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World of Turkish Kebabs: İskender kebap

İskender kebap is named after a butcher called İskender Efendi, who lived in Bursa and who first prepared this flavourful dish. It consists of thinly sliced lamb that is grilled and combined with a spicy tomato sauce and pita bread, while melted sheep butter and yogurt are traditionally drizzled over the dish at the table. It is recommended to pair this kebap with şıra, a Turkish beverage that is known to aid digestion.

It is one of the famous kebab dishes of the Bursa region. It started in 1867 in Kayhan Bazaar. In fact, although its basic ingredient is döner kebab, what makes İskender İskender is the butter, tomato sauce on top, the yoghurt on the side and the fatty pita pieces underneath. In addition, the meat of İskender is different from the meat of any döner kebab. The meat from which İskender kebab is made is obtained from rams fed with Uludağ thyme. İskender meat has less fat. The tomato sauce and yoghurt used also affect the quality greatly.

The family, which started its business with Mehmet Efendi Restaurant in the 1850s, was engaged in the business of roasting lamb and tandoori cooking, which was common in Bursa at that time. In such an Ottoman period, cooked meat (tandoori or rotisserie lamb) was sold on overhead trays as well as in a fixed place. Son İskender started searching and asked, "How can we differentiate the business?" and “How can we do better?” He tries to realize ideas such as these with the support he receives from his uncle Sabit Dede. His father's words: "Don't invent anything new for us." Following these words, he first explains the issue to his mother and then convinces his father. As a result, he offers his father to pull up the lamb, which has been cooked parallel to the fire on the ground for centuries, on the upright barbecue. Thus, they tried the vertical kebab idea in Bursa, and the business continued to develop with the support of his father, Mehmet Efendi.

İskender Efendi, who set out for this purpose, gradually developed meat without bones. He cleans it from bones and nerves, puts it on a skewer, cooks it by rotating it in front of the fire, and then cuts it thinly and presents it. This different presentation attracted a lot of attention in Bursa and began to be known as İskender Efendi's "dönen kebab". Because the meat is boneless, it is cooked on a vertical stove, and it is cut in a different way. However, it is not in the shape of today's kebab; It has become a simpler dish, without forks and knives, placed on pita bread, then known as a la turka, and supported by yogurt, tomato paste, and butter. Now, when İskender is mentioned in Bursa, that plate comes to mind. In these years, the population of Bursa was very low. It consists of the Kayhan-Tahtakale-Reyhan triangle and districts such as Maksem and Tophane. People knew each other. The place where İskender döner kebab, which became known at that time with Mehmet's son İskender Efendi, was served, was a 20-30 square meter shop. In 1928, with the Alphabet Revolution, he moved to the first shop with a Latin script signboard.

It began to be referred to as "döner kebab" or "döner" in the public language. With the use of the trade name for a long time, İskender Efendi became identified with Bursa and became a symbol of it, and entered a process of fame by integrating his personality and food. It is also called Bursa Kebab, Hacıbey kebab, Uludağ kebab, or Yogurt Kebab.

How is it made? The prepared döner kebab is placed in front of the burning fire at a distance of 10-15 cm from the previously lit döner kebab fire. The döner kebab is cooked slowly over this fire, and after it is cooked, it is cut thinly with a knife from top to bottom. Thus, the döner kebab is ready for service. Pita is tempered on the grill. The plates on which the pitas will be placed must be warm. Therefore, the plates are heated on the grill, too. The pita is chopped and immediately placed on the hot plate.

The sauce is poured. It is covered with döner kebab very quickly. While these processes are taking place, the butter is placed in the pan on the barbecue, and the butter is prepared as soon as the kebab is poured over. It is appropriate to carry out all operations at the same time. If the kebab is prepared and waited without adding butter, the kebab will cool down. Therefore, it is necessary to pay close attention to these procedures. If the sauce waits while the kebab is prepared, the kebab will lose its flavour.

You can try İskender kebap all around Türkiye, but definitely the best ones are to be found in Bursa. It is not only because it is the origin of this meal but because the people of Bursa take it seriously, and no establishment can survive by offering bad İskender. There are some discussions over which restaurant offers the most original one. Based on long queues, Kebapcı İskender stands out as a local claimant on the dish, supposedly from 1867. It is always packed, but the kebap is excellent!

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