A Sandwich A Day: Sheep's Head Sandwich in Istanbul
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who find the idea of a sheep's head sandwich exciting, and those who find it disturbing. Only those in the former camp should read on. Because when you're eating this sheep's head sandwich, you know it's a sheep's head sandwich.
Here's Muammer Özkaymak's little stand, just off the main pedestrian street İstiklâl Caddesi in Istanbul's Beyoğlu. He's out there on the corner every day, founder of the Istanbul Culinary Institute Hande Bozdogan told me, with his son training to succeed him; the operation has been around since 1890. Every morning, his wife boils the sheep heads, and Özkaymak turns them into sandwiches. ("It's better when the eyes face out," Bozdogan said. "Sometimes the jaws face out, and all those teeth are a little unsettling.")
The Kelle Söğüş (boiled sheep's head) is all he serves, in two forms: sandwich or platter. The sandwich costs just 5 lira (about $2.75 USD) and makes for a substantial meal.
Özkaymak takes a whole head from the case and carefully slices out the edible parts—cheeks, tongue, brains—before chopping it in fine shreds, along with onions, parsley, red peppers, dried mint and oregano, and a good shake of salt. It's scooped into a sliced-open baguette, fresh from a wood-fired oven that morning.
Underneath the crunch of that bread lies an enticing mashup of textures—crisp bits, lean bits, softer bits, chewier ones—with a prominent, but not overwhelming sheep taste, enlivened by the peppers, onion, and herbs. The flavors are clean and focused; this isn't a sloppy meat sandwich, but a carefully composed one. If the heads weren't all lined up looking at you, you might not know it was a head sandwich at all. But that's part of the fun.