When a Turk waxes lyrical about kebab restaurants in Istanbul, they're talking about something far different than the local variety.
In Australia, we think of cheap and cheerful places to pick up street food after a big night out. In Turkey, a kebab restaurant is a big night out. These are upscale, special occasion restaurants with impressive open grills and full service.
And just like a fancy meal is crowned with the kind of show-stopping dessert a home cook would be scared to tackle, say a souffle or bombe Alaska, in Turkey it's katmer.
This crisp phyllo pancake was a childhood treat for Efe Topuzlu and Ozgur Sefkatli who wanted to put it on the menu when they opened their new restaurant, Above Par, in Sydney's CBD.
Efe says, "When we were kids, our parents used to take us to kebab restaurants as an occasional treat. We used to go to those restaurants as a family, and when I say kebab restaurants they are more on the premium side of the food and service.
"These restaurants are where we had the best handmade Turkish pides in the brick oven, smoky char-grilled kebabs, and the biggest treat of all– katmer with ice cream."
This Turkish delight-infused, thick and gooey mixture is liquid gold – it’s just like drinking a chocolate bar.
Katmer is a speciality dessert that hails from Gaziantep, the gastronomic capital Turkey. It's made of thin layers of crisp phyllo dough filled with pistachio and kaymak (clotted cream made of buffalo's milk) and topped with kaymak ice cream.
The recipes date back 500 years and it's so labour intensive that it's only eaten out. For Ozgur, it was a rare treat.
"I remember I was about 12 years old and I had it at a kebab restaurant. These restaurants don't exist in Australia, they're very premium, everything is grilled and cooked in front of you and it's all silver service.
"For normal people like us, you occasionally go to these restaurants to celebrate things," he says.
"It's a rich cuisine, with lots of spices and is a dessert that you have at special occasions."
"It was a special family gathering, my uncle used to live in Canada and he had visited so we took him to a kebab restaurant and that was something to wow him. He couldn't find it overseas. It's not a common thing to have, it's not like baklava that you can have anywhere. a kebab-restaurant katmer is very special.
"If you go to a kebab restaurant definitely you are having that. It's handmade, the efforts are there behind it and the ice cream with that warm dessert and the thin texture of the pastry is so good."
While Above Par is a more casual offering, both Efe and Ozgur wanted to put it on the menu to offer a different taste of Turkey. They believe Above Par is the only place in Sydney serving it.
"Katmer is from the eastern part of Turkey, close to Syria, which is more Middle Eastern than the western part of the country. It's a rich cuisine, with lots of spices and is a dessert that you have on special occasions, rather than one your mum makes at home," Efe says.
"It's very labour intensive. You have to roll the pastry until it's very thin, it's almost see-through, and it's four layers on top of each other. Between each layer is pistachio and the other ingredient is clotted cream, which we call kaymak. And then you have kaymak ice cream on top.
"We knew it would be a hit, but didn't expect it to be this popular. It's something that no one else has...and people haven't tried before. It's winter and it's a warm dessert with pistachio and clotted cream.
"It's an experience.
"It just brings back all these memories, it's what we are trying to do here."
Above Par's Katmer Recipe
- 4 x filo pastry sheets
- 4 tbsp melted butter
- 100 g kaymak / clotted cream (can also be substituted for mascarpone)
- 150 g unsalted crushed pistachios
- 2 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 scoop of kaymak ice cream (can also be substituted for vanilla ice cream)
- Preheat oven to 220°C.
- Place the filo sheets on top of each other on a working bench. Brush sheets with melted butter.
- Place small chunks of kaymak/clotted cream (or mascarpone) onto filo sheets and top with the majority of the crushed pistachios and all the granulated sugar
- Fold all four corners of the filo sheets and make an envelope shape. Brush the surface with melted butter
- Place katmer onto a baking tray (folded sides facing up) and pop into the preheated oven, cook for 8 minutes or until golden.
- Remove katmer from oven and cut into 4 portion-sized squares or triangles (2 portions per serve)
- To serve, add a scoop of kaymak ice cream (or vanilla ice cream) on top and sprinkle with remaining crushed pistachios.
Photographs by Above Par
The yoghurt dough base can be made ahead and kept in the fridge for up to a week.
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