The Turkish kitchen has a refreshing way of keeping things simple – apply spanking fresh ingredients to a natural heat source, flip, and serve. Such is the case with uykuluk, or sweetbreads, our latest culinary obsession in Istanbul. And there is no better place to feast on this lovely, creamy organ than the down and out Sutluce district on the Golden Horn.
“This area used to be filled with slaughterhouses,” said Yusuf usta, the proprietor of Umur Restaurant and a sweetbread handler of 35 years. “We used to get our uykuluk straight from them.”
While little remains of its butchering past, places like Omur offer a gentle reminder of the neighborhoods history that seems to resonate with the offal-loving populous of Istanbul. Outside of Sutluce, this delicacy is largely absent but on any given weekend evening the tables of Omur’s hangar-like seating area are filled to capacity. “You can’t eat this stuff just anywhere,” Yusuf usta said. “You eat it here!”
We took a table out front, ordered a beer and sweetbreads on a half loaf of bread. While working the grill, Yusuf shoved a fistful of change into the hand of a very small child and sent him scurrying to the bakery. Another older boy chased him. The two returned a few minutes later with our loaf under one arm and a little snack (courtesy of uncle Yusuf, we assumed) shoved into their mouths. Yusuf worked a large pile of milky colored sweetbreads across the grill and instructed his daughter to cut the bread, quickly. Grilled peppers and tomatoes were roughly chopped and laid over a generous helping of sweetbreads in the fold of the loaf. He dashed it all with a little salt, oregano, and red pepper flakes and delivered it wrapped in a sheet of paper.
We like a clean, light tasting organ devoid of the strong, funky smells we associate with some other offal dishes and Yusuf’s sweetbreads fit the bill. Perhaps a bit overpowered by the liberal blast of spice applied, the organ underneath still delivered a faint aftertaste that reminded us of a good bite of rich lamb fat hugging a bone; the texture was pure pudding.
Until now, we’d known sweetbreads as the darling of American haute cuisine, something sautéed, dressed with fruity reductions and paired with a Pinot. Fancy food. A lunch in the hands of Yusuf usta reminded us that nearly anything – even the thymus gland of a sheep – can be delicious when simply prepared and served alongside a cold mug of beer.
Address: Karaagac Cad. 8A, Sutluce
(photo by Ansel Mullins)