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Back on the streets for Iskender Kabab.

I love my meat. And I love my bread. And when you throw little juicy slivers of meat over chunks of bread drenched in warm yoghurt and melted butter, dousing it all in a delicately spiced tomato sauce, I experience UBER-LOVE.

One of my all time kabab loves from Turkey—Iskender Kabab at Ankara Restaurant, Deira

I speak to you of none other than the Iskender Kabab. The Turkish kabab that you could find at Shikidim and that I’d raved on about as one of Dubai’s Top 16 Ethnic Eats…only to learn a day after the article was published that Shikidim had shut down. To any lonely tourist who read the article and was out hunting for those now non-existent meaty sauced-up chunks of Iskender on Murraggabat street...yes, I do deserve to be pelted with rotten tomatoes.

But such is Dubai. The land of imports, the land of transience, the land of I-saw-this-in-NYC-and-I-want-it-here-too. I-want-it-NOW. Oh-and-one-year-later-I-am-bored-of-running-it-so-let's-call-it-quits.

Often, I don’t even realize when something gets shut down, unless some wise foodie reaches out and warns me that I should probably stop raving about the kababs I had ten months ago because they’ve long gone [on that special note, thank you Daddybird, for keeping me honest.] I get so distracted with constantly hunting out new places that I rarely go back to the same place again. Shikidim and its award-winning [I Love You So Darn Much in My Frying Pan Award] Iskendar kababs had hit the cemetery and I hadn’t even mourned the loss.  RIP.

But if Dubai can be fickle with me, I can be fickle with Dubai. I’ve switched my loyalties to my latest Turkish find along the Deira Corniche, Ankara. Admittedly, the Iskender at Ankara was a couple of notches less awesome than the one I’d had at Shikidim. They didn't have the wider chunks of chicken alongside the tiny shawarma slivers that Shikidim had served, and the narrower surface area meant less sauce was soaked up per sliver of kabab.  I also committed a faux-pas and ordered a somewhat bastardized chicken version that didn't have the beefy juices lurking about in Shikidim's mixed chicken and beef Iskendar plate. Neither version is authentic really, the way to go probably pure lamb, and Ankara does offer that too (I stupidly didn't order it. yeah, don't ask.)

Saucy yogurty chicken slivers of Iskender Kabab

But comparisons with dead restaurants aside, Ankara's plate of saucey kababs was still a worthy balm for the emotional wounds I had suffered after Shikidim had shut down so abruptly. What’s more is that the owner is visibly passionate about the food and how it MUST be served. He threw a hissy fit when I arrived late to pick up my first take-out order of Iskender kabab from them. The plastic tub of chicken shavings over juicy bread had waited for an entire 30 minutes for me to arrive, which is unacceptable in the land of optimal Iskendar consumption. Before the dish could become a weeping soggy mess, he gave it away to another customer, and prepared a fresh one when I arrived.

THAT is called passion for food. And I rarely see it in this city.

Another must-eat at Ankara is the lahmacun (pronounced lahmajoun), a Turkish pizza that’s been snowed over with minced meat and optionally traced with beaten eggs that have meandered through the meaty fissures and baked up into omelet rivers in the oven. I’d totally recommend going with the eggy version, and putting a spot or two of sweet bottled ketchup if you’re a proud ketchup freak like I am. There’s no cheese on the lahmacun, and I’m glad there isn’t, else it would stamp out the fresh parsley and subtle seasoning locked in by the ground meat.

Meaty lahmacun with egg

Ankara kick starts your meal with a free bowl of killer lentil soup, fresh pide bread, and heaps of chopped veggies dressed in olive oil. I could have skipped the lahmacun and the kababs altogether, and just sat there, philosophizing about life between dunks of pide into lemony lentil broth. After years of having complex Indian dal spiced with every ingredient available in the bottomless masala dabba, the sheer simplicity of minimalist Mediterranean and Middle Eastern lentil soups always catches me off guard. In a very, very good way.

