Do you prefer your sheep’s head roasted and hot, or boiled and cold? No matter. One street in Beyoglu, Istanbul’s old European district, offers both sorts of sheep’s head ( kelle ), considered an ancient delicacy across the Middle East.
From his cart, Muammer Özkaymak lovingly cuts slivers of cold sheep’s head (kelle sögüs), sprinkles it with thyme and red pepper and serves it with chopped onion on a fresh white roll. Özkaymak took over the family business in 1976 (his cart is decorated with a laminated photograph of himself as a cheerful teenager in flared trousers on the same street corner). But the ancestral tradition goes back to 1890, when his great-grandfather first got into the business of boiled sheep’s head, having bought the recipe from Greek neighbors in the family’s native region of Cappadocia. Every day, Özkaymak’s wife boils up to 60 heads in pepper and laurel-leaf water in their kitchen.
Across the street is the upstart Orhan Senin, who is merely the third generation of his family to run the butcher and roast meat shop that his grandfather opened in 1957. Senin’s hot version of sheep’s head (kelle tandir) is on the gristly, greasy side, so he loses the face-off to his longer-established rival.