Iskender Kebab – Doner meats sauce


While döner kebab is often served as a street food, and a quite popular one, its close relative iskender kebab is definitely meant for the street. It is almost like a deconstructed döner kebab, though much richer in flavor.

What is Iskender Kebab?

Iskender kebab is served on a bed of thin bread, called “tırnak pidesi,” and a tomato sauce. It is then doused in melted browned butter and eaten with yogurt on the side. Depending on the restaurant, the dish might be served on a heated metal plate to provide a constant temperature.

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The origins

The döner part of the dish dates back to the 17th century with depictions of the vertical rotisserie, though the dish is likely to be much older. The first mention of the iskender kebab dates to 1867 in the western province Bursa. It is said that the first one was served in the “Kayhan Çarşı.” Who exactly made the first dish is not known, but the İskenderoğlu family claims the title. The family has been running a kebab business for more than a century in Bursa, and İskender was the name of an ancestor, whom the dish has been named after.
While the family trademarked the restaurant chain “Kebapçı İskender,” there has been a bit of controversy surrounding the name. It is said that the Greeks opposed the trademark registration because they claim that Iskender is a reference to Alexander the Great. They see Alexander the Great as a Greek hero, and therefore do not want a Turkish dish to be named after a Greek legend. The family countered this by simply stating the obvious: Their grandfather was named İskender and for years the dish has been called Iskender kebabı in memory of him. Let’s just say the Greeks were convinced.


The dish gets the iskender part of its name from the fact that Iskender Efendi was the first to prepare it. The kebab part it refers to the way the meat cooked: without water or sauce. This doesn’t necessarily imply that it must be cooked over a fire, but rather being prepared in any way that does not require adding water. Sometimes, this kebab is called “iskender döneri,” with the word döner coming from the Turkish verb “dönmek,” meaning to rotate.

Iskender Kebabı - döner meats sauce

Making this dish completely from scratch isa bit daunting, but not impossible. The more practical way of preparing it isto get pita bread, which is pretty close to “tırnak pidesi,” and to buy frozendöner if you can’t get any fresh.


For the döner

  • 1 kg beef
  • 1 onion
  • 2 tbsp yoghurt
  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp sweet red pepper
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp black pepper

For the sauce

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 200 ml crushedtomatoes
  • 200 ml hot water
  • salt to taste


  • pita bread
  • 2 tbsp + 1 tbsp butter
  • yogurt


  • Cut the beef into thin strips. Grate the onion, and add it to a bowl with all other ingredients except for the meat. Knead the mixture well. Add the meat to the mixture and allow to marinate. Cover the bowl and let rest for at least 12 hours. Letting it rest longer, up to 24 hours, will make it taste even better. Place the meat onto a strip of plastic wrap, roll it up, and place in the freezer to harden for at least 2 hours. Thinly cut the frozen meat. If it gets too soft to be able to cut thin slices, place it back in the freezer for a bit longer. Fry the meat in a pan on high heat.
  • For the sauce, melt the butter and the olive oil in a pot, the add the crushed tomatoes and the water. Let the mixture simmer for several minutes and season with salt to your taste.
  • Cut the pita bread into small cubes and fry them lightly in 2 tbsp of butter.
  • On an oval-shaped plate, lay down some of the fried pita bread, then drizzle the sauce over it. Place the cooked döner kebab on top. Melt remaining 1 tbsp of butter and add over the top of the whole dish. Put as much yogurt on the side as you desire.



Many restaurants serve the kebab with roasted tomatoes and hot peppers. If you so, desire you can easily make those as well.


(1) Marianna Yerasimos, “500 Yıllık Osmanlı Mutfağı”, 2002
Course: Main Course