Thursday, May 4, 2017

ISKENDER: Döner Kebap "at its best" opens in Istanbul!

Dear readers,

I don't know about you, but I am a major meat lover and I doubt that will ever change! Sure, we all have to watch our weight, health and eat more nutritionally, but from time to time we have to say "what the hell!" but as long as it's not a daily habit, I say indulge yourself!

And... that's exactly what I did after Aslı Aksoy from Inhouse İletişim PR sent me a press release announcing the opening of the highly popular Bursa based Iskender in Nişantaşı, Istanbul! 
Şakayık Street, Nişantaşı - Istanbul
She invited me to lunch and we got together on a lovely sunny day on April 25th to indulge our meat or should I rather say "döner kebab" cravings!

Simply called Iskender after its founding father Iskender Iskenderoğlu, the restaurant was founded in Kayhan, Bursa in 1867 - a whopping 150 years ago! The Iskenderoğlu family were experts in preparing meat dishes and the creative & innovative Iskender Bey (instead of saying Mr. Iskenderoğlu, Turks prefer to use the first name and add bey (man) or hanım (woman)) looked for ways to prepare lamb dishes in a different way. To quote his grandson (named after his grandfather) in an article written in the Herald Tribune on September 11, 1996: 

"He was the first person to turn the traditional cooking spit on its end and stack the charcoal vertically, it was a technological revolution at the time."

And.. Voila! Iskender döner kebab or at the time called Iskender dönen kebab was born! The word "dönen" in Turkish means "revolving" and "döner" means "rotating". Today, it is simply called or should be called Döner Kebap (more on this later).
Döner Kebab @ Iskender
Grandfather Iskenderoğlu's invention is slices of döner (primarily lamb) and beef tenderloin strips on a bed of pide bread & tomato sauce with a side of plain yogurt, sliced tomatoes and grilled green chili peppers. When served, hot melted butter is drizzled over the dish. You can opt not to do this, but I highly suggest you try their version with the melted butter!

Grandfather Iskenderoğlu had 3 sons. His son Cevat Iskenderoğlu took over the helm and in the 1930s moved the restaurant to Atatürk Street next door to the Tayyare Culture Center also in Bursa...

Iskender @Atatürk Street, Bursa
It still stands today and the decor has been maintained reminiscent of its first days and nothing has changed. Anyone and everyone who has traveled to Bursa or to the nearby Uludag Mountains stops by to sample the extremely delicious döner kebab served. In fact, I too have eaten at this location about 15 years ago! Unfortunately it was the first and last time as I haven't been back in the area since! After opening 2 branches in Bursa, finally we have an Iskender in Istanbul!

Opened about 1,5 months ago, Iskender has a minimalist decor and the walls have been decorated with historical pictures, documents, etc. about this longstanding restaurant.
Iskender @Şakayık Street Nişantaşı

Iskender @Şakayık Street Nişantaşı
Iskender is handicap accessible and after climbing a few steps, the entrance of the restaurant has a few tables and after making a left and passing the chefs area where the döner kebab is prepared, you enter the main dining room and  winter garden. 
Iskender @Şakayık Street, Nişantaşı

Iskender @Şakayık Street, Nişantaşı
Surprisingly, their is no overpowering döner smells in the restaurant because of the excellent ventilation.

Iskender plain and simply serves Döner Kebab since it opened in 1867! There are no other main dishes on the menu and different sized portions are available. Originally, there were no sides but now you can order a mixed salad, french fries, roasted eggplant or yogurt. Two desserts are also available and non-alcoholic hot & cold beverages. I highly recommend you drink ayran (yogurt drink prepared with water, plain yogurt and salt) or try the homemade şıra (partially fermented grape juice).

Cevat Iskenderoğlu turned over the helm of Iskender to his two daughters Neslihan, Ilgihan and son Iskender. The 3rd generation Iskenderoğlu family is completely dedicated and devoted to maintaining their grandfather's  and father's heritage and are very hands on. I was fortunate to meet Ilgihan and Iskender Iskenderoğlu during my lunch. Each is responsible for a different part of the smooth running organization. 

Quality & safety is of the utmost importance at Iskender. Recipient of the ISO:22000 Food Safety Management System certification, Iskender has its own Meat Packing Plant with a veterinarian and food engineer and conforms to internationally accepted food quality standards.  

Finally, as I mentioned earlier, born as "Iskender Döner Kebab", today it is simply called or should be called "Döner Kebab". Iskender is a trademark, registered name of the Iskenderoğlu family so it cannot be used by other establishments when naming their restaurants and they cannot list "Iskender Kebab"on their menus. The family has been fighting this battle for years and will continue to do so.
If you would like to enjoy a truly exceptional, delicious the way it should be prepared döner kebab, I say run, don't walk to Iskender and indulge your cravings for meat!

Bon apetit! Afiyet olsun!  

Stay well,

Şakayık Sokak No. 67
Tel: +90 (0212) 241 0 241 (only in Turkish)

Open daily between 11:30am and 9:30pm

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