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Aug 06
Reviews (Eats)
The Kokoreç Trifecta of Galata: Smoke, Guts and Glory

In Istanbul, offal-eating traditions run deep. In the wee hours, the horde heads out for tripe and trotter soup. Some butcher shops, like exclusive boutiques, sell nothing but organs, hanging them proudly in the glass vitrine like so many Fendi handbags. We’ve written at length about finer points of kelle, sheep’s head, and our adoration for liver. But Istanbul’s favorite innard remains kokoreç, or grilled sheep intestines chopped with peppers and tomatoes, and in the streets around the Galata Tower we have identified three great spots to enjoy it.

In Beyoglu, it’s easy to write off kokoreç as an olfactory nuisance. There is nothing too appetizing about a high pile of chopped sheep’s intestines in raw form sitting on the side of the flattop grill at Bambi in Taksim Square. But, like the spit-grilled kokoreç we’ve come to crave, we are “slowly turning” into this street food’s biggest boosters.

Down by Galata Tower, a pushcart’s charcoal grill sizzles and pops below a spit of tightly wrapped intestinal bounty sending a puff of smoke that seems to envelope the entire tower and its observation deck. Tourists visit this area for the panoramic views, but locals are drawn in by the smell of kokoreç. It’s a whiff of grill glory that even lures the staunch anti-kokoreç camp of which we were once hardcore members.

Nazmi usta works the wide plaza at the foot of the Galata Tower everyday from his bright metal cart, slowly roasting a long sheesh of kokoreç throughout the afternoon and evening. A customer walks up and he gets to work, sliding off a portion onto a worn wooden cutting block. Cats gather around begging for a scrap. He chops it up with tomatoes and green peppers kept beside the fire and sets it onto a griddle over the fire while the bread toasts over the coals. A blast of oregano and crushed red peppers and then it is scooped into the shell of a half (yarim) or quarter (ceyrek) loaf of bread.

For the uninitiated among us not knowing exactly what to expect, the first bite of kokoreç summons a wide arching of the brow, “not bad.” The crispy rim of those tightly wound innards offer a smoky, crunchy counterpoint to the softer rich cuts at the center, which seem to melt right into the folds of the bread like sinfully rich butter.

“That’s the uykuluk,” said Ramazan usta of Akdeniz Kokoreç referring to the sweetbreads around which the intestines are wrapped. “Some places just use fat in the middle, but uykuluk is important for real kokoreç. And skills, of course.”

With its cultish following and vocal opposition, kokoreç is probably the most polarizing street food in town – either you eat kokoreç or you do not and you defend your position fiercely.  So we naturally expected it to be a bit more challenging – like a novel by James Joyce. But after taking the plunge and happily sampling many a kokoreç ceyrek around town, we found eating kokoreç to be surprisingly simple – more like a Dan Brown paperback. Having joined the kokoreç eating camp, it is now our joy to proselytize.  Below find the kokoreç trifecta of Galata.

Nazmi Usta
Every afternoon and evening at the Galata Tower
No phone

Akdeniz Kokoreç
Address: Galipdede Caddesi 21, Galata
Telephone: (212) 251-2237

Gala Kokoreç
Addresss: Galipdede Caddesi 111, Galata
Telephone: (212) 249-8407

(photo by Yigal Schleifer)

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8 Responses to “ The Kokoreç Trifecta of Galata: Smoke, Guts and Glory ”
  1. Kokorec smells bad…but it is a delicious, greasy, MANDATORY rite of passage when inebriated in the streets of Beyoglu. It simply has to be done to prove that you have conquered an Istanbul night. A greasy kokorec sandwich is best tasted after 4 AM. One word of caution…on one occasion, halfway through a sandwich, i encountered what can only be described as “a doo-doo bite.” Though the booze helped dull the pain, it brought tears to my eyes. Thankfully, I survived the encounter…and will one day soon, in sha’allah, eat kokorec again.

  2. kokorec is indeed very tasty, and despite what Hans said, the smell is very luring. it is originally a part of Izmir cuisine but must have come Istanbul ages ago. Imho, the best kokorec can be found at street vendors, but not shops.

  3. it seems you have finally found out what the “real” kokoreç is, congrats on that. and i must say for the sake of “real” kokoreç that, the ones found in the balik pazari are the worst (şampiyon, mercan, golden etc). they are only made out of some intenstines but they are not deserved to be called kokoreç.

  4. Hans Urp
    Back in the glory days of Tuscaloosa Alabama’s soul food scene when you ordered chitlins at Morrows the nice lady inquired if you wanted them “slung or unslung”. Unslung might get you a bite or two of something only the most ardent eaters could handle. Slung and you were, mostly, assured of getting a fairly clean plate of deep fried intestines that always went down good with a pone of hot cornbread and a gallon sized glass of ice cold sweet tea.

  5. Right, so not giant rolled lamb roast then, which is what my imagination comfortably settled on the first time I saw these around Galata Tower. It smells amazing.

  6. Robert Anderson

    May 26, 2015

    An unpleasant way to describe what we call sausage.

  7. Even without knowing what I was ordering, just to see how people was enjoy the sandwich and the entertaining way the cook was preparing the orders all these makes me try one…. Great new flavor for me!

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