For the past 24 years, Cemil Tuncay has wheeled his small metal cart to the biweekly produce pazar in Edirne. He sets up shop around noon, lighting coals under what can be described as massive, torpedo-shaped sausages. Kokoreç is a simple fast food made from bits of sheep left over from butchering, stuffed into intestines to the bursting point. It is a one-man operation. With the exception of his wife (who sometimes helps him clean and prepare the meat), Tuncay goes it alone. His mustachioed face is often grizzled with a little bit of stubble and worn by years’ worth of fragrant grill smoke. He is tall and stoops over a bit to prepare each order, doing so with a jaunty smile and a twinkle in his eyes.
There are really only two options to choose from: half or full portion. The standard sandwich features tomatoes and meat seasoned with kekik (an oregano-like herb), spicy red pepper flakes and salt. If you like, you can drink ayran as well, but that’s about it. The meat is fatty and sumptuous, gliding over your tongue with a peppery nip that screams for more.
“The most important thing is for the meat to be clean,” Tuncay states as he slices tomatoes with the tip of his knife. Working with intestines and other types of offal means that hygiene is incredibly important. Everything on his work surface is careworn but clean. His knife, likely once a standard chef’s tool, has been worn down by countless trips to the sharpener into something that would look at home on a fishing boat. Each segment of kokoreç is lined up in an orderly fashion, positioned so that each absorbs the correct amount of smoke before being place directly over the flame. He quickly cleans his cutting board after each sandwich, checks how the meat is cooking and methodically places fresh bread to warm on the fire, hands moving with the experience of thousands of meals gone before.
When we first photographed Tuncay, people recounted stories of visiting him as a child on market day. Today, little has changed. The cart is something of a local legend. You can smell what is cooking while you haggle over melons and peppers under the blue roof of the open market. People coming and going often stop by for a quick bite. Even with the constant stream of customers, he only works his magic twice a week at that particular market. You cannot find him downtown, assailing people leaving bars with peppery meat morsels, or set up along the river, waiting for passing tourists. His fare is a localized phenomenon that is easily missed if you don’t show up at the right place and time. Only word of mouth or your sense of smell can guide you to him, and if by chance you make it, your tongue will thank you for it.