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Şampiyon Kokoreç September 30, 2009

Posted by Steven Bartus in Quick Eats, Turkish Cuisine.
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Sampiyon  007Kokoreç is a remarkably divisive food; in my travels I have encountered few dishes with such an uncanny ability to polarize opinion.  Some find grilled lamb intestine to be delicious and one of the best foods in Turkey.  Others are repulsed by the very idea of eating innards, not to mention the occasionally suspect conditions in which they are prepared.

The divisiveness of kokoreç even extends into politics.  Since Turkey’s ascension process began with the European Union, there has been talk about outlawing the dish in accordance with the E.U. ban on the sale of sheep organs.  This law was passed in the aftermath of the mad cow disease outbreak during the 1990s, and it resulted in the (official) prohibition of the Greek equivalent, known as kokoretsi.

Many Turks view the proposed ban as an unwarranted impingement on culinary tradition, representative of the overly intrusive reforms being forced onto Turkey by the Europeans.  Fortunately, recent developments indicate that the new health laws accommodate a ‘hygienic’ version of kokoreç, ensuring that all will be able to enjoy this dish irrespective of Turkey’s place in the world.

In this great debate,  I wholeheartedly place my allegiance with my fellow offal lovers.  The unique consistency and spicing of the meat makes kokoreç something that simply can’t be missed.  To sample it in Ankara, there are scores of good eateries to consider.  But one place in particular deserves a visit: Şampiyon Kokoreç

Şampiyon is a popular chain of restaurants in Turkey.  Originating in the Beyoğlu fish market off İstanbul’s famed İstiklal Cad. in 1962, there are now more than three dozen branches across the country.  The Ankara location is on Selanik Cad. (near Sakarya Cad.) in Kızılay (Google Maps).

While the namesake dish is enough of a reason to patronize Şampiyon, the midye (mussels) is what truly makes this establishment something special.  It comes in two forms: midye tava (fried) and midye dolma (stuffed).  The former is served in bread covered with an impeccable bread crumb and garlic sauce, while the later is filled with seasoned rice doused with lemon juice.  Both are superb and can be enjoyed together with kokoreç by ordering ‘Menü 9’.  When eating with a group, you are also given a dish of the midye sauce to soak up with slices of bread.

Şampiyon offers ten different combination meals that include ayran and dessert.  Most cost around 10TL ($6.75 at $1.48TL/$).

Uludağ Kebapçısı September 27, 2009

Posted by Steven Bartus in Turkish Cuisine.
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İskender kebab is one of the most popular dishes in Turkey.  Ask a random Turk on the street about his favorite food and the answer will invariably be this combination of thinly sliced lamb basted with tomato sauce over pieces of pide, generously topped with melted butter and a side of yogurt.

İskender originated in Bursa, a city in northwestern Turkey, and is still made by the family of Yavuz İskenderoğlu, the butcher who created the eponymous dish in 1867.  Having sampled the original in its birthplace last year, I can confirm that iskender lives up to its reputation as one of the tastiest dishes in Turkish cuisine.  While it’s worth making the trip to Bursa, there is no shortage of iskender options in Ankara.  However, one must be discerning in his choice in order to taste an accurate rendition of the original.

In my experience, iskender has the potential to be the most precarious of Turkish dishes.  If any one of the ingredients is out of proportion, the harmony of the flavors is disturbed and the food is rendered unremarkable in its taste.  In such cases, the diner will be left sorely disappointed and bewildered by the ubiquitous admiration heaped upon this dish by legions of Turks.

In Ankara, one place stands above the rest as the most authentic producer of iskender.  Established in 1956 as a small, four-table restaurant in the Ulus neighborhood of the city, Uludağ Kebapçısı draws in locals and tourists alike for what is widely considered to be the best iskender outside of Bursa.  Since its inception, Uludağ has expanded into six branches in Ankara and İstanbul, but still retains the quality and consistency that made it famous.

Upon first glance at the Uludağ menu, one might be confused by the lack of anything called “iskender“.  This is because the title is trademarked by the progenitor in Bursa.  Uludağ’s version takes the name of the establishment, Uludağ kebab, and pays near perfect homage to the original.  The ingredients are fresh and properly proportioned, achieving the correct union of meat, tomato, butter and yogurt.  I recommend that you begin your meal with the çoban salatası (shepard’s salad), a refreshing mixture of tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers and parsley, topped with lemon juice and olive oil.  It provides a nice contrast to the heavy flavors of the iskender.  For your drink, the ayran is a delicious complement to the dish.

Uludağ Kebapçısı is not a cheap place.  One portion of Uludağ kebab is priced at 15TL ($10 at $1.48TL/$), and the waiter kindly recommended that men (and, I assume, those women with larger appetites) order the 1.5 portion, which costs 21TL.  This is about two to four times what you will pay on the streets of Kızılay. But those seeking the best iskender in the city will certainly find the premium to be a worthy investment.

