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“The East Campus Köfte Man” July 11, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in Quick Eats, Street Food, Turkish Cuisine.
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Street food in Ankara has this interesting tendency to be prepared in the back of modified vans. Earlier in the year I profiled two of these vehicular eateries that dish out some exceptional köfte. Little did I know, though, that another great option is located almost within eyeshot of my lojman window.

Just before the gate to the east campus of Bilkent University (my employer), Abi Esat parks his van and on most nights cooks up a variety of quick eats that are renown throughout Ankara. People drive from all over the city to sample his goods, and it is without a doubt worth the trip.

Like the other vehicles I wrote about, Esat’s köfte is particularly good. The seasoning and toppings strike a near-perfect mix that provoke groans of satisfaction after the first bite. Combined with the option for melted kaşar on top, it might be the best I’ve encountered.

However, Esat’s star attraction is his antrikot. Dervied from the French word entrecôte, meaning ‘between the ribs’, this premium cut of beef is an uncommon offering in the form of street food and makes for a highly delectable treat. Be sure to ask for it with cheese for some added flavor.

To reach Esat’s van, take Bilkent 1. Cad. to 9. Cad. and look to the right shortly before the campus entrance (Google Maps). He’s usually around most nights after 20:00 or 21:00 and stays open until late. Köfte is priced at 5TL ($3.20 at 1.55TL/$), while the antrikot is a bit more pricy at 10TL ($6.45). There is also self-service midye available for 0.50TL ($0.30) each.

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Süha’nın Yeri June 24, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in Quick Eats, Turkish Cuisine.
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Döner kebab is everywhere in Ankara, but the honest truth of the matter is that most are pretty average. Dryness and poor-quality meat unfortunately tend to be all-too-common features in the majority of offerings. For the tiny amount you pay, though, it’s usually bearable and still a sufficiently tasty bite to eat.

Some döner, of course, is better than others. In a previous post, I profiled Gülsoy, my favorite quick-and-cheap eatery on Sakarya Cad. They tend to make a good product that is consistent and avoids the pitfalls mentioned above. But in the end it’s still fairly conventional.

Süha’nın Yeri is a different story. Their döner is made from veal, an uncommon meat to find in Turkey and certainly a surprise to see in this particular form. The result is delicious and puts a new spin on one of the world’s fast-food favorites.

The veal at Süha’nın Yeri is special (or so the manager told me). It is sourced from a particular butcher, and all of the tendons are meticulously removed before it is marinated for a day. The meat is then stacked and rotated in front of charcoal instead of the typical gas flame found in most döner places. And rather than serving it in the standard yarım ekmek, the final product is inserted into a hallowed-out piece of toasted bread. Onion and tomatoes come on the side to be added according to your taste.

This is not a change-your-life sort of meal, but the döner at Süha’nın Yeri is undoubtedly very good. I appreciate the innovation on a classic item that, as I said earlier, can be quite average at times. If you ever find yourself tiring of the options prevalent on the streets of Kızılay, I’d give this one a try.

Süha’nın Yeri is located on Bestekar Sk. in Kavaklıdere (Google Maps). It is only open for lunch each day, starting at 11:00 and closing usually around 14:00. There was a steady stream of people coming in and out while I was there today, always a good sign in any restaurant.

The döner at Süha’nın Yeri, being made of high-quality veal, is much more expensive than normal. One portion costs 10TL ($6.30 at 1.58TL/$). If you’re have a big appetite, you should probably get the bir bucuk size for 15TL ($9.50). Köfte is also served, but I can’t comment on the quality as I have not tried it yet.

Pikolet June 17, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in Quick Eats, Turkish Cuisine.
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In my never-ending quest to find the best kokoreç in Ankara, I followed a recommendation from the comments section of an earlier post and checked out Pikolet. At this point in the contest, the competition is fierce: Kıtır and Profesör have been impressive, but the lead is currently being held by Doğata Satış Mağazası in Atatürk Orman Çiftliği. Pikolet performs well against these competitors with some very good sebzeli kokoreç. In the end, though, it falls a bit short of beating them.

