James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

A Thousand Times Yes to Offal Wrapped in Offal, Served in a Baguette

Photo by: William Neuheisel

A Thousand Times Yes to Offal Wrapped in Offal, Served in a Baguette

Kokoreç in Istanbul

It’s about a 10-hour bus ride from Sofia to Istanbul. When I woke up, we had just crossed into Turkey; gateway to Asia, straddler of the Black Sea. Miles of sun-parched wheat emerged against the half-stolen light of morning. A few scattered trees perched aloof and hazy on the horizon. I blinked, yawned, and fell back asleep.

When I was bumming around in Vienna a couple weeks earlier, I had met an expat Turkish lawyer who suggested that I try some kokoreç, so I decided to track it down for my first Turkish breakfast. After going the wrong way multiple times, I eventually found an outdoor stall right off Galata Bridge that sold something that resembled what I found on a Google image search: a long, glistening log of fat.

Which is not too far from the truth. Kokoreç is offal (sweetbreads, hearts, and lungs) wrapped in lamb or goat intestines and then slowly roasted on a rotisserie. When it’s turning on the spit it looks vaguely like a giant sausage, wrapped tightly in twine and lightly smoked with off-brand Turkish cigarettes. After I ordered, the guy sawed off a thick slice, minced it, added oregano and chili pepper, and served the entire mess between a crusty baguette. All for the backpacker-friendly price of ten lira.

Istanbul has no shortage of meats stuffed inside or served on top of a load of carbs, but kokoreç is a standout, particularly because it’s endemic to this part of the world. The first taste was a revelation; supremely savory but with proper heat, the chewy spring of the intestine countered by the comforting softness of bread. At some places they’ll add chopped tomatoes and bell peppers for a hit of lightness. But that day, I had to man up and just chow down on pure thymus gland and assorted kidneys. You can ask for a squeeze of lemon juice. They will oblige.

I remember the first time devouring it, that bouncy texture, the smell wafting from the charcoal grill and the warm juice running down my hand, motorbikes honking and roaring straight past the Chinese tourists in visors snapping pictures of Suleymaniye Mosque in the distance. I remember the winding walk back to my hostel, the dodging and weaving through impenetrable traffic, a pleasant burn lingering long past the last bite.

On my last night in town, I went back to that same Kokoreç stand and had one more for the road. Afterwards I sat along tke river, finishing off a half-liter of Efes beer and observing the lights of Kadikoy, shutting off and going dark in this sprawling, unperturbed city. Soon, the temperature dipped, and the moon hung low over Istanbul.

Imparator Kokorec
Hobyar Mahallesi, Hamidiye Türbesi Sk. No:1 D:2, 34112 Fatih
İstanbul
9 p.m. – 8 p.m 

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