Uludağ has locations in Ulus, Çayyolu, Armada A.V.M., Panora A.V.M. and Antares A.V.M. as well as in Florya in İstanbul. In an informal poll of my Turkish colleagues and friends, the Armada branch (Google Maps) is considered to be the best, but this is certainly a subject for debate.

Roka September 15, 2009

Posted by Steven Bartus in Turkish Cuisine.
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A friend of mine describes Roka as the union of two unlikely individuals: One who wanted to eat with his hands and another who possessed a sizable surplus of fresh produce.  Regardless of its exact origins, it’s worth making the trip to Bahçelievler to try Roka’s unique and tasty combination of greens and meats.

Turkish restaurants are known for employing copious quantities of salt and other spices in their meat-laden entrées. While often delicious, the constant onslaught of flavored protein can become tiresome to the frequent diner.  Roka provides a much-needed alternative for those looking to add some zest and crunch to their otherwise traditional meat dishes.

Upon being seated in pint-sized stools at pint-sized tables, the waiters at Roka spread a salad consisting of an array of fresh greens directly onto the table top in front of you. The mixture of romaine and iceberg lettuce, parsley, mint, cilantro, watercress and green onions is then doused with freshly squeezed lemon juice and accompanied by a skewer of grilled tomatoes and several cloves of warm roasted garlic. While flavorful enough on its own, this salad makes for the perfect topping which you artfully apply by hand to the köfte or adana kebab served to you on warm bread.  The refreshing, crisp flavors of the salad nicely complement the robust spicing and texture of the meats. As an accompaniment, be sure to try the Çamlıca ayran; it’s one of the tastiest pre-packaged variations you can find.

While delicious and fun, Roka is not a life-changing meal. However, it does revitalize old Turkish favorites with a novel twist that is sure to please those looking for a change of pace in their Anakra dining options. And at about 12TL ($8 at 1.50TL/$), it’s inexpensive as well.

The restaurant is located on 22. Sk. off the lively Aşkabat Sk. (also known as 7th Street) (Google Maps).

Çukurağa Sofrası September 7, 2009

Posted by Steven Bartus in Turkish Cuisine.
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Çukurğa SofrasıIt’s only fitting to begin my coverage of Ankara dining with Çukurağa Sofrası, my absolute favorite place to eat in the city.  Affectionately known as the “Orange Restaurant” to its expat patrons because of its preference for the color in its décor and wait-staff wardrobe, this Emek establishment offers up Turkish food at its finest.  Its menu is basic and unpretentious, serving most of the standard grilled meats and yogurt dishes that can be found anywhere in Ankara.  The difference is that they are simply better at Çukurağa Sofrası.  My personal favorites are the ali nazik, beyti and yoğurtlu kebabs.  Meat lovers should be sure to try the karışık ızgara for a sampling of all the delicious grills that are offered.

While the entrées are enough of a reason to visit Çukurğa Sofrası, the complementary mezzes only sweeten the deal.  For most, the salata, ezme and pide are meals in themselves. For the hungrier crowd, the waiters are always willing to provide a refill before your main course arrives.  And just when you think you can’t eat anymore, you are served dessert, the warm, sweet and incredibly delicious helva topped with Turkish ice cream, known as dondurma.  This treat easily ranks as one of my favorites, both in Turkey and abroad.

The best part about this meal is that all of this will only cost you about 15TL ($10 at 1.50TL/$) with a drink.  It’s a daunting challenge to find a better value anywhere in Ankara.

Çukurağa Sofrası is located on 22 Bosna Hersek Cad. (Google Maps), a short walk from the A.Ş.T.İ bus terminal.  It’s easy to find; just look for the large crowds spilling onto the sidewalk.  Also, be warned: It’s tough to get a table when breaking the fast during Ramadan.

About ‘Eating Ankara’ September 7, 2009

Posted by Steven Bartus in News.
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Any visitor to Ankara quickly learns that there is no shortage of places to eat.  At times it feels as if every street in this city offers a impressive variety of restaurants poised to please almost every taste.  During the year that I’ve been living in Ankara, much of my free time has been spent exploring many of these offerings, and I’ve learned that successfully navigating the myriad options available here is no easy task.  These experiences gave birth to the blog you are reading.

Over the upcoming year, I plan to chronicle my culinary adventures in Ankara, creating an English-language resource for those who hope to eat the very best during their stay in Turkey’s capital city.  While I don’t consider myself to be a trained critic or a culinary authority in any way, I do love to eat out and do so frequently.

Thank you for reading and please feel free to email me with the name of your favorite Ankara eatery for review.