How to behave in a kebab shop

We asked Ferhat, the owner of London’s legendary Mangal 2


Dalston’s Stoke Newington Road is to Turkish kebab what Brick Lane is to Bengalese curry.

Since opening in 1997 Mangal 2 has built a reputation as the best kebab restaurant in the fiercely competitive area.

But Mangal 2’s aura isn’t built on food alone. Co-owner Ferhat Dirik’s fire Twitter game has enhanced their already formidable status.

Ferhat

Ferhat

Tweeting about everything from how much he hates Nando’s to the political situation in Turkey, Ferhat has managed something very rare: to tweet as a business in a way that makes people like that business.

I met Ferhat to talk about kebab etiquette, authenticity, twitter and their celebrity clientele.

An ideal customer

There are two types of ideal customer for me. There’s the returning customer, the local, the one who you have a rapport and a friendship with. You get to know them, you get to know about their personal life, they get to know about yours. They’re fuss free: they come in, they eat and they leave happy.

Then there’s the one off customer who tells you how much they enjoyed the food. They’re thankful, they shake your hand on the way out. It’s the kind of etiquette you appreciate from customers. I’m not saying everyone should act like that but it’s a nice feeling when someone expresses that enjoyment of your food.

In Dalston you can’t have any expectation for the “norm” in terms of customers. You get all types of people here. It’s a real mesh. You have to be open minded.

Calling me ‘Boss’ is patronising

I don’t like “Boss”. I genuinely don’t like it. Mostly because it seems a bit degrading, dare I say it. It’s like something people say to ethnic minorities because they expect them to say it to each other.

I don’t address any of my friends as “Boss” – I was born and raised in London. I know a customer calling me “Boss” wouldn’t call his mate that. It is different for people up North where there’s a different dialect and the word is used a lot more commonly.

Kofta on the grill

Kofta on the grill

Most people in southern England don’t use the word and it’s odd to use it just because you’re in a restaurant which serves kebabs. I don’t think it’s intentionally patronising at all but people who use it are subconsciously thinking they’re speaking to you at what they think your level is – it’s insincere.

Saying things like “mate” is fine. I say “sir” to every customer we have, just out of formality.

Getting the order right, getting the sauces right

As long as the food hasn’t already hit the grill it’s alright to change an order. What happens quite often is over ordering. Our portions are quite big and it’s like “we’ve ordered too much, can we cancel x or y” – it depends on what stage the food is at, if it’s being cooked then we can’t cancel it.

We make our own chilli and garlic sauce and we bring it with every meal, eat in or takeaway. I haven’t studied this, but off the top of my head: for every table we bring the sauces too, 80 per cent would have some.

I think the sauces complement the lamb wonderfully, it’s a nice flavour. You could have our sauces almost as a starter. Chilli and garlic sauce are to us what popadoms are to an Indian – you expect them in the way you expect the pickles and chutneys at the start of an Indian meal. It’s part of the experience.

Twitter

I tweet as @Mangal2. We have about 20,000 followers. I think it is easier to get followers as a business. I do try to get it right but there’s no real thought process behind the account. I do almost use it as a personal diary, which probably isn’t the best thing to do.

I don’t have a personal account so I just tweet in the moment. I like current affairs so I usually try and tweet something about them and then relate it to kebabs. I have to make it relatable and not too personal. Sometimes I need to vent.

Maybe a kebab restaurant should just shut up and tweet instagrams of its food but I feel obliged to say something when things like Paris happen. I don’t have any other medium to express my views. If I step out of line sometimes maybe it’s not the most appropriate thing to do but it has worked well and I think our customers respond to it.

The question of authenticity

In Turkey you have doner, you always have doner – chicken, beef, lamb. But shish wraps are nowhere near as common there as they are here. Falafel barely exists in Turkey, it’s Lebanese, it’s not Turkish at all but it’s a huge seller for us. Halloumi isn’t something you get much of in Turkey, it’s a Cypriot cheese.

It’s happened to Chinese food, it’s happened to Indian food and it’s happened to Turkish food – they change. There’s a demand out there for falafel and halloumi and we do respond to it. There are grey areas as well, if a food is Lebanese or Greek, it can become part of your menu. When someone comes in asking for a burger you can’t – it would just cheapen everything you’re about, your image, your entire cuisine.

Turkish food itself is incredibly varied. Every district has its own speciality dish and produce. There’s so much more to it than kebabs. Our cuisine is incredibly vast. Kebabs are 20 per cent of what we do. But in England, if you’re going to do kebabs, you’re limited in what you can do. That’s why you spice it up with other things.

Resting shish

Resting shish

None of this annoys me. What does annoy me is someone walking in and saying “do you do naan bread?” This happens pretty often. It’s quite ignorant but maybe they don’t know any better.

