Veteran Turkey correspondent Andrew Finkel is also a noted food lover and a superb writer on culinary matters. In a column in today's International Herald Tribune, Finkel takes a wide ranging look at the history of Turkish kebab and its role in today's globalized culture. From his column:
Can any one cuisine call the kebab its own? Was the meat skewer born somewhere — or everywhere, of the primal urge to put flesh to fire?
This year commemorates the 50th year that Turks were first recruited to work in Germany. Many believe that these gastarbeiter managed to wriggle a way into their hosts’ affection by presenting to them an alternative to wurst. A cylinder of meat spinning on an upright spit in front of a vertical open fire — the famous döner kebab — became Germans’ entrée into the culture of their new neighbors. Or so they thought. But no less an authority than The Economist claims that the kebab is an example of cultural reflux: a bit of ethnicity cultivated in Germany and transplanted back to Turkey, where it then thrived.
This argument is pooh-poohed by someone who should know: Beyti Güler, the Horatio Alger of grilled meat and probably the only man alive to have a kebab named in his honor. After spending his boyhood peddling fruit from a barrow in the abattoir district on the outskirts of Istanbul, Güler was to turn his family’s kitchen into the landmark restaurant that bears his (first) name. He opened his first grill house in 1945, but he was soon forced to move it to a barn of a place in order to cope with the throngs who queued up for the house specialty: lamb and beef döner kebab cooked in front of a wall of oak charcoal. In 1983, Beyti’s moved to even grander premises near the airport.