Kebab (or kebap) means “roasted meat” and refers to various grilled meat or fish dishes.
Originally from this part of the globe, the meat is cooked on a wood-fired kebab and then served on a plate, usually accompanied by braised tomatoes and peppers, rice or tomato bulgur. It can also be served sandwiched or rolled in a wrap. There is a very wide variety of kebabs in Turkey, the most famous are the Sis kebab (skewered and grilled lamb), the Adana kebab (skewered minced lamb mixed with spices), the Urfa kebab (skewered minced lamb and beef without spice ), the Patlicanli kebab (eggplant stuffed with minced lamb) and many more…
The most famous kebab in the world is the Döner kebab, witch literally means “rotating Kebab” in Turkish. Before taking its modern form, the ancestor of the Doner was the “Çag Kebabi” and it’s mentioned in the Ottoman travel books of the 18th century. It was an horizontal stack of meat from the eastern province of Erzurum.
The famous cook Iskender Efendi is considered as the inventor of the Döner Kebap, in his own family biography he wrote that he and his grandfather had the idea to roast the lamb vertically rather than horizontally because the dropping juice of the cooking marinated at the same time the whole stack of meat, giving it a better taste.
Before giving you our addresses here is a small guide that we recommend you to taste:
The “Iskender Kebabi” took it’s name from the cook Iskender and it’s a kind of “Doner kebab” prepared from thinly cuts of grilled lamb, basted with hot tomato sauce over pieces of pita bread and generously slathered with melted sheep butter and yogurt.
Şaşlık is thin slices of beef and onions marinated in yogurt and put on a skewer, usually cooked to perfection to give a soft texture to the meat
The Adana kebab is a long hand minced grilled lamb meat, juicy and spicy.
The Cop-sis is a speaciality of Ephesus on the Turkish west coast. This are pounded boneless meat with tomatoes and garlic, marinated with black pepper, thyme and oil on wooden skewers. This dish is traditionally accompanied by rocca leaves.
The Testi-kebap is a speciality of Cappadocia. It is a combination of meat and vegetables cooked in their own juice inside a sealed clay pot. When ready, breaking the clay pot is the only way to eat it.
The “koftes” are meatballs of lamb or beef or sometime both, mixed with spices and onions. There is a wide variety of koftes such as the “Inegol kofte” (Mix of lamb and beef), the “Tekirdag kofte” (meat of cattle and lamb chops served with a red pepper sauce) and even cheese stuffed Koftes. (Peynirili kofte).
Istanbul residents are proud of their kitchen and love to go to the restaurant. You will find a large number of restaurants specializing in kebab and there is something for every taste and budget.
From the very local caff for lunch to the more upscale restaurants adapted to make a beautiful dinner with an impeccable service, here is our selection of the best kebab restaurants in Istanbul:
Located in Kavacık on the Asian side, it is certainly the best döner kebab in Istanbul, it’s good, simple (one only choice) and cheap. People make the road and wait in line to eat a delicious döner kebab. Although the place isn’t fancy at all, local celebrities or other businessmen often go there for lunch because it’s really very very good. At Bayramoğlu the meat is 100% beef, and the quality deserves the long road! link: www.bayramogludoner.com.tr
Located close to the Taksim Square, this restaurant is a “Ocakbasi” (restaurant with an open grill in the middle). The main attraction of this kind of establishments is to eat around the grill. You may have to book before going there, because the seats next to the grill are always taken. In this area you will find many other Ocakbasi but for us this one is he best. Start with ordering some mezes, I suggest you try the “Kozde Patlican” (mashed grilled eggplant), a Gavurdagi Salata and the Van Tzaztiki. for the main course try a “Cop Sis” or a “Sebzeli Acili sis kebab “(skewered meat with spices and vegetables) ,and, of course, accompany your meal with some cold Raki. Link: www.zubeyirocakbasi.com.tr
Perhaps the more touristy but still mythical Istanbul kebab restaurant, the Hamdi restaurant is since 1960 nestled at the top of a building next to the Egyptian bazaar. On the menu: mezes and kebabs from the south-east of Turkey with a big plus, a magnificent view of Istanbul:hamdi.com.tr/en/eminonu
ADANA OCAKBAŞI KURTULUŞ
This restaurant is an ocak-başı, which means in Turkish “in front of the grill”, because they cook the meats in front of you. The Adana Ocakbaşı is located in the Kurtuluş district, a cosmopolitan middle class neighborhood next to Taksim. Here you will eat excellent grilled meats in an authentic atmosphere. On the match evenings the restaurant is filled with groups of friends who have come to support their team while eating. A place absolutely not flashy that is worth seeing: adanaocakbasi.com
ŞEZHADE ÇAĞ KEBAP
This is surely one of our favorites from the list, this little restaurant serves only the Cağ kebabı, a specialty of Erzurum, a city in northeastern Turkey, and beware, it’s a delight! The cağ kebab is marinated lamb in a sauce with basil, pepper and onions, put in spit and cooked horizontally. It’s really not to be missed! Address: sezhade-cag-kebabı
We cheat a little because it’s not really a kebab restaurant, but how to talk about Turkish meats, without mentioning Nusret Gökçe, the Turkish butcher you all know as Salt Bae? In a few years he has become an international star and now has restaurants all over the world (New York, Miami, Dubai …). The meat star to the 10 million followers on Instagram has several delicious meat restaurants in Istanbul under the name of Nusr-et, and the quality of the meat is definitely worth the detour, especially since it also makes Turkish specialties! Address: www.nusr-et.com.tr/en/home.aspx
Located in trendy district of Etiler, this is the place to go if you want to try a tasty “Adana kebab”. The owner is from the city of Adana, the fifth biggest Turkish city. The ambiance is cosy and the waiters will be more than happy to help you with your order. Link: www.yuzevler.com.tr
Located in Florya (near the Ataturk airport) the restaurant is one of the oldest kebab restaurant in Istanbul. Although a bit far from the city center, this place is worth a visit! It is luxurious and more expensive than an average Kebab restaurant. Go for a Beyti Kebab, a speciality invented in the kitchen of the restaurant. Link: http://www.beyti.com/
AND ALL THOSE WE COULD NOT PUT …
There are hundreds of good kebab restaurants in Istanbul, (it would take years for all to taste) that we have not written but are just as good! Do not hesitate to go to chains like Günaydın,(gunaydinet.com), Develi (www.develikebap.com), Tatbak in Nişantaşı (www.tatbak.com), Borsa (www.borsarestaurants.com), and many others… Do not hesitate either to tell us about all your discoveries!
To discover in more depth the Turkish cuisine, and also to discover local neighborhoods like Besiktas and Uskudar, you can take part in our culinary and cultural walk on two continents.