The Unvegan

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Turkish Food Week, Part II: Kebaps

Where I come from, we have a very limited view of what we call “kebabs.” For starters, we spell them k-e-b-a-b-s and assume that is the only way they can be spelled. Believing that the Turks just couldn’t spell the word, I laughed my way through all of the restaurants in Turkey that said k-e-b-a-p-s. Eventually, I realized that it was just another spelling of kebabs. I guess the restaurants got the last laugh.

Spelling, though, is not the only difference in perception of kebabs that I have with Turkey. I have also always been under the impression that kebaps are pretty much just foods grilled on sticks. Again, Turkey proved me wrong…twice!

A kebap. From pottery?!
A kebap. From pottery?!

The first strange kebap I had was the “Pottery Kebap.” This was in the Uranus Cave Restaurant in Cappadocia, which was a stop on my guided tour. Before delving into this mysterious kebap, I’d like to go off on an unvegan tangent. Anyone who says it’s difficult to travel as a vegetarian is a bold-faced liar. In all my traveling, on all the tours I’ve been on, the guide always makes sure to ask if anyone is a vegetarian. This was no different in Turkey. Before arriving at the cave, my guide asked about vegetarians, but made no effort to accommodate unvegans. As such, I was stuck praying that the meal I was about to get would be fit for an unvegan such as myself.

When we got in the cave, the guide began to explain the Pottery Kebap. It is essentially a large pot that is sealed and put into an oven for an extended period of time. Essentially, it’s a Turkish crock pot. When they popped open the pot, I was delighted to find that there was meat involved. Unfortunately, there were also scores of unidentified green objects (UGOs). The meat itself was beef and quite good, if not a little bland. Unfortunately, the meat was outnumbered by the UGOs, leaving me with little to eat beyond a few pieces of meat, rice and bread.

Who knew drowning in yogurt could be so delicious?
Who knew drowning in yogurt could be so delicious?

The next interesting kebap I experienced was in Sultanahmet in Istanbul. A place named Backpackers was recommended to me, so I figured I would check it out. What I found was a cozy little restaurant with Ottoman-style floor seating, which catered to tourists. No problem for me, as long as it was good. I found it funny that on the main menu they were called Backpackers, but on the drink menu, it said “Backbeackers.” What an interesting little typo…They didn’t just simply mistake P for B, but they also stuck an E in there, although I suppose it’s better than the other options, “Backpeckers” and “Backbackers.”

Anyway, after perusing the menu, I found the Iskender Kebap, which is lamb, yogurt, tomato sauce and pita, all in one. When it came, I found that all the goodness of the listed ingredients had been bookended by two green peppers. I quickly did away with these and started consuming the meat that was slowly drowning in a sea of yogurt. The mix of flavors was quite interesting and difficult to explain, except to say that it was pretty good. Backbeackers didn’t let me down, although I wonder how much better it would have been if I were off the tourist track…