I tend to judge kokoreç based on the balance displayed between flavor and consistency. Good kokoreç will exhibit enough spicing to bring out and complement the natural flavors of the lamb and vegetables without becoming overwhelming. It will also maintain a consistency that is fine enough to avoid being overly chewy while still able to provide sufficient texture in each bite. This balance is not something quantifiable; I can’t say that this kokoreç is 21 percent better than that kokoreç. But it’s the basis I use when judging these places, something I’ve honed by consuming dozens and dozens of portions.

I enjoyed the kokoreç at Pikolet. Particularly for the vegetable variety (I tend to prefer the izgara ones), it’s very tasty. However, I’d probably go to the other places mentioned above before returning here. There’s not a drastic different; it’s simply a matter of preference, which ultimately is the final arbiter in taste. You can’t go wrong with any of them, so try each of these places and decide on the best for yourself.

In the upcoming weeks, I’m going to be checking out the kokoreç at Rumeli. Although known more for its işkembe, several readers have recommended it to me for consideration in my rankings.

Pikolet is located on Gençlik Cad., not far from Düveroǧlu (Google Maps). The other branch of Profesör is also nearby if you want to check out the competition. A yarım portion of kokoreç costs 7TL ($4.50 at 1.57TL/$). Köfte and midye dolması are sold at Pikolet as well.

A.O.Ç. Doğata Satış Mağazası June 8, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in Quick Eats, Turkish Cuisine.
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As a self-proclaimed connoisseur of kokoreç, it’s a shame that it’s taken me so long to visit Atatürk Orman Çiftliği (A.O.Ç.). Countless Turks have sung its praises throughout my time in Ankara, but I kept putting it off since it isn’t as convenient as most downtown restaurants.

After eating at Profesör last week, I promised to make the trip to the A.O.Ç. in order to crown the city’s champion kokoreççi. Yesterday I was able to stop by with my friends on the way home from a wedding in Altınpark to sample the delectable offerings.

Let me say this first: the place is absolutely phenomenal. It’s a mecca for kokoreç lovers. About half a dozen different shops are crowded together, preparing their fare and filling the air with the delicious smells of cooking intestine. The mood is set by street lights muted by thick clouds of smoke accompanied by the murmurs of the hungry crowds below. Undoubtedly, it’s not a destination for haute cuisine, but I can think of few better places to eat in Ankara.

A Turkish friend who attended the wedding with us directed me towards Doğata Satış Mağazası, declaring that it offered the best kokoreç of the lot. I can’t disagree; it was some truly amazing stuff. From my vantage point, the man preparing the kokoreç did everything correctly: he applied the right amount of spice and chopped the meat to achieve near perfect consistency. With each bite I could taste every flavor that makes kokoreç my favorite Turkish food. It’s certainly not an unreasonable claim to suggest that this is the best in this city.

The culinary awesomeness of Doğata Satış Mağazası is not only limited to kokoreç. The köfte is excellent and worth trying. The farm also makes its own superb ayran. The freshness and quality of the ingredients are apparent in everything they make.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the A.O.Ç’s dondurma is an attraction in and of itself. One of my friends went on record stating that it was the best soft-serve ice cream she had ever tried. I would concur.

Doğata Satış Mağazası and the other venders at the A.O.Ç. are located on Silhatar Cad. (Google Maps). A large loaf of kokoreç costs a very reasonable 8.50TL ($5.30 at 1.60TL/$).

P.S. I must apologize for the sub-par pictures in this post. I didn’t have my dSLR with me at the time and was forced to use a point-and-shoot camera, not an ideal tool for photography in low-light conditions.

Profesör June 2, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in Quick Eats, Turkish Cuisine.
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I sometimes wonder about the distance that would be covered if I lined up all of the lamb intestine I’ve consumed as kokoreç during my time in Turkey. It might stretch for miles. This past weekend I added to this distance with a visit to Profesör.

Profesör advertises itself as one of the top ten kokoreç places in Turkey, a status that I believe is based on this 2004 ranking in Hürriyet. According to the article, founder Adnan Zengin incorporates special ingredients from Mersin into his kokoreç and prepares it in ‘hygienic conditions’. Over fourteen years in business, Zengin’s work earned him the nickname that now stands as the name of the restaurant.

I will concur with Hürriyet that Profesör offers some exceptional kokoreç. The spicing is dynamic but not overwhelming, and the consistency maintains the all-important delicate balance between substance and texture. It’s quite comparable to Kıtır, although in the end I would give Profesör the edge.

