As we’ve written here before, if you do a little rooting around, the Grand Bazaar can be as much about the food  as it is about the shopping. Case in point: Aynen Dürüm, a microscopic kebab shack at the edge of the sprawling bazaar that serves exceptionally good wraps (or, as they’re called in Turkish, dürüm).
We first noticed Aynen several years ago on our way into the bazaar, struck by the feeding frenzy we saw at the tiny restaurant, located near the Grand Bazaar’s “currency exchange,” which turns out to be a small alley filled men shouting out “buy” and “sell” orders.
Dining in Turkey tends to be a genteel affair, even at the humblest kebab restaurants, but there was something different going on at this place. First, there’s the competitive eating contest-like setup – a double-sided outdoor counter with about ten stools around it and a trough in the middle that holds containers overflowing with grilled peppers, sliced pickles and sprigs of parsley. Then there’s the eaters themselves – usually a crowd a hungry bazaar locals chowing down with a kind of reckless abandon rarely seen in other places around town.
Aynen’s tiny interior, meanwhile, is taken up by a charcoal grill and Ismail, the joint’s grill master, who has been fanning the flames here for the last ten years. The no-nonsense Ismail takes the wrap business seriously, letting his customers choose between two different kinds of lavaş (the flatbread used to make a dürüm): the traditional thin variety and a thicker, chewier version. Ismail clearly sets the bar high for himself. His restaurant’s tagline? “The Motherland of Kebab.”
On a recent visit, we found some space at Aynen’s counter and got started by helping ourselves to some pickles and peppers from the big piles in the trough in front of us. We ordered an Adana kebab dürüm and one made with lamb (kuzu) shish kebab, leaving the question of what kind of lavaş to use as the griller’s choice. Our wraps arrived within minutes, both stuffed with a mixture of tomato and parsley along with the perfectly grilled meat. The Adana had a wonderful balance of meat, fat and spice, while the small morsels of tender lamb we found inside the second wrap were so tasty that we soon found ourselves joining the crowd and stuffing our faces with little regard for decorum.
Appearances aside, though, Aynen Dürüm turns out to be a classy joint. Other dürüm spots around town serve their wraps inside an inelegant plastic sleeve, used to catch any dripping grease, usually the result of a liberal use of fat. Aynen defiantly – even provocatively – serves theirs without the plastic bag, confident that you can get up from eating their top-notch dürüm without finding any grease stains on your pants.
Although you may be eating at their trough, it appears the folks at Aynen don’t want you to get messy.
Address: Muhafazacilar Sok. No: 33, Grand Bazaar, Istanbul
(photo by Yigal Schleifer)