In a 2007 essay for the New Yorker packed to the brim with wonderful imagery arousing multiple senses, the novelist Orhan Pamuk recalls sneakily wolfing down a hot dog at a büfe near Taksim Square in 1964. His older brother Şevket catches him in the act and proceeds to rat on him to their mother, who did not allow the boys to partake in street food on the basis that it was dirty and gleaned from dubious sources.
Hot dogs and hamburgers were new arrivals in Istanbul back then, as were street vendors selling lahmacun and sucuk ekmek. The city was undergoing a renaissance in terms of fast food and street food, delicacies eagerly sought after by youngsters like Pamuk but reviled by their concerned mothers.
In 1961, three years prior to Pamuk being caught in the act by his brother, Ferit Goralı opened a small restaurant in the Fındıkzade neighborhood of Istanbul’s Fatih district. The family name also became that of the shop and its signature specialty, the Goralı sandwich, one of Turkey’s original fast-food items.
Served in a toasted hot dog bun, the Goralı is built upon a thin layer of a spiced, meatless bulgur wheat köfte, grill-kissed slices of salami, a purée of mashed potatoes, homemade mayonnaise and chopped carrots (a tastier, more loving take on Amerikan salatası, known elsewhere as Russian salad), rounded out with crunchy pickle slices on top. It is a family invention and an institution for longtime customers of the storied shop.
The Goralı family emigrated to Turkey in the 1930s from Gora (Goralı means “from Gora”), a region in Kosovo that also extends to parts of Albania and Macedonia. The people of Gora are Muslims and speak their own Slavic dialect, which is similar to Bulgarian and Macedonian. Ferit Goralı’s uncle Şefik initially set up shop in Ankara, selling meze and olive-oil-based dishes in the early years before crafting the sandwich that made Goralı a household name of sorts.
“There weren’t sandwich grills around back in those days,” said Ercan Goralı, Ferit’s son and one of four brothers running the enlarged Goralı location in Fındıkzade. Initially a cramped counter selling the Goralı sandwich alongside börek and ice cream, the family has expanded the shop to meet the demand that has risen over the years. The menu now offers variations on the classic with toppings like sucuk and grilled liver, but the original remains the favorite.
It is a family invention and an institution for longtime customers of the storied shop.
For its part, the sandwich grill/press has remained an important appliance within the realm of Turkish fast-food culture since its initial appearance half a century ago. Hot dogs, burgers, and kaşarlı tost, the ubiquitous Turkish version of the grilled cheese, are all served with the aid of this contraption. At Goralı, little flourishes like letting the salami get some face-to-face time with the grill, ensuring it is blessed with a touch of char, are important to the complexity of this sandwich.
During our first visit to Goralı, the four brothers worked diligently to keep up with the lunch rush, churning out dozens of freshly grilled-to-order sandwiches as we savored ours alongside a refreshing glass of homemade lemonade. Not wanting to bother the busy brothers, we returned the next day near closing time in hopes that we might catch them during a break and have a chat. No dice, as a flurry of customers resembling that of the previous day’s shuffled in and out, some sitting down to enjoy their Goralı, others clutching to-go orders. Fortunately Ercan took some time to chat with us while his brothers Ertan, Kemal and Şemmuz ran things like clockwork and kept on top of the stream of orders.
Other büfeler and chain fast-food restaurants sell what they call a Goralı, but what is essentially just a hot dog topped with usually mass-produced Amerikan salatası. This sandwich is alternatively dubbed the artist or sosisli Amerikanlı, but when it’s billed as a Goralı this ruffles the brothers, who officially patented their namesake sandwich in 1999.
“What they’re doing is illegal,” said Ercan of the establishments trying to pass off an inferior version of their creation.
After our first visit to Goralı, we posted a photo of the sandwich on Twitter, which ended up creating quite the stir. Among the staggering number of likes and retweets it received were dozens of comments from people of various ages waxing nostalgic on how they would routinely stop in for a Goralı after their high school or university classes. While these folks may have moved on to different neighborhoods and cities and the original Ankara location has since closed, the Istanbul Goralı is still in Fındıkzade where it opened more than half a century ago, making the same sandwich that bears the family name.
May they never unplug the grill.