Çiğ köfte literally translates as raw meatballs. However, due to regulations about selling raw meat in Turkey, it is now completely vegetarian. Instead of using traditional beef or lamb, the meat has been replaced by finely ground bulgar wheat. Despite being vegetarian for more than fifteen years, I was convinced that I was eating meat on the first occasion that I had this. It was so delicious however, that I found it hard not to continue. Çiğ Köfte [pronounced Chi-Kuf-Tay] is most commonly made from a blend of ground bulgar and spices. Supposedly it has to be hand kneaded for hours and the Turks are generally very defensive about what is good and bad when it comes to one of their speciality dishes. Some argue that by not eating the meat version, you are not only missing out on good food, but also that your life is much poorer than that of others around you. Having not eaten meat for many years, I argue that my life is fairly OK but my words are generally disbelieved. I’m probably a little bit sick because of my choice to be vegetarian. It is fairly unclear whether being a vegetarian caused the sickness or the sickness caused the vegetarianism.
If you like spicy food, this is perfect. It is generally served with lettuce leaves and lemon. You must squeeze the lemon juice over the çiğ köfte and then wrap it in lettuce. An alternative version is a durum which is a tortilla wrap filled with lettuce and fresh herbs. In fact, just one herb. Unfortunately I forget the name as many herbs look the same to me. It’s one of the herbs that I am not particularly inclined to consume and with a little bit of arm waving and pointing it is quite possible to have it excluded from your dinner. To top everything off, their is a choice of nar ekşi sos (sour pomegranate sauce) or a brown spicy sauce of unknown origins. Both are delicious.
If you come to Turkey, look anywhere around you. Çiğ köfte restaurants are literally everywhere, cost around 3 Lira (£1) per durum (çiğ köfte wrap), and are quite possibly one of my favourite foods I have ever tried. After several months of hitchhiking, my tastebuds may have become slightly dulled by the overindulgence of bread and white cheese, but even with a normal palate, this is a dish not to be missed.