Soulful soup of lentils. Comforting, yummy, and totally free.

Turkish Pide

I’ve also tried a stew with velvety mutton morsels, eggplant and other veggies that had melted into soft succulent cubes of meat broth flavour. The stew was a discovery during my first takeout experience, when I took a shot in the dark and asked the phone attendant whether they had any meaty curry with eggplants. It’s definitely not on the menu, though it may be one of the tantalizing dishes sprawled out in the display to your left as you step into the restaurant. When reheated the next day over lunch, all the earthy mutton juices in the stew had intensified and screamed out for a toasty Turkish pide to be drowned in them.

There’s a good reason I’d go back to Ankara. Or maybe three good reasons. The first being this dreamy bundle of glistening chicken stuffed with rice that I saw in the display, and that I shall willingly befriend it on my next visit. The second is for dessert. The sign outside suggests that they have the clownish Dondurma (Turkish ice cream) show happening within, but sadly, I didn’t see anything of its kind within. What they did have was a tray of some sort of fried dough soaked in syrup. If I hadn’t already devoured half a plate of Iskender and a couple of Lahmacun strips, that dessert would have made it to the table.

Imagine if they served mysterious deep fried syrupy dessert under a thick creamy scoop of Dondurma? I know. I’m drooling too. Over something that neither of us has even tasted just yet.

And the last dish I’ve got to stick my fork into would be the yogurtlu kababs, long skewers of minced meat bathing in yogurt sauce.

This time around, I’ll make sure to go back. I’m going to dabble about in as much Turkish goodness as I can at Ankara until…oh, I don’t know…fickle Dubai steals the kabab plate away from me again.

[psst. You really can’t miss Ankara on the Deira Corniche. Unless you’re still mourning the loss of Shikidim and would never betray them for another Turkish restaurant. Or more likely, unless you never drive down the Deira Corniche. But it’s there, right next to the Belhoul specialty hospital, with a big flickering green and red sign overhead. Droves of bachelor men or married men who need minimal conversation and piles of meat are scattered across the tables, starting out on the pavement and leading into the restaurant. For a lady seeking her share of meat, the servers are kind enough to escort her away from the male turf and into their private family dining room at the back of the restaurant.]

Ankara Restaurant
Deira Corniche, next to Belhoul Specialty Hospital
Phone: +971 (4) 273-1855





28 Comments

  1. Sheryn

    A restaurant’s pride in their food really is a rarity here, and the places that do care should be appreciated.  A few weeks ago, a popular falafel chain delivered me a salad that had rotting lettuce on the bottom, and limp, brown lettuce on top.  I took the salad back to the restaurant, irritated that they would deliver something that was so clearly not edible (it was in a clear container)… But then I met the supervisor and realized that he doesn’t care at all about the quality of the food.  It’s just a job to him.

    This is how the small, hole-in-the-wall, mom-and-pop type places earn my business… Because they care and take pride in their work.  

    You said it perfectly, as usual.

  2. Kulsum

    Oh I remember tasting my first Turkish red lentil soup while in in Turkey and at first like you said, our complex Indian dal made this taste like just boiled lentils with salt and pepper. But slowly it grew on me and I keep making it now at home for every chance I can for soups! Simplicity is such a beauty!

  3. My sisters have been asking me to go with them to Ankara for like forever, and I have kept putting it off.  Your post has convinced me to finally make that trip to Deira Corniche! 

    • inafryingpan

      @sheryn917:disqus – rotting lettuce?! that’s despicable. Makes you wonder whether the chain in question invested any time at all in finding people who’re passionate about service, and in training those people…though even the world’s worst chef (aka me.) knows not to serve rotten lettuce, no training needed there. Just good enough eyesight to glare through a transparent container and figure out if the lettuce was rotting.
      It’s so important to have an owner there who’s present in the day-to-day running of the place, and who cares about the people who’re coming to eat there. There’s no guarantee you’d even get that with a mom and pop, but at least it makes me feel like there’s a greater likelihood of a family member being there who’s invested in the customer, and is taking personal pride in the food being served.

