Before I left for Turkey in 2012, I heard recommendations from everyone I knew on what I should do during my time here. Seeing the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque typically topped the lists of sights to see. Others (sort of) jokingly told me to eat a lot of turkey over here. (Get it? Ha.) Most people didn’t know enough about Turkish cuisine to suggest any actual suggestions.
But for those who have been to this ancient city before, kokoreç (ko-ko-retch) topped the list of things I must do, or rather, eat. Go to the top of the Galata tower and look over the magnificent city? That’s fine and all, as long as you have one of these roasted intestine sandwiches too. So being the adventurous eater that I claim myself to be, ordering a yarım ekmek (half-loaf) was a natural choice.
There are a few places near Tophane, the neighborhood where I lived, to sample this distinctive treat. One of them was plastered with newspaper articles that featured bright pictures of the restaurant with Turkish text that while I could not understand it, I assume it was positive.
So 5 TL (around $3) later, I was the proud owner of one of these unique eats. When an order is placed, a chunk from the long, rotating log of meat and organ is chopped off, hacked into pieces, and quickly griddled with oregano and red pepper. Many places also add chopped pepper and tomato to the mix. For many purists, the vegetables distract from the distinct meatiness, but for me, they were a nice textual change of pace. Whole, the kokoreç resembles a long cigar in shape and color. And if a cigar was tightly bound with intestines, they’d be very similar. And while they may veer off to different paths from there, the feeling of satisfaction after finishing one is quite the same.
After a few of these sandwiches, I realized not to dissect through the sandwich and simply look the other way and take a bite. And take a bite I did. To say that it wasn’t offal would be both a bad pun and a gross understatement.
I ate some of the best food in Turkey and kokoreç is right near the top of my list. I don’t know if it’s the novelty factor of eating all different organs in one sandwich, or that this combination of typically undesirable pieces combine to form a delicious bite.
While the reviews are mixed among those back home, it is much loved among Turks. Best drunk food? Some, dare I say it, less adventurouslocals will say Islak Hamburgers, but for those truly in the know, the answer is kokoreç. And for good reason. It is crunchy in parts, delectably soft and fatty in others, and decadently meaty all over. Even through those pesky tomatoes and peppers, it is the meat that shines through.
On this particular visit, there were a couple of cats gathered around the spit, who like myself, were likely drawn in by the distinctive smell of the meat roasting. Smart cats too, because during the vigorous chopping process for each sandwich, a scrap of meat is bound to fall onto the sidewalk. There are stray cats all across Istanbul, but those cats were the smartest ones I ever saw. Hell, they’ve been here longer than I have; they’re the locals. If they could talk, I would take their word for it.