Iskender Efendi was the guy who started it all. At least, according to him. Back in the 19th century, it was his idea to turn the spit from a horizontal position over fire to a vertical one beside a fire and slice chunks off. ‘The Greeks’ took the idea with them when they left and created (and exported) the gyro, but the seed is resoundingly Turkish, as goes the story. Iskender’s creation lives on, both in the restaurant he created, still managed by his descendents, and the variant of the cooking style he ‘created’ that still bears his name: the Iskender kebap. Sliced meat on pieces of pita covered with a tomato sauce, served with yogurt, tomato, roasted peppers*, and, in this case, pureed eggplant. And the crowning glory? The meat and tomato sauce is doused with melted butter, giving everything that wickedly delicious taste that no heart specialist would ever professionally endorse. Eat bite is a little bit of heaven – a bit of meat and sauce, some pita, a dab of yogurt.
Here at Iskender, their mutton is all oregano-fed, the butter and yogurt are freshly-made, and everything is top-notch. For the price you pay – 18TL for a portion, twice what you would at any regular stand – I would hope so, but the taste and autenticity make it more than worth it. It’s not often you get to taste a dish in the restaurant where it was created 200 years ago. If you’re eating in Bursa, this restaurant is a must-visit. All you have to do is ask where the Iskender restaurant is – I think every local should be able to point you in the right direction.
I’m going to add in a similar dish, only found in one neighbourhood in Bursa out of the whole country, one remarkably like the Iskender kebap – the pidelı köfte. In fact, it’s the same dish, but with köfte, those spicy little meatballs found on every menu in Turkey. Just on the edge of the bazaar downtown are a collection of restaurants serving this tasty dish, done up the same was as an Iskender kebap – sauce, pita, butter, yogurt. Chris deemed this her favourite dish in Turkey, as the köfte was less filling than the kebap. The environs were also nicer – many of the restaurants were open and sunny, some even having tables outside, while Iskender was in a restored home, rather dark and gloomy. Both are quite good, both are found in Bursa, and both deserve to be devoured with the reverence deserving of a good meal.
*The peppers here look like chili peppers, but they’re not. They have a wee bit of spiciness to them, but are much closer to capsicums than chillis. I rather like them.