Hodja Nasrettin was the first ever kebab shop to hit the UK high street when it opened in 1966. Owner, Cetin Bukey was, at the time, playing clarinet and sax- ophone on the London circuit with the likes of Barbra Streisand when the idea came to him. He and his wife Konjay looked across at Turkey and noted the popularity of Ottoman style doner kebab shops, a restaurant and food that was missing in London. They were certain that London would fall in love with the dish.
Konjay’s parents had made it over to London in the 1950s – before the first wave of Turks started coming over from Cyprus – and provided the young couple the support and advice that they needed. With their help, Bukey found and purchased a small shop in between a fish and chip shop and pub. After some refurbishment they opened Hodja Nasrettin. Although pubs and fish and chips were later to become common associations with the doner kebab, Hodja Nasrettin was anything but just a fast food joint. In fact, the concept that Bukeys reproduced, which included shisha, was to attract a bohemian crowd rumoured to have included Tom Jones and George Harrison. Hodja Nasrettin’s menu also included lahmacun and baklava – traditional Turkish dishes which were rare at the time in London. Today, of course, there has been something of a renaissance in Ottoman style traditional kebab shops on UK streets. Then, however, the restaurant was a rare piece of the east in the heart of north London.
According to Konjay, coal was used as cooking fuel out of necessity because there was not any electricity available. There was never a shortage of work to be done and it was a tough slog to make the restaurant a success. KonjayHuseyin, was constant support throughout, especially as Cetin continued playing London’s music scene. His musical artistry was never exhibited at the shop but he did get innovative in introducing another element to his menu: pitta bread. Pitta bread, now common feature of kebabs, is unique to the UK compared to normal fresh baked bread that Turkey’s kebab shops serve. It is hard to find a contemporary UK kebab shop which will not serve their doner meat and salad in pitta bread. This is owing to Bukey’s introduction of the pitta onto their menu.
Cetin Bukey recalls that it took a while for the local community to get used to doner meat but soon he was doing good business with queues stretching along the outside. Hodja Nasrettin was, however, closed to make way for Bukey’s second restaurant, Kasimpasa, on Upper Street in 1977.