We’re always on the lookout for local delicacies, preferably ones that are tasty, quick and cheap. After leaving the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul a heady aroma of charcoal smoke, cooking meat and spices wafted over us.
We headed for the source and found a sandwich shop selling kokorec. We had no idea what that was but it sure smelled good. Eager customers huddled around a cook who was carving a round cylinder of meat about half the length of a baseball bat. As the meat spun around on the rotisserie it was basted by its own melting fat which dripped onto the red-hot charcoal fire, creating the wonderful aroma.
As each person placed the order the counterman tossed a crusty baguette to the cook who stuck it on the spit so it would get toasty. He’d then chop up some meat and red roasted peppers, scoop it on the bread, toss on a mix of oregano, paprika and crushed hot peppers and hand it back to the counterman, who wrapped it in butcher paper and handed it to the by now delirious customer.
When it was our turn to be delirious we eagerly ripped into the sandwich, barely remembering to peel back the paper first. I’ve read descriptions of flavors exploding on taste buds but, other than the time my brother convinced me to eat a whole clove when I was ten, I had never experienced that sensation.
Well this sandwich exploded. The combination of the meat, the fat, the charcoal smoke and spices created an eruption of flavors I’ve never experienced. I said to Larissa that it might have been the best sandwich I’ve ever had and we should consider opening a sandwich shop with them back in Philly. She was too busy chewing to notice another one of my harebrained schemes.
Afterwards we wondered what we had just eaten. Given the part of the world we were in we assumed it was lamb, we were almost right.
The next night we were out for a Turkish coffee with our friends Merve and Yaprak and relayed the story of our wonderful sandwich find. Yaprak made a tubular motion across her stomach and said “You ate kokorec. It’s sheep intestine. The long one.”
“Don’t worry, they clean it out first,” she replied.
That made me feel better. To make kokorec the cook takes all the parts of the animal that aren’t good for much else—offal, organs, lungs, kidneys, well, you get the idea—and wraps them in the intestine to hold them together over the fire. Come to think of it, it’s probably not much different from sausage.
Whatever was in that intestine, and I try not to think about it too hard, it was one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever eaten. If our travels take us back to Istanbul I’m sure we’ll be lining up again for a tasty serving of kokorec.
What’s your favorite sandwich?
Speaking of sheep, click the link for a video of our tasting lamb tongue in New Zealand.