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How kebab transformed an ordinary street of North London

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“It smells of kebab every evening on weekdays. At weekends, it begins at noon.”

That was the objection to the council from one resident, after the restaurant they lived next to applied to extend its opening hours.

Today, there are dozens of restaurants serving 365 days of the year on Green Lanes. This part of North London is now branded “Little Turkey” by the Harringay Green Lanes Association, which represents local businesses.

The most prominent dish on menus across the street? The kebab.

BritShish Magazine wanted to understand how the region has been transformed over the years to become Little Turkey.

Various sources often point to the 1970s for the introduction of doner to the UK. The claims are often linked to the arrival of Turkish and Greek Cypriots, along with migrants from Turkey.

In fact, the first doner kebab enterprise on record was the Nasrettin Hoca and it opened on Newington Green in 1966. Owners Cetin Bukey and wife Konjay Huseyin believed doner would be as popular in the UK as it already was in Turkey, Cyprus and Germany.

They were right. Nasrettin Hoca was to become something of a bohemian food outlet for those looking for a different eating experience. The Turkish presence wasn’t as visible in Britain as it was in Germany and the spinning meat on a vertical spit was slower to take hold, but that only added to the restaurant’s allure as an alternative spot.

One of the oldest known names in the UK about Turkish restaurant operators is Ali Usta, who is also remembered for running one of the country’s best-known fast-food brands, Wimpy. Beginning in the 1960s, Salih Ali also employed a large number of Turks who came to the UK from Cyprus.

In the 1970s, those migrants began to be joined by others from mainland Turkey. Ali Usta’s operations were particularly low-cost to operate, allowing them to spread widely. They were also an excellent source of employment, providing jobs to hundreds of migrants from Turkeky. Ali Usta’s age is quite advanced these days and he keeps a quiet life, but his legacy remains in place forever.

But it was not just Ali Usta who helped drive a culinary revolution that would help create today’s Little Turkey in Green Lanes. Other Turkish Cypriots have been living in significant numbers in Britain since the 1950s, and many of them set up restaurants as family businesses. Many offered take-away services.

But it was relatively recently – the late 1990s – when Turks entered the UK food sector is an effective, influential way.

This was triggered partly by the closure of textile workshops earlier in the decade. London’s textile industry mostly employed Turkish speakers, but it plunged into decline following a recession that hit the country after Black Monday in 1992. It drove many in the community to seek employment and profit in the food sector instead.

This had a knock-on effect as employment prospects for newcomers attracted migrants from the Turkish mainland rather than Cyprus.

This second wave of Turkish immigration was mainly included both ethnic Turks and Kurds. Willing and skilled in the retail trade, they found new opportunities in life that the first wave of migrants had created. The high demand for kebabs was now met with sufficient supply, helping to create a British love for kebab that manifested itself in today’s Harringay Green Lanes.

Today doner-kebab restaurants, for so long the undisputed rulers of the fast food sector in Germany, are spreading even to the smallest towns in the UK. In just a few years, thousands of Turks have moved into restaurant, café, take-away and grocery management, where they have put their extensive experience to good use.

But what of Harringay, the district that is today being branded “Little Turkey”? It has a modern history traceable to 1880. Its formation was initially due to the pressure of the housing expansion in Islington and Hackney.

For 20 years, Harringay was a building site. It was when railway stations came and, later, a race track opened in the 1930s that Harringay became more widely known. It is even said that Harringay developed because of route 29, once a tram, now a bus route, that connected the neighbourhood with central London.

Initially a predominantly British neighbourhood, Harringay housed the ambitious upper working/semi middle class. In the 1970s, however, Greek Cypriots began to settle in the area that had hitherto been dominated by West Indians.

Kebab restaurants changed the street

In a classic example of London neighbourhood cycles, the Turks followed a generation later, followed by Poles. The area has seen a constant transformation in its population.

Haringey is now the most densely populated and traded region of London’s Turkish-speakers – a community that begins in Newington Green and extended along Green Lanes, past Manor House, as far north as Palmers Green.

Today, Green Lanes is renowned throughout the country for its kebab restaurants. 26 shops on the street are food businesses serving varieties of kebab. The first thing you feel when walking along the street, especially in the evening, is the aroma of grilled meat rising from the shops. The restaurants outstrip their central London counterparts, able to accommodate up up to 300 people at once and offer them a delicious range of doner and kebab varieties.

Local Brits have even started picking up Turkish words from restaurant names like Hala which means aunt, or Gokyuzu which means sky. Others – like Gaziantep and Diyarbakir – help make locals familiar with the names of cities in the country.

