in tangy salça and alongside a cool dollop of yogurt, the whole thing doused with fried butter?
Is it delicious like, say, chili cheese fries or pizzagna? Definitely. Inspired like a chocolate soufflé? Hardly.
Honestly, we find that the whole İskender debate – claims to which kebapçı does it in the “real” Bursa way, lawsuits pending on trademark infringement – takes all of the fun out of eating this kebab. We say, cancel the side order of nonsense and take İskender at face value – as a good greasy lunch – and you might be surprised at how many fine, upstanding İskender kebabs there are around town.
At Bursa Kebapçısı, we found ourselves in good company. Everyone there seems to eat İskender with great gusto. This restaurant might have the ambiance of a hospital waiting room – complete with its burly kitchen staff in white scrubs and blue slippers and dining room lit by long florescent tubes – but the food and service make up for it.
Akif Bey, our waiter of many years now, has an unusually formal style of service that we’ve come to appreciate. He is not the sort of waiter we’ve encountered at other places, one who may comment on our weight or collapse into a chair beside us and complain about the price of petrol. No, Akif Bey takes his job seriously and, on one recent visit, responded to our request for an İskender karışık with extra butter with his customary, “Hay, hay, efendim!”
If the tricked-out İskender is the Camaro of kebabs, then the İskender karışık is the eight-cylinder option with a racing spoiler. In this variety, the usual helping of döner gets turbo-charged with köfte and strips of filet. It comes out on a metal plate popping and sizzling with butter; the dietician on our left shoulder shook his head, “no” but the devil on the right said, “hell yes.” The plate may be scalding hot but nothing could keep us from devouring this dish at a dizzying pace. After all, isn’t that what the original İskender was meant to be? A meat and vegetable mish-mash with a drizzle so tasty as to be irresistible? Was it really meant to be trademarked, or just scarfed down without a thought? As surely as the döner will continue to turn, this debate will rage. Our allegiance remains firmly in the camp of everyman’s İskender, like the one at Bursa Kebapçısı.
Address: Atıf Yılmaz Caddesi 8, Beyoğlu
(Photo by Ansel Mullins)