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Iskender kebap

Iskender kebab in Istanbul

What: Thinly sliced beef, tomato sauce, and melted butter are the holy trinity behind this local kebap, which hails from Bursa, just across the Sea of Marmara from Istanbul (it’s also sometimes called Bursa kebab). We think of it as a next-level döner kebab: Thin strips of tender, smoky meat, covered in tomato sauce, are placed atop chopped-up pieces of crisp flatbread—the better to soak up all the sauce—while a generous dollop of cool, creamy yogurt sits to the side. Then, at the table, the whole mess is topped with sizzling-hot browned butter. Sound naughty? Oh, it is. And it’s one of the best things we ate in Istanbul.

Where: If a trip to Bursa isn’t in your cards, the next best thing is a trip to Kebapçı İskender (‪two locations in Kadıköy including Rıhtım Cad. Ptt Yanı, map) in Kadıköy, on the Anatolian (Asian) side of the Bosphorus. Owned and operated by family members of the dish’s original 1867 creator—a guy from Bursa named İskender Efendi—the restaurant, which seems to have trademarked everything to do with the word İskender, was judged by the estimable Istanbul Eats crew to have the best İskender kebab in the city.

When: Daily, 11:30am-1am

Order: It’s the only thing on the menu: the İskender kebab (24,75 TL for one porsiyon; 38 TL for 1.5), a heaving plate of beef and sauce and yogurt, plus a few tomatoes and blackened green peppers for color/vegetal presence (hey, it’s not all meat and fat!). How to eat it? Get a bite of bread, a piece of buttery, tomato-y meat; dip it in the yogurt—we call that perfection. Pair it with şira, the dish’s traditional grape-juice accompaniment; the tang cuts the richness of the kebab just enough for you to want more. Ayran always works, too.

Alternatively: They won’t have ties to the original, but most kebab shops in Istanbul will offer an İskender kebab. You might try one of the better ones, like Kesap Osman (212-519-3216; Hocapaşa Sokak 22, map) in Eminönü (see also: döner kebab), or just commit to the cause and take the ferry to Bursa. We’ve heard it’s worth it.


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