Sunday, December 30, 2012

From the fire

The word "mangal" in Turkish means grill, and it refers to the kind of open charcoal grill used for the kebabs that are much loved in Turkish cuisine. The word has spread all over the regions of the world that love grilled skewered meats, from Afghanistan to Russia.

The other night our son took us to Mangal 1 Ocakbasi, a Turkish restaurant in Dalston, northeast London, a place that some in the press have dubbed one of the best places in London for kebabs.

It's not a glamorous joint. You walk in off quiet residential Arcola Road and the first thing you see is the meat case with the raw skewers displayed and ready for the fire. The second thing you see is the huge charcoal grill sending fragrant fumes up the powerful exhaust fan, sizzling skewers of meat, chicken, lamb chops and minced meats.

Plain formica tables, a vinyl tile floor and modest decor - spruced up this week with Christmas tinsel - there's nothing fancy here. If you want wine, you can BYOB from the off-license across the street.

We started with meze, or appetizers, but the real stars here are fresh from the flames.  Here is patlican salata, or aubergine grilled and mixed with grilled chopped peppers and yogurt and butter sauce. We also had sarma, Turkish stuffed grape leaves, and

Lahmacun, or flatbread with minced meat, peppers and onions. This quick and easy meze is sometimes called "Turkish pizza."

Adana kebab - minced lamb mixed with chili and grilled on a wide, flat blade-like skewer.

Yogurtlu Beyti, or minced lamb kebabs served with a yogurt and butter sauce.  The difference between beyti and adana kebabs is subtle, but adana kebabs have red chili mixed in with the meat. Beneath the meat chunks of pide bread soaked up the sauce, and the whole little casserole was creamy and browned on top.

Pirzola, or grilled tender lamb chops served with salad. In this photo, the waiter combined the platter of lamb chops with an order of kavuksis, or grilled chunks of chicken breast to conserve space on our small table.

As you can see, the table was full!

Mangal 1 Ocakbasi
The place is modest and unassuming, and although it is frequented by London's foodies drawn by the great reviews, it's also a popular neighborhood joint, doing a brisk business in take-away. When we called for a taxi to bring us home at the end of the evening, the dispatcher, when hearing the address, said, "Oh, right, the lahmacun place."

Stoke Newington Road
Around the corner, busy Stoke Newington Road is lined with Turkish restaurants, bakeries and other establishments that reveal Dalston's history as place for immigrants to settle. Jewish immigrants came in the early 1900s, then Caribbean immigrants in the 1950s and '60s.

Bakery window on Stoke Newington Road
The neighborhood then became home to the Turkish immigrant community,  Now Vietnamese restaurants and Polish delis are beginning to crop up among the ocakbasi and pastry shops.

Like its neighbors in the East End, Dalston is becoming gentrified by an influx of young people in search of cheap rents, and the government-based improvements to its infrastructure prior to the 2012 Olympics.

Like its New York counter part of Queens, tourists to London don't often visit neighborhoods like Dalston. We only learned of it through the benefit of our son's exploration of the city.  But it's a powerful lesson - when you visit a city, it's good to break away from the beaten path and seek out other riches.


smalltownme said...

My mouth is watering and I can almost smell the food.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I'd love to try those minced chili-lamb kebabs.

materfamilias said...

This looks amazing! I'm def. bookmarking it for whenever we get back to London. Thanks for keeping up the posts through your travels.

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

Both the desserts and the kebabs are vying for my attention. (Although I am not a fan of having to look at raw meat.)
Neighborhood places like that are what make me appreciate cities.