However, the title of ‘Best Kokoreç in Ankara’ cannot be awarded until I try the much-praised offerings at Atatürk Orman Çiftliği. I will do so once I figure how to get there without a car.

The menu at Profesör also contains midye tava, köfte ekmek and chicken wings. They looked tasty, but the confines of a reasonable meal prevented me from sampling them.

Profesör has four locations around Ankara: Anıtepe, Sıhıye, Kızılay and Kavaklıdere. This review is based on the latter location on Bestekar Sk. (Google Maps). Profesör is on the expensive side; a portion of kokoreç costs 7.50TL ($4.75 at 1.59TL/$). Alcohol is served.

Kıtır April 21, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in Quick Eats, Turkish Cuisine.
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When I think about the foods I’ll miss most when I leave Turkey, kokoreç and midye rank at the top of the list. Far too often foreigners and Turks alike foolishly balk at eating these delectable dishes, fretting over their purported uncleanliness or mildly suspect preparation. So what, I say, if kokoreç is spiced lamb guts or if midye absorbs heavy metals from seawater? They’re both delicious and simply must not be missed during any trip to this country.

There is no shortage of places in Ankara to consume kokoreç and midye. I previously wrote about Şampiyon Kokoreç on this blog. But if you’re looking for something better than what is prevalent on the streets of Kızılay, I’d check out Kıtır.

With an atmosphere somewhere between a saloon and roadside diner, Kıtır departs from the Ankara norm of tiled floors, florescent lighting and Atatürk pictures. The worn-in wooden tables and blaring 80s hair metal give off a decidedly cool vibe, a feeling too often absent in this city’s restaurants. I immediately felt like Kıtır was the type of place where I’d like to spend an evening casually eating and drinking with friends.

The food at Kıtır is served cafeteria style; you order from a window by the door and give a colored token indicating your selection to the men behind the counter. Draft beer and other drinks are served at the end of the line.

Kıtır’s kokoreç struck me as having a better balance of spices than most other offerings I’ve encountered in Ankara. It also had the correct consistency: chopped finely enough to prevent the meat from being too chewy while still allowing the unique flavor to come through. A final dab of the bread in the grease on the grill didn’t hurt either.

Midye dolma lovers can get their fix at Kıtır, but definitely try the fried version as well. Served crisp and hot from the frier, these midye tava are accompanied by a tasty tartar-like sauce, something that brought me back to my summers spent on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Finally, if you find yourself craving Turkish baked potato, Kıtır makes a very respectable kumpir.

Kıtır has two locations in Ankara, one on Park Cad. in Çayyolu and the other at the end of Tunalı Hilmi Cad. in Kavaklıdere (Google Maps). My dining experience is based on the latter location.

Prices at Kıtır are a bit higher than other places offering similar fare. A portion of kokoreç is priced at 10TL ($6.75 at 1.49TL/$), while one of midye tava comes in at 8TL ($5.40). Kumpir averages around 7TL ($4.70) depending on your toppings.

Meşhur Adıyaman Çiğ Köftecisi April 2, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in Quick Eats, Turkish Cuisine.
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Çiğ köfte, like iskender, is another staple of Turkish cuisine that can be rather underwhelming when poorly prepared. Shortly after arriving in this country, I had several mediocre experiences that left me wondering why çiğ köfte was so popular. It wasn’t until I found Meşhur Adıyaman Çiğ Köftecisi that I grew to appreciate the flavors of this tasty dish.

Meşhur Adıyaman is a chain restaurant with branches all over Turkey and a few abroad. In Ankara alone, there are twenty-five shops. I first discovered Meşhur Adıyaman in Kavaklıdere, the more posh section of the city that suffers from a serious dearth of good, cheap food. When I’m forced to spend an evening in the overpriced bars around Tunalı Hilmi, I get some solace from knowing that delicious and inexpensive çiğ köfte is waiting before I go home.

Meşhur Adıyaman sets itself apart by preparing its dürüm with a combination of pomegranate and spicy sauces, nicely complementing the strong flavors of the çiğ köfte. The man at this location also spreads the “meat” in such way that it is thin enough to avoid overpowering the other ingredients while still giving a distinct taste to each bite. Finally, the lavaş at Meşhur Adıyaman is also thinner than most other places, allowing the çiğ köfte to be the focus of the dürüm, not the bread.

