A love-it-or-hate-it kind of dish, kokoreç (“ko-ko-rech”) is roasted tripe, a onetime common street food that’s evolved into popular fast food, particularly beloved by the after-hours crowd. Lamb intestines are grilled, coarsely chopped, seasoned (salt, pepper, oregano, lots of crushed red pepper), and served as a platter or on soft bread, often with tomato and green peppers. Now, even if you don’t consider yourself an offal fan, please give this one a try. When done well, it’s a deliciously spicy, crunchy, tender pile of meat that melts in your mouth even as it leaves a pleasant burn. A surprise winner in our books—even when you’re not drunk.
Where: Our kokoreç is from popular national chain Şampiyon Kokoreç (multiple locations including Balık Pazarı Sahne Sokak No.1/3, Beyoğlu, map), where, according to staff, the intestines of a four-month-old lamb are used (some eateries substitute mutton, which isn’t nearly as tender). Şampiyon is also noted for its midye dolması, or rice-stuffed mussels. The chain is recognized for having high standards of hygiene—good news when you’re talking intestines and shellfish. It’s a casual fast-food, sit-eat-go type of place, with the counter and grill open to the street, letting you peek in on the sizzling tripe.
When: Daily, 6am-4am
Order: Although platters are usually available, we love the kokoreç sandwich (available during our visit as ҫeyrek ekmek/quarter sandwich, 5 TL, or yarım ekmek/half sandwich, 8 TL). The bread is soft and seeded, its insides hollowed out to hug the tender seasoned meat, its top half lightly smeared in a slick of red chili-dusted oil. The whole thing disappears quite quickly. Get some stuffed mussels as well—you can feel safer eating them here than on the street. The crispy midye tava (fried mussels), served with garlic sauce as a sandwich or a platter, are also delicious.
Alternatively: It seems you’re never too far from a Şampiyon in Istanbul, but another option forgoes the counter completely: Our friends at Istanbul Eats urged us to try the kokoreç sold from pushcarts in the streets around Galata Tower (map), which they write about here, for a more street-foody version of the dish.