The Original Iskander Kebab with Yogurt and Brown Butter in Istanbul, Turkey

The Original Iskander Kebab

by Kebapçı İskender, Istanbul, Turkey

If you've spent any time in Turkey, you've probably tried at least one Iskander kebab, a special type of kebab served with tomato sauce, yogurt, and brown butter over pita bread (called pide in Turkey). What you might not know unless you're a local is that the name of this dish refers to the Iskander family who invented Iskander kebab way back during the days of the Ottoman Empire in 1867 and trademarked the name "Kebapçı İskender".

On a recent visit to Istanbul, I decided to visit the original Kebapçı İskender restaurant to try the first, most famous, and presumably best Iskander kebab in all of Turkey.

the original iskander kebab by Kebapçı İskender, Istanbul, Turkey
the original iskander kebab by Kebapçı İskender, Istanbul, Turkey

There is no menu at Kebapçı İskender. They specialize in one thing and one thing only: iskander kebab. I've always felt that having no menu or an extremely limited number of dishes on a menu is a sign that your meal is going to be something really special.

I took the ferry across the Bosporus from the European side of Istanbul to the Asian side in the east and walked just a few minutes from the ferry terminal to the restaurant. Kebapçı İskender does not have franchises. It's a family run restaurant and is kept very much in the family. Each of the 4 branches is run by a brother of the İskenderoğlu family, and lovingly makes and sells kebab according to their patriarch İskender Efendi's original recipe.

a plate of Iskander kebab in Istanbul, Turkey
a plate of Iskander kebab in Istanbul, Turkey

The base of the dish is a piece of pita cut into bite sized squares and spread out to line the bottom of an oblong serving dish. The bread is layered with hot tomato sauce and heaps of döner kebab meat made from lamb and slow cooked over a fire. The plate is served with charred tomatoes, green peppers, and a huge portion of thick, rich, and buttery homemade sheep milk yogurt.

To ensure the quality of every dish, this restaurant only serves the meat of raised at their family ranch. The meat is so delicious that it is served without any sauce or spices to allow all of the rich flavors of the lamb to speak for itself.

What makes Iskander kebab special, though, is the final ingredient: a pan full of hot brown butter made from sheep's milk that is poured over the entire dish at the table right in front of the guests. As the butter hits the meat, it sizzles.

The decadent, nutty butter coats each piece of meat and soaks into the pita lining the bottom of the plate.

To best enjoy your Iskander kebab, get a piece of bread and meat and a dollop of yogurt in each bite!

It's absurdly rich and filling. If you don't have a huge appetite, you might be able to split a serving of Iskander kebab between two people.

brown butter poured over kebab meat
brown butter poured over kebab meat

The meal was served with a tiny glass of Üzüm Şerbeti, or grape sharbat. This sweet non-alcoholic cordial is made by fermenting Syrah grapes until just before it turns into wine. This gives it a light, refreshing sort of flavor, similar to a fermented kombucha. It's a great way to cut through the richness of the kebab after your meal.

Üzüm Şerbeti, or grape sharbat in Istanbul
Üzüm Şerbeti, or grape sharbat in Istanbul

Menu and Price

Kebapçı İskender has no menu and serves just one dish: their legendary iskander kebab. A portion is 380 lira (about 13 USD). If you cannot speak Turish, don't worry. The staff can speak some English, but since there's no menu, there's really not much need for communication outside of indicating how many portions you want.

Location - where to find the original iskander kebab

Kebapçı İskender
there is plenty of seating downstairs and upstairs, although it can get busy at times

Kebapçı İskender is located in Istanbul at Caferağa, Albay Faik Sözdener Cd. No:3, 34710 Kadıköy/İstanbul, Türkiye. The restaurant is just a short walk from the public ferry stop on the eastern side of the city. The nearest public transportation is Kadıköy İdo Tram station, which is just a few steps from the entrance to the restaurant.