Siirt Şeref Büryan - Gastro Obscura

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Gastro Obscura

Siirt Şeref Büryan

Come for the whole sides of slow-roasted lamb, stay for the regional Kurdish specialties. 

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Associated primarily with southeastern Turkey, and not native to Istanbul, the city’s kebab culture was nurtured by migrants from various Anatolian regions. It’s become amazingly rich in regional genres and inflections. 

There’s the luscious patlican (eggplant) kebap from the city of Sanliurfa; hand-chopped meatballs of skewered lamb from the Turkish grill mecca of Gaziantep; tepsi (tray) kebaps that involve zero skewers from the Hatay region near the Syrian border, and from Erzurum Province, cağ kebabı of lamb roasted on a rotating horizontal spit. 

The most delicious carnivorous treat in the city, however, might be büryan kebabi from the mostly Kurdish and Arabic-speaking regions of Siirt and Bitlis near Lake Van in Turkey’s far east. This scrumptious specialty involves slowly roasting whole sides of small sheep (or goat in Siirt) suspended from hooks over a wood-fired clay tandoor oven that’s usually set below ground. The result: crackling skin giving way to tender, moist meat, each order hacked into portions, weighed, and served over wood-fired pide (flatbread) that soaks up the meat juices.  

Istanbul’s büryan epicenter is the Kurdish area known as Kadinlar Pazari (“ladies bazaar”) in the shadow of the majestic 4th century Valens Aqueduct in the Fatih district. On the bustling market street here, which is “exotic” even to most Istanbullus, butcher windows showcase graphic sheep’s innards and grinning heads, open-air grocery sections are piled high with dried fruit and herb-flecked tangy cheeses, and specialty shops hawk expensive regional honeys. 

While almost every restaurant offers büryan kebabi (either from Bitlis or Siirt) meat connoisseurs flock to Siirt Şeref Büryan, a classic that has recently moved to new digs with a three-floor interior that feels simultaneously flashy and somber. The lamb büryan here is perfect, offered by weight (with or without bones) on fabulous pide warm from the oven. 

But Seref also excels in other regional specialties, whether tangy pomegranate-laced salads, or mumbar (stuffed intestines), which look a bit scary but prove addictive with their filling of aromatic spiced rice, or içli köfte (lamb-stuffed bulgur dumplings), here poached and served over yogurt. And you definitely want an order of perde (literally, “curtain”) pilaf, another Kurdish treat featuring a buttery dough case filled with nut-and currant-studded rice that cascades out of the pastry when the waiter raps the whole thing apart.  

Know Before You Go

Come for an early lunch when the lamb is freshly roasted and order it yagli (with cracklings and fat). 

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April 2, 2024

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