The Kavaklıdere branch of Meşhur Adıyaman is located on Bestekar Sk. under the Corvus Bar (Google Maps). A dürüm costs 3TL ($2 at 1.52TL/$), while half and full portions are priced at 5TL ($3.30) and 10TL ($6.60), respectively.

P.S. If you look at the exterior picture of this Meşhur Adıyaman branch, “etsiz” is visible at the bottom. This seems to suggest that this particular çiğ köfte is made without meat, which strikes me as odd given the name of the dish. I’d appreciate it if someone with greater expertise could fill me in with the truth of the matter. UPDATE: See the comment section for the answer.

UPDATE: I’ve found out that this particular branch is now closed, which is tragic because İbrahim, the man who ran it, truly was an usta. The other Meşhur Adıyaman’s around the city are good, but not  as good as this one.

Gülsoy Fast Food December 11, 2009

Posted by Steven Bartus in Quick Eats, Turkish Cuisine.
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Sakarya Cad. is a mecca for fast food lovers in Ankara. This bustling pedestrianized boulevard in the heart of Kızılay contains a plethora of quick eats, offerings diverse Turkish favorites such as balık ekmek, lamacun and kumpir. The most popular, though, is without question the döner kebab, Turkey’s most famous contribution to world cuisine. Across the globe, the ubiquitous sight of meat cooking on a vertical spit is a fixture of city life.

It is only a minor exaggeration to suggest that there are approximately 2.56 döner shops per capita in Ankara. On Sakarya alone, there are dozens of establishments making this cheap and tasty kebab. The best is Gülsoy Fast Food, located at the intersection with Bayındır Sk. (Google Maps).

You might ask what separates one döner kebab from the next as it isn’t exactly a complicated dish to prepare. But in my experience (which after fourteen months in Turkey probably numbers over a hundred) there are clear differences. Freshness is chief among them. The rotating nature of döner lends itself to being overcooked; meat is allowed spin all day, becoming drier and drier with each turn. Many shops also buy sub-par meat in order to save on cost. Other places keep their bread or lavaş past its shelf life or use a lackluster garnish of old lettuce and onion.

Gülsoy tends to avoid these pitfalls and is noteworthy not only for its freshness, but also for its use of better ingredients. Soslu döner is a common variation of the dish in Ankara, where iskender tomato sauce is added to the kebab to tastefully increase moisture. But Gülsoy has something better: a herb-based version that adds flavor without excessive liquid. Together, these factors make for the best dürüm on Sakarya and have made me a regular customer whenever I’m in the area.

Like most fast food stops in Kızılay, Gülsoy is very cheap. A delicious tavuk döner costs a mere 3TL ($2 at 1.50TL/$), although this week for an unknown reason they were selling at the ludicrously low price of 2TL ($1.33). The kokoreç is noteworthy as well and is priced at 2.50TL ($1.67) for a çeyrek (quarter) serving.

Çino Kokoreç October 13, 2009

Posted by Steven Bartus in Quick Eats, Turkish Cuisine.
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Cino  011

Ulus is one area of Ankara that is not often frequented by the city’s expat community.  Many Turks go to great lengths to dissuade foreigners from visiting this older, poorer and more conservative neighborhood.  Some have gone as far as to suggest that one risks physical harm if he dares to walk these streets.  In my experience, these fears are entirely exaggerated.  I have encountered some of the most cordial and welcoming people in the city during my trips to Ulus.

This year I have been making a habit of doing my produce shopping at the Ulus Hali (Google Maps), a large wholesale market on Alsancak Sk.  The fruits and vegetables are half the price and twice the quality of what I get in Bilkent.  The men who work the various stands are also very friendly and appreciate the novelty of a yabancı (foreigner) in a distinctly local place.  Through their recommendations, I discovered Çino Kokoreç.  Adjacent to the market’s entrance, it’s a popular place to enjoy the deliciousness of lamb intestine.  A yarım portion (one half) will cost you 4.50TL ($3 at 1.46TL/$).

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 $1.48TL/$).