Southeastern Turkey’s culinary mecca of Gaziantep is best known for its baklava and kebabs. But lately we’ve been thinking that it’s soup that may actually be the city’s real crowning glory. Not just any old soup, mind you, but beyran çorbası, a stupendously delicious lamb-based broth that is usually slurped down for breakfast in Gaziantep.
Although this soup is probably best drunk at its source, we’ve recently come across a spot in Istanbul that serves up a very fine bowl of beyran – and not just for breakfast. Located in the bustling Aksaray neighborhood, Ehli Kebap is a grill house whose advertised specialty is skewered liver in the style of Diyarbakır, a city a few hours to the east of Gaziantep. But tucked into the restaurant’s corner is a soup master with some serious Gaziantep chops who has his own cooking station – gaily festooned with strings of dried red peppers – devoted to making beyran.
Each serving of soup is made to order, cooked up inside its own metal bowl, the usta creating it like a kind of hot and soupy ice cream sundae. First up is a schmear of suet, the shortening-like fat found around the kidney of a sheep, to give the soup some silkiness. Piled on top of that is a mound of white rice and strands of lamb meat that has been slow-cooked for hours, until it is utterly tender, which together give the soup its heft. To ratchet up the taste, the usta then adds a dollop of minced garlic to the bowl and tops the whole thing with liberal sprinkles of light and dark red-pepper flakes. The bowl is then put on a blazing gas burner and a ladleful of broth of an unfathomable depth of flavor is added to it, the whole thing coming to a quick boil. By the time the beyran soup arrives at the table, it has achieved a lovely rusty red color, looking – and even tasting – something like a Turkish version of a Louisiana gumbo.
As this once humble strip of kebab joints has become popular, particularly with Arab tourists, each restaurant has tried to outdo the other with increasingly wild renovations. Though the spirit of some places is now obscured by gleaming gold leaf tile mosaics, and the usual kitchen rants we love to eavesdrop on are muffled by the trickle of marble fountains, the beyran çorbası at Ehli remains as good as it has always been. One slurp still has the power to transport us right back to this soup’s Anatolian roots in Gaziantep.
This review was originally published on Istanbul Eats on June 27, 2011, and has been updated to reflect Ehli Kebap’s reopening after temporarily closing due to recent renovations.
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