“Kebab” is another category of food which, like the borek, is typically Turkish dating back to the time when the nomadic Turks learned to grill and roast meat over camp fires. Given the numerous types of kebabs, it helps to realize that they are categorized by the way the meat is cooked. The Western world knows the “sis kebab” and the “doner” introduced to them mostly by Greek entrepreneurs, who have a good nose for what will sell! sis kebab is grilled cubes of skewered meat. Doner kebab is made by stacking alternating layers of ground meat and sliced leg of lamb on a large upright skewer, which is slowly rotated in front of a vertical grill. As the outer layer of the meat is roasted, thin slices are shaved off and served.
There are numerous other grilled kebabs including those cooked in a clay oven. It should be noted that the unique taste of kebabs is due more to the breeds of sheep and cattle raised in open pastures by loving shepherds than to special marinades and ways of cooking. Therefore, you should stop at a kebab restaurant in Turkey to taste the authentic item. “Kebapci” is by far the most common and the least expensive type of restaurant, ranging from a hole in the wall to a large and lavish establishment. Kebab is the traditional Turkish response to fast food and at the same time is not unhealthy for you. A generic kebapct will have “lahmacun” (meat pide) and “Adana” (spicy, skewered ground meat, named after the southern city where it was born), salad greens with red onions and baklava to top it all off. Beyond that the menu will tell you the speciality of the kebapci. The best plan is to seek out the well-known ones and to try the less spicy types if you are not used to kebab. Once you develop a taste for it, you can have inexpensive feasts by going to the neighborhood kebabci anywhere in the city.
“Izgara” (grilled), is how the main course meat dishes are prepared at a meat restaurant. Mixed grills are likely to include lamb chops, “kofte”, or “sis”. The way of preparing ground meat will be the “kofte.” These are grilled, fried, oven-cooked or boiled, after being mixed with special spices, eggs, and grated onions and carefully shaped into balls, oblongs, or round or long patties. Another popular dish is raw meat balls, inspired by the nomadic Turks who carried spiced, raw meat in their saddles, and is known to Europeans as “steak Tartar.” It is made of raw, twice-ground meat, by kneading it with thin bulgur and hot spices vigorously for a few hours. Then bite-size patties are made, and served with chilantro, known for its stomach-protecting qualities. Some restaurants specialize only in grilled meats, in which case they are called meat restaurants. The fare will be a constant stream of grilled meats served hot in portions straight off the grill, until you tell the waiter that you are full. The best one is Beyti in Florya, Istanbul, and the best way to get there is to take the commuter train from Sirkeci, the main train station on the European side, rather than negotiating the highway traffic. This way you can also see the local folk, especially the kids who seem to use the train to the fullest, out for their summer holiday adventures of fishing and possibly some variety of mischief.