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The Kebab Chef – Kebapçı

Musa Dağdeviren*

Regional Differences in Kebab Cuisine

Kebab cuisine is centered in the East Mediterranean cities of Antakya, adana, Tarsus and Mersin, with Tarsus and Adana being the leading cities of the four. The process of preparing the mincemeat in Mersin and Antakya is similar to that in Adana and Tarsus. In these cities, the meat is chopped into mincemeat with two knives. One of these is pointed and the other is oval and about 25-30 cm in length. These knives held traversely as the meat is chopped.

To make hot spiced kebab, the minced meat is carefully mixed with ground or flaked red pepper or pepper paste in a way to avoid its becoming mushy. It can also be made with the addition of salt only. When an order comes, the meat is removed from the cooler and applied to the flat skewers, and put over the coals. It is cooked over the embers, turning every five seconds. The oil is removed by pressing on flat bread with indentations made with the fingers; a single row in Adana and a double row in Gaziantep.

The kebab is accompanied by onions with sumac, parsley, cress, radishes and a salad of finely minced tomatoes, peppers, onions and pomegranate molasses. The typical drink is şalgam, a sour non-alcoholic drink fermented with red carrots, turnips and bulgur, either with or without hot pepper. The salad accompaniments are brought to the table first, and sour orange is always brought alongside to squeeze on the kebab. Though Mersin is not as developed as these two regions, the kebab there partially resembles them. The kebab culture in this city is mostly developed and supported by Arabs of Adana, Tarsus and Mersin. In Antakya one finds tepsi (pan) kebab, kâğıt kebab, chicken and liver kebabs etc., but it is not well-developed in the area of classic kebab. The common features across this area is that the meat used in kebab comes from male sheep.

In Southeast Anatolia, the meat for kebab is minced with a knife called a zırh. The zırh is made of wrought iron, about 60 cm long with a short wooden handle, and gently curved.

With one hand on the handle and the other on the back of the knife, the knife is rocked back and forth over the meat to mince it. It is cut without crushing until it is reduced to pieces the size of grains of wheat. It is then salted and mixed carefully. This minced meat is used to make two kinds of kebab, acızız (with no hot spice) and sebzeli (with vegetables).

Acısız Kıyma Kebabı (Mincemeat kebab with no hot pepper): The meat is seasoned with salt only, and applied in a round shape to round skewers.

Sebzeli Kebap (Kebab with Vegetables): The plain mincemeat is mixed with garlic, parsley, fresh red pepper and black pepper. This kebab can be made any time.

Acılı Kebap (Kebab with Hot Pepper): There is no such kebab. However due to demand, kebab chefs have been obliged to invent an acılı kebap by adding hot flake pepper to the kebab mincemeat! The kebab chefs do not like to make “acılı kebap,” because anything added to the plain mincemeat spoils the meat’s natural flavor.

In Adana, Mersin, Tarsua and Antakya, the skewers for kebab are flat; in Kilis, Gaziantep, Nizip, Urfa and Birecik they are round. The mincemeat is applied to the skewer either flat or round accordingly. In the first group of cities, the skewers for kuşbaşı (lit. “bird head,” i.e. small chunks of meat) kebabs are square on the cross-section, in the second group they are hexagonal. These regions also have a great variety of oven-baked kebabs.

Aleppo, Syria, is the most important city which “feeds” the culinary cultures of the East Mediterranean and Southeast Anatolia. During the Ottoman period, Gaziantep was a province of Aleppo. It established its relationship with Aleppo via Kilis. For this reason, this city has enriched its cuisine with those of Aleppo and Kilis. This historical bond with its surrounding cities has allowed it to create a very rich kebab cuisine, with varieties ranging from cherry to loquat, eggplant and truffle kebabs.

Although kebab cuisine in Kilis resembles that of its neighboring cities, it has its own unique kebabs as well. Some of the more outstanding of these include ekşili (sour) kebab, oruk kebab (a mixture of fine bulgur and mincemeat mixed with spices and garlic) and kibülmüşviye, cooked on the coals with meat, kidney fat,bulgur and spices.

The kebab culture of Nizip is a blend of those of Gaziantep and Birecik.

Birecik has its own unique vegetable kebabs. For example, Birecik is the first place to come to mind at the mention of eggplant kebab, because the eggplants here are flavorful, of a good shape and consistency for kebab, and seedless. When a patlican kebab is not good, masters say “Now, if this was a Birecek kebab, now good it would be!”

Frenk (“Frankish” – with tomatoes) and poppyseed kebabs are commonly made in Birecik as well. These are accompanied with grilled peppers, tomatoes or an onion salad with plenty of parsley, sumac and fresh red pepper. In Urfa, the common side is sections of onion. Birecik first inspired the kebab cuisine of Urfa, but over time the currents have reversed. Despite this, Birecek still holds a unique place in kebab cuisine. Our best kebab masters working in Turkey’s Arab region are from Antakya, Adana, Kilis, Gaziantep, Birecik and Urfa.

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