We had entered Iskender kebab territory, it was obvious. The further inland towards Bursa we drove, the more often we were greeted by the jolly face of İskender Efendi, beaming down at us from roadside bilboards like a Turkish Colonel Sanders. And this made us excited, because Iskender kebab is awesome. Thick strips of lamb slathered in tangy tomato sauce, topped with grilled peppers and served atop a bed of fried pita bread with a side of creamy yogurt–tell me what is not to like here. Right?
We were excited for Iskender kebab. But while we were out drinking that night (as we do), we met some lovely locals who offered to show us a real specialty of Bursa that is even better than regular Iskender kebab. Score!!
Hungover and tired the next day, we were in the perfect situation to stuff our faces with something heavy, tomatoey and delicious. So our host, Merih, brought us to an excellent little restaurant he has been visiting since childhood to dine on the finery that is Bursa’s pideli köfte.
Pideli köfte is similar to Iskender everywhere except the important part: the meat. Instead of heavy, thick slabs of slow-cooked lamb döner, pideli köfte features a hoard of petit mince patties that are wonderfully spiced and quickly grilled to retain all the delicious meat juices.
These come to the table with the traditional Iskender trimmings (cubes of grilled pita bread, a dollop of sour, creamy yogurt, and grilled peppers and tomatoes), and look delicious enough as they are, but the waiter will shoo your eager hands away if you try to dig in before the dish is complete.
Next comes tomato sauce, simmering and steaming in a pan hot off the stove, it gets poured straight on the gleaming little köfte. Finally, hot sheep butter (yes, hot sheep butter) is drizzled over the entire dish, making it hiss and sizzle ever so slightly. Sprinkle a little sumac on your yogurt for an extra kick of tartness and you are ready to tuck in.
Lighter than a traditional Iskender kebab and full of tomatoey bready goodness (and vitamins and minerals, of course), this is amazing hangover food. It’s a Bursa specialty that the locals love but seem to want to keep to themselves, as I haven’t seen it anywhere else yet. Which is unfortunate, because it is awesome. If you manage to find yourself struggling in Bursa, save the Iskender for another time and give this one a try instead.