To the uninitiated, the restaurant owners of a small corner of Istanbul’s Yenibosna neighborhood might come off as having an unhealthy obsession with particularly garish versions of the colors yellow and green.
As we recently explored the lower end of the Yenibosna neighborhood, one of Istanbul’s large periphery boroughs, we stumbled upon a small cluster of kebap shops spread out amid a run-down yet bustling strip of auto repair shops and congested rows of apartments, with each eatery’s sign decked out in identical yellow and green trim.
A closer look cleared things up: Each restaurant had the word Şanlıurfa emblazoned upon its two-tone signs. Şanlıurfa (or Urfa for short) is the southeastern province renowned for its rich history and culinary traditions, the latter of which can be sampled at great length in this corner of Istanbul. The province’s football club, Şanlıurfaspor, has a rabid following, and the team’s colors are – you guessed it – yellow and green.
First inhabited by Balkan immigrants (the name means “New Bosnia”) and later by Kurds and Alevis from the southeast, Yenibosna is one of many Istanbul neighborhoods starving for green space, or even just space in general. While the concrete-jungle atmosphere may feel bleak at first, Yenibosna is not without its charms – one of which is the Meşhur Öz Suruç Urfa Kebap grillhouse.
This neighborhood favorite was opened 15 years ago by brothers from Urfa’s Syrian border-hugging district of Suruç. One of these brothers is the cheerful Sadık, who can be found manning the counter most evenings. After initially operating from a smaller space next door, the grillhouse eventually outgrew its location and spawned a string of similarly themed eateries. Sadık insists that Meşhur Öz Suruç was the first on the block, and it’s visibly the most popular.
When you order a portion of kebab from Sadık, a brigade of complimentary sides is rushed to the table. The meal begins with a bowl of cold yogurt soup topped with mint, and the small plates that follow include roasted eggplant, sumac-sprinkled onions, spicy grilled peppers, a brisk ezme of chopped onions, tomatoes and spices, and a salad of tomatoes, cucumbers and parsley topped with pomegranate sauce. We could not resist ordering frothy ayran on tap, served in copper cups and drunk with small ladle-like utensils.
We ordered half-portions of grilled marinated chicken, çöp şiş (assorted cube-like morsels of meat and fat), liver and Adana (spicy lamb). They all came freshly off the skewer, served on one communal plate. We sampled each one on its own and made miniature burrito-like configurations with the assorted freebies inside pieces of fresh lavaş.
Everything was delicious, but the liver – an Urfa specialty – stood out, charred on the exterior, smooth and soft and not too pungent. “We only use lamb liver purchased daily,” Sadık said, showing us a receipt affixed to the wall from a nearby butcher.
Right when we thought we had tried everything by selecting four half-portions, Sadık told us that the Suruç specialty is the patlıcan kebabı, skewers of meat interspersed with hulking cylinders of eggplant. A must for the next visit.
Meşhur Öz Suruç caters to those living nearby, serving fantastic kebab at modest prices. On most evenings, the place is full of families enjoying a night out, one that won’t break the bank. Our bill came to TL 34 (around $11) for two.
Areas such as Yenibosna are a reminder that Istanbul is composed mostly of folks who came from elsewhere. When we asked Sadık when he moved from his memleket (or hometown) and settled in the city, he responded by saying that he never really left, as he travels back and forth between Istanbul and Suruç, where his family runs a farm. Steeped in the colors and cuisine of Sadık’s hometown, Meşhur Öz Suruç is a testament to the many roots firmly planted throughout this perpetually expanding city.