The Kebob Crawl - Turkish Thanksgiving Day 5 (Part 2)

November 25, 2012

The Kebob Crawl was set up almost as quickly as the airfare was purchased. I'm not sure entirely how it happened, but I think it was Adele who came up with the idea. Four or five locations, food at each location. And we didn't have to pay for we were eating. We had to pay for it in advance, of course, but...

We actually ventured out into a whole other neighborhood to start this crawl. For the most part, we stuck close to Sultanhanamet. This is where the majority of the "old" areas existed that we wanted to see. It wasn't until we took the Tram to the Funicular (total fail...I thought we'd go up a huge in the Alps. Apparently, I didn't look at the topography of Istanbul before I came.) that we saw a whole unexplored area.

Shopping, multiple Starbucks, a very European feel. We kind of missed all of this until now. And we didn't have time to explore. We walked by a cute little place that was like a bookstore and a cafe. Swoon!! If we only had one more day, we would have been able to explore this area a little more. But we needed to see the big things. Next time, Istanbul. Next time...

We met the group in Taksim at a grand old hotel. Megan, the guide, said she chooses this place because it's centrally located. And it serves wine. Awesome. We hadn't had wine since the fight from Chicago to Amsterdam. Four days is a long time to not have wine.

There were a few people already bellied up to the bar. Introductions were made and there quickly became a running joke when other Crawl people started arriving. Out of eight people, four were from Chicago and two from California. The final people walked up and we were going to guess if they were Chicago or California. We were all wrong...Copenhagen, Denmark. So it did keep with the "C" theme. The Chicago connections were hilarious, though. The owner of the Crawl either grew up or went to school in Chicago. Megan, the guide, went to University of Chicago for graduate work. If there's one thing I've found in traveling the world, you can never be too far from a Chicago connection.

Megan found our driver (first time in a car/van since we got here) and we drove to the neighborhood where we were going to go on the crawl. She announced we would be heading to Little Urfa." The first paved road in Turkey was built from Urfa (South Turkey) to this area of Istanbul, so as people migrated towards this city, this is where they landed.

And they landed alright. They landed on the street where our apartment was located. Literally. As we drove past a few noticeable landmarks, Adele and I looked at each other. We said to Megan, "this is our street!!" and she looked at us in surprise. This was the neighborhood where the crawl would take place. It took us 45 minutes to find the group and we end up on our block. First stop on the corner...

Sanlifura Zaman was down the street from our hotel and is known for one thing. Lamb liver. No, seriously. They shove lamb liver (and tail fat...can't forget that) on a skewer and serve it up on a platter. You have to eat it with the parsley and mint along with onions covered with sumac. It came in a platter that included rice (still am loving the rice here) and chicken wings. I know. I was surprised by the chicken wings as well.

As for the lamb liver...surprisingly good. The wings were also good, but I still wasn't sure why they were there. Then again, I am not a chicken wing person. We sat with a couple (I think brother and sister) from Denmark and shared stories. We were also served a yogurt drink called Yayik Ayran. It's a tart drink with a ton of foam (the more the foam, the better it we've been told). It was...awful. Well...not awful, but not good at all. It did taste better with the food, but I didn't consume much.

We walked around the block for our next stop. Onbasi Urfa Kebop was where we were going for Kebbeh. Though it is actually called something else here. Icli Kofte. We had some insanely good Icli Kofte on our first night at the excellent restaurant down the street. This one was good, but it wasn't as great as the one before. But we did get some up close conversations with the bread maker. They were shoving flatbread (lahmacun) into the wood oven just as quickly as they could. We ate one about 30 seconds after it came out if the oven. It actually burned our fingers.

It was here that we had a bit of a lesson on Turkish life. People study and apprentice for years to do their job. For food, they do one job. If you are a bread maker, you make bread. Nothing else. If you cook kabobs, you cook kabobs. Nothing else. People (mostly boys...that we saw) start as an apprentice around 12 or 14 years old. They work for two or three years, then serve in the military for two (or so) years. When their time served is over, they come back to a guaranteed job. Doing the one thing they do. We crazy Americans were asking about salaries. Can the Kebob guy make enough of a living to survive in Istanbul?? The answer is yes. There are various types of housing for various price points. While the bread maker may never be "wealthy," he will be "comfortable." And that's all that matters for the folks.

A few storefronts down, we hit Altin Pide Lahmacun. This place serves the bread for the majority of the restaurants in the neighborhood. The original owner moved to the area and saw there were a lot of Kebob joints, but very few served bread. It's hard work to keep the fires going (literally) and restaurants would have to hire many more people to get the job done. So this guy just focused on bread and sold it to the nearby places. As we crowded into a small storefront, people were in and out constantly. Restaurant workers would walk across the street or around the corner to get their bread. The really big restaurants would get the bread delivered in the blue bags at the bottom of the picture.

There were three to four men working in the shop. One guy brought a tray to the front room with small round half globes of dough. One or two guys would take each globe, roll it very thin and hand it to the guy with the pizza stone (for lack of a better term). The pizza stone guy shoves the bread into the oven and takes it out again a minute later. This goes on over and over and over again. We got tired just watching it happen. I guess it's an American thing (or a western thing??). These guys work 17 hours a day doing that one thing. I'm tired if I spend an hour working without a Facebook break.
(see, look...they're going so fast, I couldn't get a clear photo!!)

The guys made us a wrap. They cooked a spicy lamb mix on the flatbread and then rolled it up with pickled cabbage and lemon. It was great, but I don't like pickled cabbage. I could have gone without that part.

We had one final stop. Urfali Haciusta is the restaurant Megan had been excited about since the beginning. This stop's main event was an eggplant kabob. But it took a bit of time to make the kabob. So we learned about the Kebob Master and took pictures. We also had a few "appetizers" while we waited. The main nibbly was Cig Kofte. Cig Kofte is a spicy ground meat dish. And the meat...totally raw. Ok then, down the hatch. In all wasn't really bad. The spice was a little much for me, but I'm known to be a wussy with spices (I'm getting better with spicy...I think it's the Siracha used in Pho that is upping my tolerance). No one really paused when looking at the raw ground meat. If you know where your meat is coming from and if it is very fresh, there shouldn't be any issue with the rawness...

Now an eggplant kabob doesn't sound like much, but it is cooked perfectly with chunks of fatty meat. Oh man. The fatty meat!! Whenever I think I might attempt a vegetarian lifestyle, I eat fatty meat and want to cry. But back to the kabob. The trick is to mush them together to make almost a paste. We were both insanely full by this point, but there was one more dish to try.

I had to pull out my extra stomach for the dessert. Kunefe is a cheesy dish. The top and bottom layer is a fried flour and water mixture. The middle is a cheese (I think goat...if I remember correctly). The dish is cooked, then drenched in a simple syrup and covered in a water buffalo clotted cream (like butter). Adele has had this in the past and said she didn't care for it too much. This time, she slicked down the whole dish. And so did I. It was just the right amount of savory and sweet for a dessert. And the clotted cream. Heaven.

Bellies-extended, we wobbled out of the restaurant happy to have gone on the crawl, but happy we didn't have to eat anymore. It was 9p and we needed to be up and getting ready at 2a. As Megan walked everyone towards the Tram, we were able to turn the corner and walk halfway down the street where our five story walkup was waiting for us. An excellent time was had by all. And it was a great end to a long weekend vacation.


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