From the leaf-thin fried liver of Edirne to mumbar, the spicy rice-stuffed intestines of eastern Turkey, Turkish cuisine is rich with organ meat delicacies. Sakatat, as offal is called in Turkish, is approached with a fair bit of reverence (and sometimes caution).
But even the most die-hard işkembe (tripe soup) lover might shy away from şırdan, a uniquely Adana specialty. In appearance, this dish is more than a little… well, phallic. Made of the abomasum, the section of the sheep’s stomach responsible for producing rennet, this organ meat is cleaned (thoroughly!) and stuffed with rice and spices before being slow cooked in a rich red broth.
Our first encounter with this delicacy was on a late-night food excursion in Adana. We boarded one of the city’s many minibuses, this one seeming to have barreled straight out of the 1970s, complete with fringe curtains and black lights to compliment the türkü (Turkish folk music) blasting from its speakers. After a long and hellacious journey, we jumped out of the still-moving vehicle and wobbled down the street to Şırdancı Bebo. There we found what appeared to be baby aliens – or perhaps a batch of misplaced sex toys – floating in giant metal pots. Warily we ordered one, alongside the more familiar mumbar dolması, and swiftly polished it off before asking for another. We were surprised to find the taste clean and fragrantly meaty, and the texture extremely satisfying – the perfect balm for the harrowing journey.
We now remember this minibus ride – and the wrinkly şırdan dolması – with fondness. Unfortunately, near-death experiences at the hands of minibus drivers are far easier to come by in Istanbul than a quality bite of şırdan. But on one midnight stroll in Acıbadem, a quieter, more traditional counterpoint to the hip bustle of Kadıköy’s Yeldiğermeni neighborhood situated just across the metro tracks, we stumbled on this unmistakable delicacy.
As şırdan is traditionally a late-night food – for some, the perfect end to a night of drinking – the eatery, Şırdancı Eşo, was abuzz with activity. Tables filled with diners, from groups of young men to families, spilled out onto the sidewalk from a tiny, brightly lit storefront. A pile of gleaming midye dolması (stuffed mussels) and a steaming pot of şırdan and mumbar guard the entrance, and inside two cooks rotate sizzling rolls of kokoreç over glowing coals. On one wall a giant flat-screen TV played an incongruous mix of Western pop hits, while every inch of the other wall was covered in photos of the staff and Eşo, the usta (master) himself, posing with customers and their meals.
We squatted at a short street-side table. The cook manning the şırdan pot barked a welcome, and we ordered the house specialties: mumbar and şırdan, plus glasses of şalgam, the quintessential Adana pickle juice, to wash it all down.
The atmosphere was simultaneously welcoming and brusque; a familiar combination to those who frequent the city’s many fast-food joints. But halfway through our meal Eşo usta materialized, as if from thin air. He is impossible to miss – his face is on the sign. He stopped to chat with every single table, and even filmed some customers – favoring the very young, the very old and the foreign – for his active Instagram page.
He sat down with us for what seemed like three seconds, smiling. “Twenty years I’ve been in Istanbul, but all my life I’ve been making şırdan. Now, even foreigners are coming!” We asked how şırdan had become such a popular food in Adana, and the usta spread his arms in characteristic glee. “You’ve tried it, you know,” he said. “It’s the flavor that keeps people coming back! I have no clue how people started eating it, I’m no philosopher.”
And with that bite of wisdom, he stood up and went off to cheer on a young boy who, sitting with his parents, was suspiciously eyeing the rice-stuffed organ recently plopped in front of him.
Our order of şırdan was brought to the table on piece of brown wax paper, still steaming from the pot and sans silverware – this is something you eat with your hands. After gingerly removing the string that holds the şırdan together, we sprinkled it with a generous helping of cumin, the perfect foil for the rich gamey taste of organ meat. We bit into one end, the texture surprisingly firm and the aroma of the casing and the beautifully spiced iç pilav (seasoned rice) filling our nostrils. We munched away, instantly transported back to Adana – and before we knew it, the şırdan was gone, devoured, and we turned to the stand to order another, and another, once again in that succulent trance that only comes from deliciously cooked sakatat.
“Twenty years I’ve been in Istanbul, but all my life I’ve been making şırdan.”
The mumbar arrived in a small copper pan, the kind typically used for menemen, swimming in thin, steaming red broth. The long links were a translucent white, stuffed with rice, and unbelievably clean in taste. In true Adana style, the mumbar was quite mild, texture taking center stage instead. The rice was perfectly cooked, steamed to the point that no crunch remained but every grain was still distinct, and the casing lent a fragrance and springiness that made biting into it such a satisfying experience. The house-made şalgam is just as deliciously addicting – even when we aren’t craving organ meat we dream of returning to Şırdancı Eşo’s just for another glass of this ever so slightly spicy brew.
On a later trip we discover that Eşo usta cleans, stuffs and marinates the star dishes at home, and brings them to the restaurant to begin cooking at around 3:30 every afternoon. By 4 p.m., the tiny space is packed with customers, chatting like old friends with the staff and each other, waiting for the day’s batch of şırdan to emerge from the upstairs kitchen. It’s a family affair – a young boy lights the charcoal for the pots as his father mans the kokoreç grill for the more impatient customers. When the usta finally brings the şırdan down, there is a general cheer of appreciation, matched only by the moment of silence, ever so short, after everyone begins to tuck in to the first şırdan of the day, all of us absorbed in the same delicious trance that unites us for one fleeting bite.
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