Kurban Bayramı, the Feast of the Sacrifice, is one of Turkey’s two major holidays (the other being Ramazan Bayramı, which precedes it by two months in the Muslim lunar calendar) and is always eagerly awaited no matter what time of year it occurs. Technically, Kurban Bayramı lasts for four days, although in practice (especially if it arrives directly before or after a weekend) it can turn into a week-long vacation. Sometimes going abroad for Bayram (or to seaside locations like Antalya or Bodrum) isn’t practical – but this doesn’t mean you have to remain Istanbul-bound the whole time. Within a few hours’ drive of Istanbul are two picturesque cities, Edirne and Bursa, which offer plenty to do, see...and eat.
Edirne, a historical city once known as Hadrianopolis (Adrianople), about a three hours’ drive northwest of Istanbul, was the capital of the nascent Ottoman Empire from 1365 to 1453, and is chock-full of historical sites including the extraordinary 16th-century Selimiye Camii. The city is small enough to be explored on foot, and fortunately many of Edirne’s best eateries are located in the center of town near the main street known as Saraçlar Caddesi. A trip to Edirne would not be complete without trying ciğer tava (fried liver), a local specialty for nearly a century and a half. Forget about the unappetizing servings of liver you had to endure as a child, and give this crispy treat a try – you won’t regret it. Ciğer tava can be enjoyed at many restaurants in downtown Edirne, among them the renowned Ciğercisi Kazım & İlhan Usta on Osmaniye Caddesi, parallel to Saraçlar Caddesi. This Edirne fixture serves ciğer tava (made from calf’s liver) according to a meticulous recipe that has remained unchanged for more than four decades.
Ciğercisi Kazım & İlhan Usta; Balıkpazarı, Osmaniye Caddesi No: 43, Edirne; P: (0284) 212 12 80
While köfte restaurants are not unique to Edirne, the city does feature one establishment that serves a superlative version of this meatball dish. Tahmis Köftecisi, on a pleasant little square in the city center, has a modest appearance that belies its excellent food. Don’t come here expecting a wide range of dishes to choose from: Tahmis’s menu, featuring little more than köfte and some accompanying dishes (soup, piyaz, künefe) is literally printed on the side of its napkin-holders. Nonetheless, their perfectly-cooked köfte is – in the author’s opinion – the best in Turkey.
Tahmis Köftecisi; Sabuni Mahallesi, Tahmis Çarşısı No: 6, Edirne; P: (0284) 213 30 92
How to get to Edirne: Car (D100 or TEM highway); Bus (frequent departures by Metro as well as other companies);
To the south of Istanbul, accessible by bus and fast ferry, is the medium-sized city of Bursa. Like Edirne, which it preceded as the capital of the Ottoman Empire, this is a city rich in history, and is still important today as a center of Turkey’s automotive and textile industries. While you should reserve plenty of time on your day-trip to see the major sites of Bursa (the Ulu Cami, the Koza Han and İpek Han, the Yeşil Cami and Yeşil Türbe, etc.), a visit would not be complete without a stop at the historic Kebapçı İskender. For those who have never tried it before, İskender kebap is a rich, heavy dish of sliced döner with browned butter, yogurt, and tomato sauce. While many eateries in Turkey use words like “İskender,” “Bursa,” etc., in their names, this restaurant, dating back to 1867, was founded by İskender İskenderoğlu, the creator of İskender kebap. (It is currently run by his grandson Yavuz İskenderoğlu.) As at Tahmis Köftecisi, the menu offerings are limited here, consisting of a few different varieties of İskender kebap, plus şıra (grape juice) and Kemalpaşa tatlısı, but this is the genuine article – and it’s good. You can order your İskender kebap in regular or extra-sized portions, and can also order it eti bol – with pieces of beef added to the slices of lamb döner.
Kebapçı Yavuz İskenderoğlu İskender; Ünlü Cadde No: 7, Şehir Merkezi, Bursa; P: (0224) 221 46 15
How to get to Bursa: Car; Fast ferry from Kadıköy or Yenikapı (http://www.ido.com.tr/); Bus (frequent departures by all major companies)