Doner To Adana, The Realm Of Turkish Kebabs Is Rich Indeed
Image Credit: iStock. Seen here: Adana kebabs on a grill.

THE BYLANES of most Indian cities share a similar aroma — that of marinated meat being roasted slowly over red hot coal, either on a brazier or skewered through, with the vendor frenetically fanning the flames and rotating it to ensure that it is well cooked.

This activity is accompanied by the sight of people waiting their turn to dig into the kebab, as is with some lime juice squeezed over it, or wrapped into a roti. This constitutes a snack, a treat and a meal, and sometimes all of it together. And it is something that Indians never seem to tire of.

The kebab is truly universal and inclusive as its welcoming nature can envelope everyone, especially now that it has vegetarian and vegan variants too. However, few know that this humble dish has traversed high seas and sandy dunes to reach Indian shores.

‘Kebab’ stems from the Persian word ‘kabab’, which means to ‘roast’ or ‘fry’. While its exact birthplace is still debated, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that it originated in Persia, Mesopotamia, or Central Asia.

The oldest documented information about kebabs in Turkish cuisine comes from the ninth century BC Anatolia, where archaeologists found skewers with grilled meat. Over centuries, kebabs spread through trade routes and the Ottoman Empire’s military conquests, where they evolved with local ingredients and techniques.

Turkey-based chef Sedat, who is associated with the newly launched Cosy Box restaurant in Mumbai, noted that Turkish kebabs are distinct from those in other regions like the Northwest Frontier or the Middle East. “We often use spices like paprika, oregano, and cumin, while other regions might favour stronger spices like turmeric, cardamom, and cinnamon. Yoghurt marinades are prominent in Turkish kebabs, adding a unique tenderness and tang,” he explained.

Moreover, the people in Turkey have diverse grilling techniques, like the vertical rotisserie of Döner kebab and the skewered grilling of Adana kebab. Traditionally, they are accompanied by flatbreads like pide or dürüm, whereas other regions might use rice, bulgur wheat, or stews.

Chef Sedat delights in rattling off the names of the popular Turkish kebabs — Döner and Adana of course, but also Iskender and Şiş kebab, and köfte (meatballs). Some lesser-known culinary gems include Urfa kebab (spicy minced lamb on skewers), Tas kebab (thinly sliced lamb cooked in a pan), and Urfa Beyti (rolled meat with spices and yoghurt sauce), with each preparation offering a unique taste.

The eponymously named Urfa Kebab is a fiery delight from the Urfa region, featuring a unique combination of spicy minced lamb, bulgur wheat, and spices all skewered together. The bulgur wheat adds not only texture but also depth of flavour to the succulent lamb. These skewers are then grilled to perfection, allowing the smoky aromas to infuse the meat.

Kofte are savoury meatballs that are a crowd-pleaser found throughout Turkey, just like Kashmiri Rista. Ground lamb is combined with spices and sometimes bulgur wheat, forming tender and delectable balls. They can be cooked on a grill for a smoky char or pan-fried for a more caramelised exterior. Regardless of the cooking method, one thing can be guaranteed — the kofte will disappear the minute they are placed on the plate.

Adana kebab, named for the region it originates from, is known for its distinct kick. Minced lamb is combined with chillies, creating a flavourful and slightly spicy mixture. The meat is then pressed onto flat skewers and grilled, producing juicy and succulent kebabs with a touch of heat.

Pistakali boasts of a delightful combination of savoury and nutty flavours when ground lamb is mixed with finely chopped pistachios. This mixture is then wrapped in caul fat, a thin membrane, and then baked or grilled, resulting in a juicy and flavourful experience with a subtle nutty twist.

Another popular choice across Turkey is the Shish Kebab. It features marinated cubes of meat, typically lamb or chicken, skewered and grilled. Here the marinade is literally the magic sauce, tenderising the meat and also giving it a distinctive flavour.

Baarg from the Hatay region features thinly sliced lamb marinated in olive oil and spices. The lamb is then grilled or pan-fried, resulting in a tender and appetising kebab with a slightly crispy exterior.

Hailing from eastern Turkey, Koobediah features ground lamb or beef mixed with herbs and spices. The mixture is shaped into flat patties and grilled, offering a unique and tasty experience with a distinct texture.

The iconic Döner kebab has become synonymous with Turkish cuisine especially in the US. Layers of seasoned meat are stacked on a rotating vertical spit, slowly cooked and shaved off as needed. Döner is typically served in wraps or on plates with various toppings like vegetables, sauces, and yoghurt.

Iskender Kebab gives Döner a decadent touch, serving the meat on warm pide bread, drizzled with butter, tomato sauce, and yoghurt, and sometimes topped with melted cheese. Each bite offers a delightful combination of textures and flavours, making Iskender a truly satisfying experience.

If going through this list of kebabs has you salivating, then just remember, you are merely scratching the surface of the vast Turkish cuisine, which extends beyond it. All you need to do is find a meyhane (a traditional Turkish eatery) to dig into some wholesome Pachanga, Hummus, Tavuk or Mercimekli Karniyarik. Or, you could whip up your own version of a Turkish kebab to add to the growing list that already exists!



500 gm ground lamb

150 gm breadcrumbs

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 green pepper, finely chopped

1 bunch parsley, finely chopped

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp black pepper

100g unsalted pistachios, finely chopped

150g caul fat, cut into pieces


1. In a large bowl, combine lamb, breadcrumbs, onion, pepper, parsley, spices, salt, and pepper. Mix well.

2. Fold in the finely chopped pistachios.

3. Divide the mixture into 6 equal portions and shape them into sausage-like forms.

4. Wrap each sausage with a piece of caul fat, securing the ends with toothpicks. 

5. Preheat your oven to 200°C (400°F).

6. Arrange the kebabs on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

7. Bake the kebab in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, or until cooked through and golden brown.

8. Serve hot with flatbread, salad, and yoghurt sauce.