Adana Kebabı: The shah of the kebabs

Some cities are particularly famous for a dish, and Adana Kebab is that dish for Adana in Turkey. Barbecue gatherings cannot be considered as ‘’completed’’ until kebab is there in Adana. So much so that the sky becomes invisible in Adana as most families have a barbecue and cook kebabs on Sunday.

Note that it is not limited to Adana, this taste is known and appreciated all around Turkey. If you did not eat Adana kebab before, you probably cannot tell the difference between the Adana kebab that was made in other places, but if you eat it only one time in Adana, you will not be able to eat it anywhere else.

What is Adana Kebab?

Adana kebab is a dish that is characterized by its meat, and that makes it different from other kinds of kebabs. Not just a slice of meat, but it must come from a male sheep’s mutton from a unique area. Also, the way that is made is very important for Adana kebab. The way to put it in a skewer, the way to cook it in a barbecue, they all need experience in order to be made properly.

Its mixture must include pepper paste, black pepper, red pepper, and most importantly, tail fat. Adana kebab is not Adana kebab without tail fat. It cannot be made from any meat other than mutton. The mutton is minced with a special knife called armor and then put in a kebab skewer. The shape of the skewer that is used in the Adana kebab is flat. This process is also a profession, if a person does not know this process, then most probably kebab will fall to the barbecue as it cooks.

Adana kebab with lavas bread
Adana kebab with lavas bread

Other than being a delicious dish, Adana kebab represents so many other things. It is connected with various gatherings, family, friends, loved ones, and so on. It is also a tradition for many families in Adana to gather on Sundays all together to eat kebabs. Additionally, you do not even need to say the full name “Adana kebab” if you want to explain what you want to eat. If you say “let us eat Adana together today” everyone will understand what you are talking about. In restaurants too, you can say “ I want to order 1.5 portions of Adana”, they will understand exactly what you want.

Etymology, origin, and history of the Adana Kebab

There is no certain evidence about how Adana kebab was invented first, yet it is known that Adana kebab is present at least for 150 years. Even though Adana kebab’s history is unknown, the traces about kebab can be found in 10th-century writings.

The name kebab comes from the Arabic word “kabab” which means fried meat. In the Torah, there is an expression about temples that should not be burned. And while explaining this, the word “kabbaba” is used to express burning. Other sources associate kebab with the Akadian word “kababu”.Even though Adana kebab’s history is unknown, the traces about kebab can be found in 10th-century writings.

According to some other sources, Adana kebab’s origin is a mixture of Turkish and Arabic cultures. Some say that it was first observed in Biricik, which is a place in state Halep. It is known that the first kebab is seen after the Mehmet the Conqueror period in the Ottoman empire.

Even though the findings are insufficient for us to estimate when and where it was invented, regardless of history, Adana kebab is integrated with Adana culture and they are inseparable.

Adana kebab in Turkish cuisine

Besides the way that it is made, Adana kebab is an experience to eat with the culture that it has in it, different from the regular table settings, kebab is just different from other dishes. It is usually a part of family gatherings, particularly on Sundays. It is a symbol of those family gatherings, and everyone in the family has a part in the preparation of the table.

If it is made in the house, the women start with preparing salads, greens, onions, and optionally yogurt, afterward, they mix the mutton and put it in a kebab skewer nice and tight, the portion to put in one skewer is left to the person’s sense of proportion. A lot of bread is consumed with Adana kebab – pita bread(pide), to be more specific. For a family gathering that is composed of 10 people, at least 10 pieces of pita bread are bought and consumed.

Adana Kebab on a barbeque
Adana Kebab on a barbeque

While the appetizers are being prepared, someone else prepares the barbecue. The fire of  barbecue is important for preparing kebab. It needs to be cooked with flameless oak charcoal. As everyone sits at the table since the first set of kebabs are cooked, the person who is responsible for the barbecue stays there and eats while standing and preparing kebabs, because he or she needs to be serving fresh kebab to the crowd. 

Roasted tomatoes and peppers are a must for an Adana kebab. Tomatoes and peppers line up to the skewer and then roasted in the barbecue. It needs to be rotated until both sides of them are turned black. Afterward, black parts of tomatoes and peppers are peeled, and then everything is ready for you to eat them. A special appetizer that is inseparable from Adana kebab, is ezme (means “paste” in Turkish). Onions, tomatoes, mint, parsley, and sumac are all chopped with a knife until it is very thin. Lastly, a sauce with some lemon, olive oil, and salt is prepared added to this mixture.

Another appetizer is prepared with thinly sliced and half-moon shaped onions, sumac, optional olive oil, and parsley. It goes really well to prepare a bite with pita bread, Adana kebab, and this mixture on top. It is not recommended if you are going to meet with other individuals after that since the onions could leave an unpleasant smell in your mouth.

The most famous drink to consume with an Adana-specific drink, turnip(Şalgam). Turnip is not as common in other cities in comparison to Adana, and individuals from Adana always shames those who prefer soda to drink with kebabs. But other than that, ayran is also preferred as a soft drink to consume with kebabs. Older individuals of the family tend to drink rakı, which is an alcoholic drink that is made with grape, apple, fig, and plum fermented with alcohol, yet the rakı made from the grape is the most popular one among them. Rakı is known to have a high alcohol percentage, which is around 40%.