I’m not sure it’s possible to be completely authentic and profitable at the same time. In Turkey people will eat the whole of the lamb,  they’ll eat the tongue, the brain – everything. That’s why up until a few years ago we served things like testicles. There were people out there who enjoyed offal and they’d come in and try it. People are more squeamish now and the menu becomes more standardised.

There are lines in the sand for us: it wouldn’t make sense for us to do burgers. There’s Americanised stuff that we simply can’t sell. We only added chips a few years ago. It’s interesting, why would you have chips on the menu if you’re serving authentic Turkish food? But we had to. People walk and say “I want doner and chips” and you’re like “OK”. There’s a market for that and we have to be flexible.

‘I don’t know what to order’

My father’s dream when he opened this restaurant was to have more choices, more of our cuisine. People have to study the menu when they come here. When people ask for recommendations we go through – hot or cold, meat or veg – I know how to filter it down.

I always ask people are you a vegetarian, if not then lamb or chicken or quail? Then it’s do you want fillet, mince, ribs? There is a route and a destination. I always want people to try the mixed kebab because it is has five different meats, people discover what they like by trying everything on it. Dare I say it, I am quite proud of that dish.

If you recommend something and the customer thinks it’s delicious you know you’ve done your job.

Kebab culture in the UK

You’re in this business for one of two reasons. Either to make a quick buck with the least amount of effort – no disrespect to any takeaway shop owner – but the profit margins are higher, there’s less work to do, working like a factory.

Then there’s the other side, which isn’t just Mangal 2, good establishments that want to make good food and to showcase what your cuisine and culture is about.

There is a market for both. Around Dalston and Green Lane there is a highly concentrated Turkish cuisine market. Eight, ten places you can find good food and similar dishes. For one cuisine to have two different locations in one city renowned for quality food is great. Not a lot of cuisine’s can boat that.

Turks are naturally inclined to trade and run businesses. It’s in our culture, we’re hardworking. The average person in Britain might do nine to five but you’ll find Turks working one and a half times that. It’s not surprising that there are so many Turkish restaurants all across the country. We’re all pushing each other to make the food better.

Why are kebabs seen as ‘drunk food’?

It’s equally our fault as it is the fault of the English. We’ve opened up all over the place and you’ll struggle to not find a kebab shop in most towns.

Naturally the people who own these shops are smart in their positioning. If they see a club, a bar, a little strip they will open up shop there. They know people will come out hungry and the alternative is fried chicken or McDonalds. It’s a market we’ve created.

Not all Turkish places are drunken hotspots for kebabs obviously. It’s hard to find it annoying. We get so many drunk people coming in on Friday and Saturday night. It can be almost unbearably busy. When someone walks in right at the end of a shift and says “can I have a kebaaaaab” you can’t say no. They’re still coming to eat your food.

I think the texture of a kebab is what makes it so satisfying to eat when you’re drunk. If you have a lot of alcohol in you, something dough or bread based is incredible. To grab a hot sandwich, with grilled meat and fresh lettuce and onions and tomatoes in it, plus the sauces, it’s comfort food isn’t it? It’s easy to eat on the go. There’s a carnivorous side to us and meat wrapped around bread is enticing.

Celebs

We’ve had a few celebrities in here, especially musicians. Damon Albarn used to come in a lot and ‎Alex Kapranos from Franz Ferdinand is a regular and a really nice guy. Alexa Chung has been in, the Kaiser Chiefs come in. There’s a lot of studios around here and we get a lot of musicians coming in.

I’m very rarely star-struck because I grew up around this restaurant and we’ve always had famous people coming in. The one time I was really amazed was with Damon Albarn, like “Oh shit, there’s a great creative genius right over there.”

Gentrification

House prices in Dalston are absurd. Obviously there’s a demand for it but it is beyond reason. Besides that there are positives: the area is cleaner, nicer, less violent.

When I was younger and I was here it was a wild west atmosphere. There was so much crime. I remember the gangs, the street prostitution and the drugs. I was born in Dalston and it was a dangerous place to grow up.

I saw a lot of disgusting things, sex on the street, prostitutes on crack cocaine, people fighting in the street, the riots in 2011, people getting hit by cars. Thankfully it’s never affected the business.

You see young, middle-class families here now and it’s something that would never have happened even ten, fifteen years ago. It would have been out of the question. I can come here with my son and my fiancee and have a pleasant day. So overall it’s a positive thing.

I think what happened to the Cereal Cafe in Shoreditch was ridiculous and those protestors are morons. Why are people upset to see prices being marked up? What do they expect? That’s the whole point of business.

To see a small business being attacked was horrific. I don’t encourage or approve of it but it would make much more sense to attack a Pret or a Starbucks, given their agenda.