      Three cheers for the small cozy well-run restaurants…and a tiny desperate squeal for fresh lettuce.

      @51f7a52027b835a8d527742d56647bdd:disqus – Absolutely, simplicity is beauty. And that soup at Ankara was drop dead gorgeous.

      @med0194:disqus – Procrastinate no more! Let me know whether you like it!

    • Sheryn

      Pride in what your serving is so important!  I also think that crappy should-be-thrown-away-because-it’s-rotting food is sent out on deliveries because the restaurants don’t think anyone will have the energy to return the food… I mean, I was lazy enough to order for food to be delivered.  I have been taking a stand lately though, with delivered food and food I buy from the grocery stores.  It helps a little, and if everyone would complain it would help a lot.  

  4. PINAR

    Wow! I wanted to go to Deira for Ankara! I always tought that only us (Turks) appreciate Iskender but you seem to be a genuine fan. Have you tried Anatolia Rest. in IBN Battuta Mall, the cooks are Turkish and they are cooking really really good. 

  5. Shy

    Great review on Ankara…certainly on my “to do list” Have tried only Kosebasi @ JBR and keep eyeing Anatolia when I’m at Ibn..

    • inafryingpan

      @91c67d3d7f69d835edda4f6fe340a1e9:disqus – Oh trust me, you don’t have to be a Turk to be smitten by meat, yogurt drenched bread, butter and tomato sauce piled up on a plate. :) BUT, you have to be a Turk to know that you should order the lamb iskender *HITS HEAD ON WALL FOR THE 20TH TIME SINCE SHE RETURNED FROM THE RESTAURANT* and how it compares to back home. Will you go there and give it a taste for me, pretty please? Would love the  Turkish vote of confidence on this one!

      …and I saw Anatolia at Ibn Battuta last week, but because I was running late for a movie at the mall, I fell  victim to the insipid snack bar inside the cinemas. I will just have to go back and ditch the movie next time around for Turkish kababs.

      @18d7aac8de19afeffdb21eea8b0d7cae:disqus – Thanks! I have tried Kosebasi too, loved it on 3 out of 4 occasions. Great bread and dips, especially that sundried tomato one. The doner has been a hit or miss type thing there. Which reminds me, I need to check if Ankara does doner, didn’t see it on the menu which is quite strange… :/

  6. Saleem

    Sorry to hear that Shikidim has closed shop. Yes remember you mentioning that the Ankara owner was upset that you were late for the pick up and it must be eaten hot and when served.

  7. Shweta

    Hello!

    Just wanted to say I love your blog! We really needed something like it in Dubai.

    Also wanted to recommend another good Turkish restaurant called Istanbul Flower. Haven’t been there in long so hope they haven’t shut down too!

    It’s underneath the erstwhile Safestway on SZ Road, right after Mazaya Centre. This place was introduced to me by a vegetarian friend who kept going back there for the boat-shaped spinach cheese pastry. I was intrigued enough to try it and loved it. Although I don’t eat red meat either, my husband loves their meat iskander – definitely worth a comparison to Ankara. They have now opened another branch in Healthcare City but it certainly doesn’t have the personality / character of the original.

    Hope you have the time / appetite to try it out some day :)

    • inafryingpan

      @9a1d510f1be63443c618f7d241d72ab2:disqus – thanks for being my partner in crime with the Ankara takeout dad! :)

      @602f8d3930f9aa202a7aa30f28a2d776:disqus – awwwww *ego inflates and whomps against the ceiling* *where it gets singed by the ceiling light* *and deflates back down sheepishly*

      Istanbul Flower is definitely on my list, and it still open in both places you mentioned! Now I didn’t realize the one on SZ Road was the original, was planning to hit up the one in Healthcare city this/next week. SO glad you dropped me this comment, I’m changing my route to hit the Mazaya Centre one instead. Thank you!