A different kind of rakı, which is named ‘’boğma raki’’, which is mainly produced in Adana, is a type of alcoholic drink that is unlicensed. Most of the people produce boğma raki in their houses. Even if it is not licensed, there are no rigid restrictions about producing and consuming boğma raki. You cannot buy boğma rakı from markets or restaurants.

In restaurants, Adana kebab is served with various appetizers. There are so many appetizers served that you cannot see the table. And you just pay for the kebab, not the appetizers. Another important component of the Adana kebab is pita bread. It is characterized to serve with pita bread, and as you hold the kebab with your hands between pita bread, you need to pull the skewer.

Adana kebab and different appetizers
Adana kebab and different appetizers

Besides its serving methods in Adana, other cities in Turkey are not following those methods. Maybe this is why Adana kebab is still evaluated to be eaten only in Adana. For example, in different countries, it is served with brown rice. This concept is quite strange for someone who lived in Adana. And another difference is that in other cities, Adana kebab may be served with lavash bread. Even though you can find different professional chefs that make Adana kebab in every city. Adana kebab is quite popular in every part of the city and little serving differences will not make the Adana kebab taste any worse.

Adana kebab variations in Turkey

Even though people from Adana do not like any kind of variations about Adana kebab because they think that it is the best food that could be created, even adding a little bit more or a little bit less ingredient feels strange for them. But still, there are different variations of Adana kebab both in Adana and other cities.

A variation of Adana kebab is called Beyti kebab. Different from Adana kebab, Beyti is prepared with garlic and onion and ground beef or lamb can be used. It is usually served wrapped in lavash bread, with tomato sauce and yogurt.

Beyti kebab
Beyti kebab

Adana kebab wrap is another variation of Adana kebab. It is prepared with lavash or pita bread. Inside, there are onions, tomatoes, and lettuce salads. It is mostly preferred when you do not have time to prepare and enjoy Adana kebab on the table. Urfa kebab is another variation of Adana kebab. The only difference between them is that Urfa kebab does not include any spicy ingredients.

Tepsi kebab, (tepsi means “tray” in Turkish) is pretty similar to Adana kebab yet as you may infer from its name, it is done in a tray. Additionally, it has garlic and onion in it. Instead of putting the kebab in a kebab skewer, you put it in a tray and flatten it.

Tepsi(Tray) kebab
Tepsi(Tray) kebab

In the Gaziantep region, “Simit kebab” is very popular and it has some common characteristics with Adana kebab. Yet simit kebab is made with veal instead of mutton, and it has some extra ingredients such as brown rice and mint. The shape of it is very similar to Adana kebab.

How is Adana kebab made?

Adana kebab, the first self-oily mutton, is needed. Afterward, it needs to be kneaded with salt, black pepper, red pepper, and pepper paste (optional, but locals do not prefer it because they think it interrupts the taste). The kneading process needs to be done well because if it is not kneaded enough, the kebab will fall out while cooking. Then, you need to put them in a kebab skewer, which needs a lot of experience. You need to slightly moisten your hands before doing it.

Later, it is put in a barbecue with oak charcoal. The fire must be flameless. Kebab needs to be cooked until both sides of the kebab turn brown from red, and you need to rotate to both sides frequently as it cooks. While it is cooked, you need to take the grease off constantly. If you do not do that, the greasy water will drop out from the kebab and coal catches the frame. A good Adana kebab needs to be cooked in embers.

View of a kebab house in Turkey
View of a kebab house in Turkey

The portions are certain in restaurants. One portion of Adana kebab is 180 grams. One and a half serving of Adana kebab is a minimum of 270 grams. In the homemade Adana kebabs, approximately 100 grams per serving is used.

Adana kebab in special occasions

Whether you are introducing your boyfriend to your family or you have big news to celebrate, the Adana kebab dinner party is a very common thing to do. Because Adana kebab is very connected to Adana culture, it remains a part of special events frequently. For example, at a wedding dinner, the chances of having Adana kebab on the menu in Adana are pretty high. If it is not on the menu, the bride and groom will take the close friends and family to an Adana kebab restaurant to eat kebab after the wedding. If a friend came to Adana from a different city or if a local from Adana has a guest from abroad, the very first thing that they will do is making them eat Adana kebab. Leaving Adana without trying Adana kebab might be considered quite offensive to Adana locals.

Adana kebab is also a love language. Making or buying an Adana kebab for someone represents the love for the other person. Also, Adana kebab is used as a comparison tool between Adana locals. For example, if one finds a price of a product absurd for that product, he or she will calculate how many Adana kebabs they can eat with that money.

İsmail Çamönü

Hi! I am Ismail. I am a digital nomad from Turkey. I lived in many cities around Turkey during my life and I am passionate about traveling. At Nomad's Guide to Turkey, I share travel tips for nomads, expats, and tourists who would like to visit Turkey.

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