Ozzie’s is perhaps the perfect spot for a visitor to try Istanbul’s most famous and infamous street food: kokoreç. No reservations can be made here and when the kokoreç is sold out it’s sold out. A perfect spot for a lunch and an uplifted street food experience without edible flowers or pretentious service. Just a household name in the kokoreç business making it aesthetically pleasing.
Context: The original location of Ozzie’s was in a shabby street in Dolapdere, which used to be the ghettos of Taksim, enhancing the irony of an elevated street food experience. Kokoreç used to be the lowest item on the gastro-status ladder until the early 2010s. While loved by many, it was simply a street food, heavily spiced and occasionally accompanied by a renewal of gut flora. Ozzie’s was one of the flag-bearers of the revolution. Coming from a line of kokoreç makers, they revamped their brand to appeal to millennials with money, and sold limited amount of cuts to keep quality. Now kokoreç can be found in the menus of even modern, fine-dining restaurants as a cultural delicacy.
What to order: Kokoreç with uykuluk (sweetbreads) is the magnum opus here. A portion comes in the form of a chopped disc of the turning kokoreç, grilled crispy on the outsides, soft, rendered and fatty on the insides. The accompanying Turkish “somun” ekmek is lightly grilled on the coals adding a nice smoke to it. The bread is nothing special, it serves the purpose of adding body and neutral base to the dish, just like a classic street food stall. Drinks-wise I’d recommend a classic şalgam (turnip juice) heavy in umami or a refreshing pickle juice. The saltiness just elevates the punch to the tastebuds aspect of the experience.
What to know: A good kokoreç should be well-cooked on a coal grill making the chewy intestine wrap on the outside crispy, while keeping the offal at the core (ideally sweetbread) cooked but still soft an juicy. Form-wise you could have kokoreç as a slice (a vertical slice making it look like a disc, kinda similar to a beef wellington if the beef were sweetbreads and the pastry were intestines), roughly chopped on a plate or thinly chopped with tomatoes and green peppers and doused with spices like oregano, red pepper flakes, black pepper and sometimes cumin in a baguette sandwich.
Kokoreç of course comes with the age old concerns of hygiene. Lamb intestines are notoriously labor-intensive to clean. Yet this doesn’t mean they are not cleaned and prepared appropriately. Like any sensitive foods, if you go somewhere proper, with experience and high turnover, you will eat some good and clean food.
It was even a chapter of discussion in Turkey’s EU admission process (which has been abandoned since the ruling party shifted its policies towards Eastern alliances). Certain EU food production standards prevented kokoreç from being prepared the traditional way and hence was subject to be banned were the country to be allowed into the Union. I think the main difference here is that the regulations require the tripe to be bleached, while the Turkish version is just an extensive and repetitive cleaning without the use of bleach.