The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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On the trail of Turkish delights

My sister ' 'bordi' ' lives not far from the Arsenal Football Club ground and headquarters in London. Match days are clearly marked out on a calendar that hangs in the kitchen. She is no football fan, but the practicalities of parking space, overcrowded tube trains and the likelihood of over-enthusiastic spectator behaviour make it necessary for these days to be taken note of. Match days also mean good business for the pubs and eateries of the area, which are quite numerous and offer a variety of cuisines from different corners of the world.

'You've discovered more about this para in a few days than I have done in a few years,' she said to me after yet another hectic, 12-hour working day, as I lazed around in holiday mode, narrating how I had found a small department store run by a Gujarati family from Mumbai where you could get Haldiram's bhujiya and use a credit card for your quota of Famous Grouse (which you can't do at the Off Licence shops).

The area has a strong Turkish presence, with a few small restaurants and fast food takeaway places and one of my favourite journeys is the walk from the Underground station to the house, during which I will stop at a little place selling doner kebabs in pita bread along with some salad and dressing and take it home for a perfect snack.

I like watching the vertical rotisserie, its skewer packed tightly with strips of marinated meat, as it goes slowly round, receiving heat from almost every angle. The outer layer of the meat get browned and crisp, and this is the right moment to order the kebab; these browned parts will be shaved off in thin slices with a knife, and semi-circular 'pockets' of pita bread will be filled with meat, greens and a dressing.

Doner means 'one that rotates' and is in fact the same as Shawarma, which is derived from the Turkish word 'Cervime', meaning 'one that is rotated'.

When I heard of a small place at 43, Mirza Ghalib (Free School) Street where someone had installed a doner kebab machine and was selling Chicken Shawarma and other Turkish delights, I was there like a shot.

Turkish Corner is the name of this tiny place, which is a takeaway counter. A small menu of about a dozen items, many of which are not exclusively Turkish, and are common to the cuisines of Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Saudi Arabia and other neighbouring countries. Shawarma and pita bread, Kibbeh, Hummus, Tahina and Tabouleh, are found in all these countries, with local variations.

In fact, these items are not new to Calcutta either; Lebanese food festivals are popular here and many of the items mentioned are on menus across the city. But so far this cuisine could be had only at five-star outlets or similar upmarket establishments.

And while one is reasonably sure that doner kebab machines have been installed in these kitchens, Turkish Corner is Calcutta's first eatery to make authentic Shawarma available at rock-bottom prices (Rs 30), where the kebab is shaved off the rotisserie and served up in pita bread, right in front of you.

With a Calcutta variation, of course. The pita bread is not in the form of a semicircular 'pocket', but is in normal rounds, like a chapati, and is rolled around the stuffing. How appropriate, for Free School Street is also the heart of kathi roll territory.

So the next time you are around that locality, feeling peckish and want a change from marinades with chilli powder and other spices and would prefer not to have a kebab rolled in a fried paratha, try the Chicken Shawarma at Turkish Corner.

Another item I took away was Mutton Kibbeh. This is minced mutton combined with garlic, mint, cumin powder, parsley and cinnamon powder and ground to a paste to have a dough-like consistency. Egg-sized amounts of this mixture are taken, a hollow is made in them and these are again stuffed with a mixture of cooked minced mutton, raisins and soaked cracked wheat. The Kibbeh are then sealed and shaped and deep fried. Kibbeh can be eaten by themselves, but at Turkish Corner they usually serve them in hot dog bread.

I also ordered Arabi Grilled Chicken Kebab; boneless pieces of chicken in a light marinade grilled on a hot plate and served with Hummus ' the sauce, or dip made with chickpeas, olive oil, sesame seed paste, lemon juice and garlic pureed together.

The only vegetarian items on the menu are Paneer Shashlik and Falafel. Falafels are deep-fried chickpea fritters. I wanted to order them and I think I did; maybe there was a miscommunication, because they weren't in the package when I got home. Perhaps I should have checked, but Free School Street is a busy place, full of life and I must have been distracted.

Closer-to-home items on the Turkish Corner menu are Kashmiri Lamb Chops ' deep-fried chops seasoned with cardamom and fennel ' and items we are familiar with, such as Chicken and Mutton Shashlik.

This small takeaway counter is a welcome addition to the city's culinary scenario. The cuisine of East Mediterranean countries is growing in popularity and will soon jostle for a place among the four or five most sought after styles of cuisine we have. Doner kebabs on the streets of Calcutta. Way to go.

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