x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Food Obsession: Iskender kebab

My biggest regret from a trip to Turkey was not trying the Iskender kebab – luckily there are great places to get it in Dubai.

One of the best Iskenders in Dubai is at Istanbul Flower on Sheikh Zayed Road, with Harput in Barsha serving a beefy plate that comes a close second. Photo by Arva Ahmed
One of the best Iskenders in Dubai is at Istanbul Flower on Sheikh Zayed Road, with Harput in Barsha serving a beefy plate that comes a close second. Photo by Arva Ahmed

Who visits Turkey and doesn't bother to taste authentic Iskender kebab? Me. Back in 2007, I had compiled checklists of places serving lahmacuns, pide, içli köfte and baklava - but Iskender kebab was a dish yet unbeknown to me. Only after tasting this dish in Dubai last year did I realise the magnanimity of the gastro-crime I had committed.

Diving into a well-composed plate of Iskender kebab is no different than walking into a hotel room to find the perfect bed: a mattress lined with cushiony chunks of pide bread, a cuddly pillow of creamy yogurt tinged with garlic, juicy sheets of smoky lamb and a red velvety throw of tomato gravy. The final homely touch is a warm stream of butter draped across the dish like a silk runner, beckoning you to a dreamy world where lamb, bread, yogurt, gravy and butter live together in perfect harmony.

The name I have often seen associated with this culinary invention is Iskender Efendi, the man who defied centuries of horizontal roasting tradition and pioneered the vertical spit in the 1860s. His invention enabled a rotating pyramid of deboned lamb to be exposed evenly on all sides to the cooking flame, an ingenious technique that fathered the birth of the ubiquitous shawarma. Three generations later, Iskender's grandsons are still serving their trademarked Kebapçi Iskender legacy. Long strips of meat are shaved off of the vertical spit and piled over bread that willingly sponges up all the meaty, buttery juices trickling down to the bottom.

One of the best Iskenders in Dubai is at Istanbul Flower on Sheikh Zayed Road, with Harput in Barsha serving a beefy plate that comes a close second. Then there's Anatolia in Ibn Battuta Mall - worth the 45-minute drive from Abu Dhabi, guaranteed.

If Dubai's versions have even half the flavour of the original, I'd like nothing more than to fly back to Turkey and do it right this time.

Arva Ahmed blogs about hidden food gems in Old Dubai at www.iliveinafryingpan.com.