You’ll find kebabs in countries all over the world, so what does kebab even mean? Essentially it’s a way of lumping a number of varieties of meat dishes together. Most often they’re cooked either on a skewer or a spit. There is some evidence that the word itself derives from ancient Turkic languages (themselves partially derived from Arabic), and it meant originally “roasted meat.” Kebab restaurants in Turkey feature a regular array of types of kebabs, so we’ll list a few that’ll quickly become your favorites!
The most common variety of kebab is marinated lamb or beef cooked on a skewer called a “shish,” or written in Turkish as şiş. Vegetables are sometimes cooked along with them, wherein typical vegetables include eggplant, tomato, bell pepper, onions, pickles and mushrooms.
This is very similar to the normal shish kebab. The difference is simply that the skewers are wooden instead of iron, but the kinds of marinades, meats and veggies used are essentially the same. Çöp şiş usually features smaller cuts of meat and fewer vegetables, thus its name, which translates to “rubbish shish,” though its flavor is nothing to scoff at! The smaller cuts of meat are usually fatty, and then pounded with tomato and garlic before marinating in a set of spices. Because the cuts are small, they become crispier than other kebabs. They also are often used as appetizers for a larger kebab meal.
On any menu these will be listed as two different varieties, but they’re essentially the same except that Adana is a spicier version of the Urfa Kebab. Kebab dishes (and many other dishes) are reckoned to be at their best from Turkey’s southeast, and Urfa and Adana are two of the signature southeastern cities in Turkey.
Both kebabs are a mixture of ground beef and/or lamb that’s kneaded together with onion, garlic and local spices before being packed by hand on a shish. These spices are the primary difference between Urfa and Adana kebabs, with Adana featuring red pepper flakes and urfa features paprika and other milder spices (like oregano and cumin) that still burst with flavor without being too hot. The dripping fat helps bind the meat together, so that after its cooked you’ll see a hole right through the middle of it.
The kebabs are usually served with other grilled vegetables, but not on the same shish as the kebab.
Iskender is incredibly popular, particularly in Istanbul and Bursa, where the kebab originated. The name “Iskender” means Alexander in Turkish, and it’s named after the supposed founder of the 19th century chef from Bursa who invented the Döner Kebab, or rotating kebab.
Iskender Kebab is made by slicing off bits of döner kebab onto pide bread that’s been cut into small squares. It’s then covered with melted better, a spiced tomato sauce and creamy yogurt is served next to it. Often roasted peppers and tomato are served with it. It’s one of the more filling kebabs and is truly delightful when all the flavors combine to perfection.