Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Food Almost Fit for an Ottoman but Definitely Fit for His Purse

Typically, Turkish food in Korea consists of doner kebabs bought on the street in the early morning hours amid zombie hordes of the young and drunk. But there is more to Turkish cuisine in this country than drunk food. One good example is Efes, a Turkish restaurant in Songtan down the street from the main gate of Osan Air Force Base.

Efes, pronounced "F-S," is a yummy place to visit for those curious about what Turkish foods lie beyond doner kebab.

They have a large menu with a variety of meals. Generally speaking the meals fall into three categories: shish kebabs; pida, colloquially known as "Turkish pizza;" and big platters of braised meat like kavurma and karisik tava. You can even order sides and desserts like eggplant salad and kazandibi, a Turkish rice pudding.

Lahmacun garnished with lemon and parsley
Prices are really high, so when I last visited I didn't order much. But still, it added up. Between Turkish tea, lahmacun, and adana kebab, the bill came out to 31,500 won or around $30. That's a bit steep for lunch for two in a country where $10 to $20 can typically buy two people a satisfying meal.

At those prices one hopes the food had better be good. It is.

Lahmacun is a pida baked with a layer of seasoned ground beef on top. Served with lots of dipping sauce and garnished with lemon and greens, it tastes a lot lighter than the grease stained waxpaper would indicate. This was the favorite of Eat Korea's official robotic taste tester, The NetBot.

Adana Kebab with lots of veggies and bread to mix
Adana kebab also features seasoned ground beef, but it is molded around a skewer and roasted over coals. It is served with half a pida and some sesame bread plus a medley of fresh veggies: seasoned onions, red cabbage, and lettuce. And if the bread doesn't add enough carbohydrates for you, they also include a scoop of Turkish rice and something that completely caught me off guard: french fries. They were good fries too, the kind that one might find at an American diner with your burger.

The kebab meat was much richer in the spice department than that on the lahmacun. I liked it. Middle Eastern spice, meat and coals are almost always a winning combination for this inveterate carnivore. The NetBot, however, being a converted pescetarian, is much pickier about her meat. For her, intense meaty flavors are too viscerally evocative of a formerly living creature. So, despite enjoying Adana kebab at other places, Efe's hit her pescetarian nerve.

Tastes delicious, not unlike a doner kebab
While eating, the NetBot also brought up a good point. While the food was great, she couldn't justify the price for what we got. The lahmacun was unique enough, but on its own it would be a large snack or a light lunch. Not exactly worth 12,000 won. Plus, if you took a bit of adana kebab, wrapped it in pita, topped it with veggies and drizzled the spicy and yogurt sauces on top, it tasted very similar to another common Turkish food. It tasted like doner kebab, and you can get doner kebabs on the street for around 4-7,000 won.

In fairness, perhaps we didn't get lucky with the flavors. We stuck to the more affordable and friendly looking items on the menu. Maybe, our experience would have been more unique if we had ordered the 33,000 won beef kavurma for two or the lam ribs for 28,000 won a plate. But even then, at those prices, though the food be yummy, Efes is too expensive by our standards to visit except on special occasions.

To get to Efes, take the subway to Songtan. There is a taxi stand right in front of the station. Tell the driver to go to the "main gate." A short ride will bring you to the front gate of Osan Airforce Base. You should see a walking street lined with shops on your right. Walk down that street.  Eventually you will pass a restaurant on your left covered with gargoyles. Efes is not far away. It will be on your left, a short walk further down the street between a cellphone/phonecard shop and Peace Music.

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