Ramazan pide: a Turkish tradition

ramazan pideWe’re halfway through the month of Ramadan (called Ramazan in Turkish), an important time for religious Muslims but also a time of many celebrations. Turkey is a largely secular country, thanks to founder Ataturk, who brought the country out of the Ottoman Empire into the modern world 90 years ago, and many Turks do not observe the fasting but do enjoy many of the traditions associated with Ramazan. Each day’s sunrise-to-sunset fast is broken with the iftar meal, a feast anyone can enjoy and typically started with consuming a few dates.

In Turkey, a large flat loaf of Ramazan pide bread is a specialty only made during this month and a must for any iftar. Last year, during my first Ramazan in Istanbul, I tried a few supermarket Ramazan pides and was mostly underwhelmed, it tastes similar to a pizza crust. This year I got wise and joined the many locals standing in line for a fresh hot pide and now I’m hooked. Bakeries all over the city make pides in the afternoon and evening to be fresh for sunset call-to-prayer and it’s one time you want to show up at a bakery at the end of the day. Look for a bakery with the longest line, get your lira ready (they generally cost around 1.50 TL or $1 USD), and grab a piping hot loaf wrapped in a paper sleeve. Pides are usually covered in sesame seeds and make a great sandwich base with cheese or spread with tahini and Nutella, that is if you can wait that long. Many Turks tear into their pide on the way home from the bakery, while it’s still hot and crusty from the oven. Enjoy them while you can, Ramazan will be over August 29, when the national bayram holidays begin and pides disappear until next year.

An open love letter to Ä°skender kebab

Dear İskender kebab,

I know we only recently met, but, well, I love you. Whoa, whoa, don’t freak out. I’m sure you get this a lot. I mean, you’re pretty lovable. Turkish Delight might be more famous (and have better PR people), but you’re my own personal Turkish treasure. Don’t get freaked out. I just really enjoyed our time together and wanted to let you know why I think you’re the best-tasting, least-known Turkish food out there.Sure, almost everyone knows your cousin, the simple döner kebab. But, you were the first kebab made of vertical meat. That makes you special. An innovator. But, much like Melle Mel and Kurtis Blow in hip hop, you don’t get the credit you deserve amongst the mainstream.

Made of shaved lamb basted and covered in a tomato broth, you’re served over pide bread with a heaping helping of yogurt. That alone would merit this declaration of my love. However, you add one more sensual ingredient that lubes things up perfectly: a luxurious amount of hot, melted butter is poured over your meat and bread immediately after you have been placed on the table. At that moment, as you glisten and sizzle, you look more desirable than anyone else in the room. That was when I fell in love with you…at first sight.

You originated in Bursa, the fourth-largest city in Turkey. That makes Bursa the Houston of Turkey. Houston is a town known for meat and you certainly do not lack for meat, İskender kebab. Bursa has some interesting sister cities (Houston is not one of them). Tiffin, Ohio, USA. Oulu, Finland. Two towns in Bulgaria! I haven’t been to any of your “twin towns,” but I don’t see my own sister that often, either, so don’t worry.

Bursa was a key center in the ancient silk trade because of its location on the Silk Road. To this day, it is Turkey’s silk capital and perhaps the best place in the country to buy both raw and handmade silk items. It’s fitting, then, that you, İskender kebab, with your silky smooth buttery coating, were created in the city the known for silk.

Bursa’s futbol team, Bursaspor, won the Süper Lig in 2010. How exciting! They were the first team not based in Istanbul to win the Süper Lig championship since 1984. Istanbul, of course, is Turkey’s tourist hub, but is not the only place worth visiting in Turkey. Heck, it’s not even the capital! Bursa’s champions are called the Green Crocodiles, but İskender kebab most certainly should be made with lamb.

Your name comes from İskender Efendi, who created you. How I wish I could have asked for his approval before I professed my love to you. Alas, he lived in Bursa in the late 19th Century and must be presumed dead.

Baklava is sweeter. Köfte is healthier. Döner kebab is more widely available. But, dear, succulent İskender kebab, you are unique. You are an innovator. You are my own personal Turkish delight.

Love always,
Mike Barish

Mike Barish’s trip to Turkey was sponsored by Intrepid Travel. While everyone should agree that İskender kebab is amazing, the thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are strictly his own. You can read more about his trip to Turkey here.