  8. Mark Ng

    man, i am hungry looking at those pics!

    • inafryingpan

      @5e288d5a0db36a7572ca1c0afb223717:disqus – Hop on a flight and get here, I owe you a foodie tour of the city :)

  9. Turkish Express

    It is great to hear these comments about our native Turkish food.  Could I also take this opportunity to invite you to our small food court restaurant “Turkish Express” and offer you our own Iskender?  We would love to hear your comments…  We are in Etihad Mall, in Muhisnah, the next exit after Mirdif City Center on Emirates Rd, on Al Khawaneej Rd.. 04 239 3249

  10. Tasmeea K

    I love iskendar! This is a great review and mouth-watering pictures as usual!

    • inafryingpan

      @3d7d2fe327b837db5ffbaa54427f5326:disqus – thanks for the note, I have already stopped by your place and it’s on my list of things to stop procrastinating and just get down to writing about! Great post-binge food, I must say. ;)

      @2edf50dab52f74c3212ce1233b6abed0:disqus – Thank you! I have just discovered my fav iskender at Istanbul flower. Check out the safestway branch!

    • Turkishexpressuae

      Thank you very much for taking the time to visit us. We are looking forward to reading your review about our place. By the way I hope you have tried our meat Doner Kebab and Iskender kebab. Cheers :)
      Turkish Express

  11. Yay! Ankara restaurant! A great place!
    Have you been to Harput Turkish Restaurant in Al Barsha yet?? (It’s on the street behind the Holiday Inn.)

    • It’s still on my list for sure! I need 7 meals a day to get through that list this year ;)

    • inafryingpan

      @DaddyBird:disqus – Harput is still super high on my endless must-eats list! I need to increase my schedule to 12 meals a day. 10 just ain’t cutting it.

  12. It’s wonderful to see eating joints where food is prepared with passion as well as served with passion. I can sense that you are still mourning the death of Shikhidm but with the detective eye you have and the very sharp nose you have you’ll surely find out another Shikhidm in no time at all.

    The food at Ankara looks mouth-watering and absolutely delicious. ’Soulful soup of lentils’ – beautiful adjective:)

    And how true – the land of I-saw-this-in-NYC-and-I-want-it-here-too. I-want-it-NOW.
    Oh-and-one-year-later-I-am-bored-of-running-it-so-let’s-call-it-quits.

    • inafryingpan

      @5e8c32b20f4724711dd3c80c2633f364:disqus – I think my detective eyes and nose have OD’ed on donor kabab hunts over the last month! Giving myself a little break from Turkish eats…but it won’t be long, stay tuned cause I will be back on the iskender trail again!

  13. MJ

    fancy an Iskender? Please go to Harput in Barsha (near Ibis and Holiday Inn Express) and thank me later :) 

    • inafryingpan

      @56473873442cbb977e9dac6ab63b4cb0:disqus – more advocates for Harput! Yes, even @DaddyBird:disqus (above) has highly recommended it. I will be tucking into that iskender soon, and I get the feeling it’ll be quite the killer kabab, so I’m going to thank you in advance. Thank you :)

    • Hey, do it right this time and DON’T get your iskender as takeaway!! Eat it when it’s fresh at the shop!! Seriously, the sooner you eat it after it’s prepared, the better. By the time you get it home, it just ain’t the same! :-)>

    • inafryingpan

      @DaddyBird:disqus – I know right?! They should ban iskendar takeouts to help iskender newbies help themselves. I rapped myself on the knuckles for the mistake, NEVER to be committed again.

  14. Helwah19

    Hi there im from south africa and have an aunt that lives in dubai who introduced us to Ankara. I must say i have never eaten such delwctable food in my life. Everything that was served to us was delish. And the waiters are very kind and good with thier service i wish they could be an Ankara Resturant in sa. I really love they food!

  15. Helwah19

    Forgot to say they lentil soup is out of this world. And any body that has a recipe i would really appreciaye if you could share it.sorry for the typos

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