Bursa is known for a good many things: Ottoman history, silk and textiles, candied chestnuts, Uludağ, winter sports, metalworking, auto manufacturing, peaches and apples, ancient plane trees, among many others. But when it comes to regional Turkish cuisine, Bursa’s claim to fame is its excellent signature dish, Īskender kebab.
Īskender is a type of traditional Turkish döner kebab. Döner is thinly sliced lamb, beef, or chicken meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie and shaved on an as-ordered basis. Döner stands are iconic sights throughout Turkey.
Developed in the 1860s by Īskender Efendi in Bursa’s Kayhan neighborhood to feed hungry shopkeepers in the central bazaar, Īskender kebab consists of thinly sliced strips of lamb döner meat piled high on a bed of thin pide bread slices. The kebab is drenched in hot tomato sauce and melted butter and served with a generous dollop of yogurt. Grilled tomatoes and peppers are usually served on the side. Īskender is a deliciously rich, hearty meal, and as a local specialty, it’s a must-try dish when you’re visiting Bursa.
Many Bursa restaurants serve up good Īskender and some even trace their roots back to Īskender Efendi himself. When you’re out in Bursa, just look for signs advertising “Īskender kebabı” or “Bursa kebabı” as they are usually used synonymously. I’ve tried Īskender at a number of downtown restaurants and I can honestly say that I haven’t been disappointed yet. Some of the better-known establishments operate under the name Kebapçı Īskender and can be found in Bursa’s downtown Heykel area. The street cafés along Kayhan Caddesi—the birthplace of Īskender—serve some excellent Bursa kebabı. I have a friend who is convinced that Uludağ Kebapçısı near Kent Meydanı serves the best in town. And if you’d like to enjoy your Īskender with a view, Hünkar Restaurant in the Yeşil neighborhood offers a lovely view of the city’s east end in a fine atmosphere.
Ozlem’s Home Recipe
If you’re not in Bursa but have a hankering to try Īskender, you can make it yourself in your own kitchen. Ozlem Warren, acclaimed chef, instructor, and writer of the popular food blog, Ozlem’s Turkish Table, recently published her recipe for Home Style Īskender Kebab in Tomato Sauce, Pita Bread, and Yoghurt. Ozlem graciously gave me permission to republish her recipe here for those of you Bursa sevenler who want to enjoy Īskender at home.
© Ozlem’s Turkish Table, republished with permission
Home Style Iskender Kebap in Tomato Sauce, Pita Bread and Yoghurt by Ozlem Warren, Ozlem’s Turkish Table
Iskender Kebab is one of the most popular kebabs at home and a specialty of Bursa region. You can make this delicious Iskender Kebap at home; thin slices of lamb or beef in tomato based sauce, served over pide bread with yoghurt and grilled vegetables by the side. It is easier than you think and most delicious, afiyet olsun!
For the meat marinate:
- 2 lbs. rib eye steak or lamb or beef tenderloin
- 2 large onions, grated
- 45 ml / 3 tbsp. olive oil
- 10 ml/ 2 tsp. dried oregano
- 10 ml/ 2 tsp. red pepper flakes
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the tomato sauce:
- 30 ml / 2 tbsp. tomato paste
- 15 ml/ 1 tbsp. red pepper paste (optional; you can use extra 1 tbsp. tomato paste and red pepper flakes to your taste instead too)
- 30 ml/ 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 16 fl oz. / 2 cups water
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 3 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges
- 2 green pointy or bell peppers, deseeded and sliced
- Thinly sliced pide ekmek or plain pita bread – 6 pieces, to serve
- 500 gr / 2 cups plain yoghurt to serve
- Preheat the oven to 180 C / 350 F
- Prepare the meat marination a day ahead of time of cooking.
- Grate the onions or place them in a food processor and process until liquid. Squeeze all the onion juice into a non-metallic bowl and discard any remaining onion pulp.
- Slice the meat thinly (you can ask your butcher to this for you too) and then pound each slice with the back of a wooden spoon (or with a meat tenderizer). We aim to achieve the slices about 5 cm (2”) x 4 cm (1.5”) in size.
- Combine the onion juice, oregano, red pepper flakes, olive oil, salt and freshly ground pepper in a large bowl. Stir in the meat slices and coat each piece with this marination. Cover the bowl with a cling film and marinate overnight in the fridge.
- To make the tomato sauce, pour in the olive oil in a sauce pan over the medium heat. Stir in the tomato paste, red pepper paste (if using) and red pepper flakes. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and combine well. Add the water then bring to the boil. Then gently simmer for 10 minutes.
- Slice the pide or pita bread in 3 cm x 3 cm (about 1”) squares and place on a tray. Warm in the oven for 5 minutes.
- Drizzle a little olive oil on a skillet and cook the meat slices on high heat; for about 2 minutes each side (take care not to overcook). Also sauté the sliced tomatoes and peppers at the other side of the skillet, until they start to charcoal at edges.
- Once everything is cooked, plate your Iskender Kebap. Place the warm pide / pita bread slices on each plate. Spread the cooked slices of the meat over the pide bread and pour over the tomato sauce. Place the sautéed tomatoes and peppers at one side and a dollop of plain yoghurt at the other side. Serve immediately. This recipe serves 4 -6 generously.
- Afiyet Olsun.