Bursa, home of the Iskender Kebab

Turkey, June 2010

Kebapci Iskender (Intermediate A), Unlu Caddesi, GEM ALERT!

This is the birthplace of the Iskender Kebab, which was first invented in Bursa by Iskender Usta in 1867. Legend has it that it was he who first conceived of using a vertical spit and that this idea was co-opted later by the Greeks for their gyros, but then they would say that. The truth is probably lost in the mists of time.

In the here and now, floury pita, cut into diamonds, is topped with fine slivers of lamb and tomato paste with a grilled chilli, tomato and yogurt on the side. A waiter with a big moustache and a long saucepan on a handle comes and pours melted butter over everything.

You can then mix it all together or mix and match as you wish. It’s extremely heavy on the calories but totally delicious. Red grape juice is the traditional drink to go with it and is very satisfying. No beer here of course.

The original blue-fronted place on Unlu Caddesi (the main street) was closed when we were there but we went to its sister restaurant just down the road which was bigger and more photogenic with beautiful blue-tiled columns and wooden fittings.

In all there are nine locations, including one in Istanbul. Any local will direct you to the nearest. Haci Baba, their main competition is also very good apparently.

Golkan took me to a good place for an after dinner raki called Leman (named after a famous Turkish satirical cartoon) which has a nice courtyard and live music. It’s near to the souk and the kebab shops above.

Check out the historical buildings on the way (Bursa was the birthplace of the Ottoman empire).

For more info on Bursa and the Iskender kebab, here is a link to a recent article in the Guardian.

You need to check out the hammams (Turkish baths) too but I didn’t have time.

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