One restaurant manager who has worked in Harringay for ten years said that since the area and its restaurants were revamped, kebab has become a mainstream dish.

“More British people have started to come here,” he said.

……………………….

. 26 shops on the street are food businesses offering varieties of kebab.

. There are around 20 varieties, including include Adana, shish and iskender.

. Up to 2,000 people can be having a meal in Harringay Green Lanes at the same time.

…………………………….

Sefik Mehmet – Chair of Harringay Traders Association

I have completed 55 years in the area. Until the late 1980s, there was only one steak house, two or three food businesses with grilled kebabs on its menu, and they were run by Cypriot immigrants. The change in the street began with the 1990s, when the number of restaurants began to rise. Diyarbakir was the first – and it is still running.

We should not pass by without mentioning a Turkish entrepreneur, Musa Tas, when we talk about restaurants. Musa is the founder of three of the biggest restaurants in the region and attracted many investors to the region. He passed away last year.

The food festivals we organised in 2009 and 2011 contributed greatly to making the region one of London’s dining centres. Over the years, the restaurants on our streets have started to attract customers not only from those living in the neighbourhood but also from different parts of London and even from different cities. On a Sunday, you can meet customers from almost all over the UK.

Gökyüzü success; from father to sons

The restaurant in Harringay that pioneered the area’s style of dining known as ocakbaşı style of dining – which refers to the placement of charcoal grills inside the restaurant itself – now attracts customers who queue right down the pavement to eat there

Gökyüzü is probably the first restaurant in the whole borough where customers first formed long queues outside. From salads to mezes, and from delicious dishes to quality wines, Gökyüzü has become one of the most talked-about Turkish restaurants in London on social media: countless customers use Trip Advisor, Twitter and Facebook to share their comments, photos and experiences of the restaurant.

Gökyüzü is the Turkish word for sky, and even London’s Turkish speakers have started to think of the restaurant before they think of the heavens above.

The turning point for Gökyüzü, which was established by Hasan Yavuz in 1999 and is now ably run by his son Veysel, came in 2010 when its existing restaurants were enlarged and they adopted a new ambiance. Hasan Yavuz first came to London in 1995 and set up the Gökyüzü restaurant four years later. He brought his son Veysel along with him: then aged only fifteen, he divided his time between school and helping his father.

Hasan subsequently handed the business over to his sons and brother. The new generation of management has seen Gökyüzü spread from Harringay to open branches in Chingford, Finchley and Walthamstow.

Gokyuzu Restaurant owner Veysel Yavuz

It is the 35-years-old Veysel who runs the business in Harringay. He says that even though they have plans for investment in other parts of London, their Harringay restaurant is their first love and were hoping to develop it even further.

The restaurant introduced high quality, delicious Turkish meals and presented them in a different, more aesthetic way. This caught the attention first of local residents and then of people living in different parts of London. It soon meant that customers were to form long queues outside Gökyüzü, come rain or shine.

This Gökyüzü concept caught the attention of the media with acclaimed publications like Time Out and many newspapers reviewing it.

Two brothers run largest restaurant in the area

Selale Restaurant is one of the most distinctive spots on Green Lanes because of the extensive seating area at the front of its premises. Established for 15 years, it has become known for its impressive collection of the finest Turkish and Mediterranean cuisines.

Selale means waterfall in Turkish, which is why there is a small waterfall in the middle of the restaurant made with original water stones. The restaurant also features images of waterfalls on its menus. Another new and distinctive feature is the designer lighting fixtures, specially made for the restaurant to keep lighting at the right level and keep with the restaurant’s concept.

Demand was outstripping supply so the restaurant closed for expansion. The aim was to keep the same intimate feel while catering for more people. The recently completed renovations provide space for 240 diners, with there being another 60 spaces outside.

Selale’s owner, Sabri Barackilic and his brother Ramazan

Selale’s owner, Sabri Barackilic and his brother Ramazan have been in the food sector for 20 years. Hailing from Bingol in southeast Turkey, they came to the UK almost 15 years ago, and like other Turkish gastronomers found their way to Harringay almost immediately. They have brought their own particular twists on dishes with them. The mezes in particular are more traditional than other dishes on the menu and are provided in very generous sampler plates. Kebab platters come stacked with generous, lightly charred cubes of meat that more than compensate for the plain rice and cabbage accoutrements.

The lamb, fish and chicken are cooked on skewers over a charcoal grill in the main restaurant, while elaborate pide dishes are slow baked in a brick oven at the back.

It is fair to say that reopening of Selale has been deemed a resounding success.

