Home of shadow plays and the 'real' kebab...
One Turkish dish that has achieved international reputation is kebabs, but you haven't really experienced a quality kebab until you have had one in Bursa, the birthplace of the Iskender kebab and home of shadow plays.
Bursa is a large city in NW Anatolia within the Marmara Sea region. Between 1335 and 1363 it was the first capital of the Ottoman Empire and many buildings, mosques and tombs remain from that period. Where the dominant color in Istanbul is blue (Blue Mosque), it’s green for Bursa (Green Mosque) and that doesn’t only refer to the buildings but to the many parks too.
Famous for its silk production and excellent gold smiths, Bursa was and is a wealthy city. Majestic Mount Uludag offers ski resorts in winter, hiking in the summer. The nearby beach resort of Mudanya and the thermal springs of Yalova bring even more variety to a stay in Bursa.
Eating in Bursa - The Iskender kebab
Bursa chef Iskender, or rather Yavuz Iskenderoglu, is the famous great grandson of Iskender Efendi who invented his special delicacy in his restaurant in Bursa in 1867.He had the idea to stand the spit on its head and rotate the finely sliced lamb vertically and by hand rather then horizontally over the charcoal fire. The result is that the fat that melts from the meat doesn’t drip into the fire but smoothly covers the slices and enhances the flavor.
His kebab consist of smaller and larger pieces of meat which, when ready, are finally sliced off with a serrated knife and placed on a bed of pitta bread. It’s then covered with a spicy, hot tomato sauce, slathered with melted butter and yogurt, served with grilled tomato and egg plant.
Bursa’s Iskender kebabs are a far cry from the often found fast food variety. People in the restaurant, which is still run by the family, sit down to enjoy their kebab. No eating on the with Mt. Yavuz and definitely no electric grill. Tradition and quality are what count for him. There is no other dish on the menu, you choose only by size of the portion you want according to how hungry you are.
In one corner of the restaurant you find a little museum and you might have to queue because there aren’t many tables. But it’s well worth the wait. Prices are according to size between €10 and €15 and a smaller portion for kids is available.
If after enjoying an Iskender kebab you still find room in your stomach, you must try another Bursa specialty: candied chestnuts. Sometimes they are sold lose, but more often they come in boxes which also make a nice gift. The flavor and texture is comparable to marzipan but not as sweet.
Enjoy some Turkish shadow theatre
Visiting bazaars and souvenir shops anywhere in Turkey, you are bound to have come across two colorful and expressive shadow figures - Karagoz and Hacivat the central puppets of the famous Turkish shadow theatre.
Karagoz and Hacivat were construction workers in the mid 14th century who entertained their fellow workers with pranks and plays. Unfortunately, they distracted them so much that the building of the mosque was delayed and the sultan finally lost his patience and had them executed. However, they were not forgotten and countless plays evolved around them , which are still performed by specialist puppeteers to this day.
So, if you're looking for an alternative to the usual route of Istanbul, Cappadocia or the beach resorts, head for Bursa and get a kebab education!
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Recommended hotels in Bursa, Turkey:
Hampton by Hilton, Bursa
Hilton Bursa Convention Centre and Spa
Sheraton Bursa Hotel