Kabapçı İskender Ünlü Street, Bursa, Turkey

Writing is hard.

You are brilliant. You spend all of your time thinking and researching clever thoughts and then you sit down. After several hours you expect Francis Ford Coppola to fall over his new screenplay. But then you look down at what should be flowing and clear and find a train wreck of wordy, indecisive nihility. It’s excessive and lacking. It’s not what you meant to say and now you’re unsure about what your point was in the first place. It’s not right and you don’t know what to do. This isn’t what you mean at all.

I can hardly ever get words to come out right. My mind is one of those rapidly moving LED signs – my thoughts are fleeting and flashing and I have trouble focusing. Although I’m no Hemingway and I’ll never earn a Pulitzer, I love to write. I can generally get my point across with words better than people can interpret my Porky the Pig impressions.

And so, I’ll try to clue you in on what I’m feeling over here.

And I’ll do it by telling you about what I ate last week.

Yavuz İskenderoğlu was born into a family that sold meat.

My family is in the business of producing friggin awesomeness.

My family is in the business of producing friggin awesomeness.

His grandfather was a famous butcher, his uncle was a street seller. In the 1850’s, like a lot of family run businesses, his family sold roasted lamb at the family restaurant in Bursa.

İskender was an innovator and wished to make some changes to the way the cookie-cutter business operated. Probably more motivating was his distaste for that cooking meat smell. So he had an idea for cooking so that the meat sweat wouldn’t soak into the fire: İskender proposed that the lamb be roasted on a large vertical spit, instead of a horizontal spit, a change from centuries of tradition.

The family restaurant had its innovation. 146 years later, Turkey has one of its iconic dishes.

BursaTripTurkey2013 (32)

İskender entirely changed the way the meat was cooked. He removed the bones and nerves from the meat and had to constantly spin the meat before a fire. Then the meat would be served in thin slices.

This new and very different meal gathered attention in Bursa as the “spinning kebap of İskender Efendi.”

Photo courtesy of Pvasiliadis via Wikipedia Commons

Photo courtesy of Pvasiliadis via Wikipedia Commons

The meal is simple. The thin strips are served over slabs of pita bread, called “alaturka,” with yogurt, tomato baste, and a boiling butter sauce. “İskender” was born and served without knives or forks.

Over the years, the dish has been modified for different types of venues. It has taken the nickname of “döner kebab” or “döner;” however, the traditional “İskender Efendi” has gained its reputation as a culinary must and has remained mostly the same in the home city of Bursa. The name Kabapçı İskender has become an iconic trademark brand.

Open: 11:30AM to 9PM everyday where it serves two dishes in variation.

Arriving for lunch, just as the restaurant was opening for the day, the restaurant was just wiping the sleep from its eyes and we had the place to ourselves. My delightful host ordered for our table of six:

The menu offers an order of 1 or 1.5 portions of İskender Doner Kebab with or without extra meat. The second option is “Alaturka” which is the same meat but settled onto and soaking into pita bread . They offer a desert, “kemalpaşa” which unfortunately we were pressed on time to try. The restaurant, of course, offers Turkish coffee, tea, grape juice, and other beverages.


Order: Alaturka

The food took about 10 minutes to prepare for the whole table and when our “Alaturka İskender Döner” arrived it was steaming hot. The staff brought out a pan of boiling butter sauce to top our tomato basted meat and pita bread and I dug in.

The tradition did not disappoint.

Served with a side of yogurt, my Thai blood did yearn for some spiciness but that particular need was rectified by a small dish of red pepper flakes. The pita bread complemented the meat and tomato nicely and I ate in satisfaction even with the Turkish waiters hovering over our table. They eagerly, if not kind of annoyingly, waited for us to finish to snatch our plates the moment our forks hit the ceramic.

It’s a brand that greatly emphasizes customer satisfaction in their trademark.

It was a tiny bit hard on my stomach as it settled. Give yourself time to digest before venturing out. Like most Turkish restaurants, tea is offered to you to help with digestion, but if you are like me, and don’t drink tea, the unsettling feeling doesn’t last for too long and if you have the time to sit and talk, you’re free to roam about the streets of Bursa, comfortably, the rest of the day.

Price: I was not prepared for the 22TL price tag of the single dish, but for the historic and authentic experience, it’s worth trying. If you try İskender at lower quality places, you might be getting a more fatty meat or one that uses ground meat. The service was excellent and the restaurant really charming (and so is the women’s restroom).

BursaTripTurkey2013 (33)

Michelangelo once said that the best way to judge the essential elements of a sculpture is to throw it down a hill: let the unimportant pieces break away and you get a fine sculpture.

I find myself always complicating things and sometimes failing to enjoy where I am. I give myself anxiety and prevent myself from feeling fulfilled in the path I am taking. I constantly wonder what I am doing wrong and why I am not making myself clear and why no one can understand why I am so frantic.

İskender had a problem (stinky meat) and so he set out to find a better way of cooking. He removed the pieces that you just can’t eat to make things better for his family.

He simplified the dish and found a way to communicate (by food, bless him) with a community. The simplicity of it all changed the way he lived. He found a way to communicate in a clear way so that people could understand his dreams. And now we have a  satisfying and rich dish for all of Turkey.

When one can communicate in a clear way, so that people understand the intent of your heart, it’s magic.

I, like most people, want this:

You are good. But it is not enough just to be good. You must be good for something. You must contribute good to the world. The world must be a better place for your presence. And that good that is in you must be spread to others – Gordon B. Hinckley (BYU Speeches of the Year, 1996)

İskender found a way to simplify. Like a good writer, he found a way to “omit needless words (a plug for The Elements of Style). In that, he found a way to make, if just an eating experience, something better for others.

He removed the excess but still remembered that he had to constantly spin the meat to get it cooked all the way.

Friends. Food. Good.

Friends. Food. Good.

I think from day to day your stomach, like mine was, might get a little unsettled. But just give yourself a little time to digest. As long as you are doing good and standing by what you believe you can find the peace to love where you are. I’m learning how to do this every day; I just have to always remember what I stand for and who I am.

Hopefully you have a mom like mine who reminds you that you always have a home.


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