Taste of tradition and home-style food

It has become a common sight to see Anatolian women sitting at the windows of Turkish restaurants hand-rolling out balls of dough with thin rolling pins. They are preparing gözleme, a traditional Turkish savoury pastry made with cheese, meat or vegetable varieties, before being thrown over a griddle known as a saç.

Hala was the first restaurant in London to bring the gözleme chefs out of the kitchen and to the store front; other restaurants have since followed suit. Hala means ‘aunt’ in Turkish — a name that’s reflected in the generosity of the home-style food, and by the sight of Turkish aunties making gözleme in the window every morning.

The restaurant was established in 2002 and is the work of Yılmaz Aksu and Eren Uzun, who have been working in the food sector since their childhood years and decided 13 years ago to pour all their experience into a restaurant. Hala is not just a place for the usual meat and grill dishes, but also offers a variety of Turkish home-cooking in Harringay. A well-known traditional meal available at Hala is manti, a type of stuffed dumplings also known as “Turkish tortelloni.” Usually stuffed with meat, manti is eaten in a delicious tomato sauce with yoghurt and garlic. Another popular dish served at Hala is sarma beyti, a mouth-watering meal specially prepared using minced chicken or lamb char-grilled and seasoned with herbs, wrapped in flatbread and served with butter, yoghurt and tomato sauce.

Hala’s Yilmaz Aksu

The restaurant which has recently changed, expanded and been redecorated, is composed of a total of three shops. Around 250 people can sit at the same time and be served from Hala’s large eye-catching grill and bar. Initially a traditional and authentic restaurant in both its name and menu, Hala has become one of the most modern dining places in North London. The restaurant, which has preserved its traditional menu, is open from early morning until late at night.

The family who has changed Green Lanes

How Diyarbakır’s concept in Harringay has sustained a family from grandfather to grandson

Without doubt, one of the most important reasons why Harringay Green Lanes has become a renowned centre for food and drink is Diyarbakır Restaurant. It is the magnet for thousands of homesick Turkish and Kurdish migrants to the UK who visit the area in search of the meals they love. It is also the oldest example of a Turkish restaurant in Haringey.

Founded in 1991, it takes its name from the city popularly known as the Kurdish capital, a town that has hosted countless civilisations over the centuries. After the Great Wall of China, Diyarbakır has the longest city walls in the world.

That year Hasan Aksu made an interesting and unusual investment in North London, where he had been for around five years. The region that Aksu chose as a place of investment would become famous about a quarter of a century later as one of the most renowned dining centres of the country.

The restaurant, which also served as a coffeehouse at the back, was branded International Ocakbasi by the Aksu family and its menu consisted only of kebabs. It quickly became popular. At first it was a great challenge for the Aksu family to operate in a country where they did not know their language or regulations.

The family worked from number 441 for nearly three years – the property is now the only Vietnamese restaurant in the area – before moving to their second location at 69 Grand Parade across the road. They named the new venture Diyarbakır on the suggestion of an acquaintance, and the menu was enriched with traditional dishes.

It set an example for many investors.

After the Aksu family, a few more restaurants – such as Erenler and Serhat – started to operate on the street. One of the most important features that make Diyarbakır restaurant different is the fact that the family has working on this part of Green Lanes since 1991.

Hasan Aksu(middle) and sond Zulfikar(left) and Erkan

The family-run business has always refused the idea of turning its restaurant into a chain or franchise, preferring instead to invest its time and effort into the 170-seat capacity Diyarbakır Kitchen concept instead.

Its menu features not just the kebab and grill dishes that became popular in the UK in the 1990s, but a range of soups and home cooking that is unique to Turkey. Diyarbakır has become a calling point not just for Turks and Kurds, but for other ethnic minorities who share a similar culinary culture with Turkey and Harringay’s local residents.

And it is not just the restaurant sector: food and groceries are slowly becoming an important sector for Diyarbakır as well. It is all contributing to the creation of a zone resembling Soho’s Chinatown right here in North London.

The friendly atmosphere is easily one of the most important aspects of Diyarbakır Kitchen. The three brothers – Zülfikar, Doğan and Erkan Aksu – went on to assume control of the business from their father Ali Aksu and paid especial attention to maintaining a high standard of food and service. The brothers are well-known to just about every customer and local resident.

Hasan Aksu, meanwhile, represents the third Aksu generation. The son of Zülfikar he has been working hard to maintain the record set by his grandfather, father and uncles by taking a particular interest in the quality of the ingredients the restaurant uses.

He says the new Diyarbakır Kitchen is a marked set up from their first shop and hopes every customer will feel themselves at home inside…

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