The Food Capital of the World - Gaziantep
When we think about Turkish culture, Ottoman history and architecture, Islam and the many beautiful mosques that adorn the country and the fact that Turkey is the European gateway to Asia come to mind. Cuisine also plays a huge part in the traditions and culture of Turkey, and there is no better place in the world to experience Turkish food of the highest quality, than in the city of Gaziantep.
Informally and fondly known as Antep, one of the world’s oldest cities, Gaziantep of the Southeastern Anatolia Region is famous for its homemade copper-ware and Yemeni sandals. It is also one of the leading producers of machined carpets, used to decorate properties in Turkey and in many other parts of the world. However recently, Gaziantep has been growing in the mindful eyes of food experts across the world as a leading city of gastronomy. The ancient city has become an important agricultural centre in Turkey thanks to its cultivation of olive groves, vineyards and pistachio orchards and as a result of this, the food produced here presents an interesting and delicious twist on the Turkish food we all know and love.
Tourists are still a novelty in Gaziantep, but warmly welcomed. The visitors that the city attracts go there to see the beautiful Citadel, the many copper workshops, the ancient city of Zeugma and the Liberation mosque converted from an Armenian Church. But in recent years, it is the city’s food which has attracted the attention of the tourism industry, so much so that you can even visit the Emine Göğüş Cuisine Museum. Here, they aim to convey traditional Gaziantep culinary culture by allowing you to discover a world of traditional kitchens, cooking techniques and information on how they host family get togethers and celebrations using their wonderful food.
Food in Turkish Culture
Food has always been an important part of daily life for Turks. Mealtimes bring families and friends together. Quite often, in the smaller villages in Turkey, a meal can be prepared for everyone living there to enjoy. Turkish men will often meet for business or for socials and spend hours picking at the many meze dishes on the table in front of them in their Turkish homes and restaurants. Even raki cannot be enjoyed without a few dishes! Religious celebrations are also often centred around food, such as the Ramadan Feast, known in Turkey as ‘Şeker Bayramı’ (Sugar Feast) where locals treat family and friends to sweets and traditional desserts to mark the end of the Ramadan fast.
It is hardly surprising then, that Turkey and in particular Gaziantep are now at the forefront of the world food map. In 2007, Gaziantep received the European Commission EDEN Award on “Local Tourism and gastronomy”. Since then, the city has successfully attempted to build Gaziantep into a world renowned centre for gastronomy tourism and to protect their food heritage. 2015 was an exciting year for the area. The Gaziantep Gastronomy and Tourism Association (GASTURDER) was established to increase the awareness and marketing of “Gaziantep Dishes” and the fact that these dishes are the most important cultural heritage of the city. 2015 also marked Gaziantep as a European Destination of Excellence through its theme of “tourism and local gastronomy” and UNESCO also included it in its list of Creative Cities Network in the field of gastronomy. More recently, a new culinary program has been announced in the city called “Sustainable Professional Gastronomy Education” which they hope will improve food qualities, introduce international standards to the city’s dishes and will bring in professional chefs from around Turkey to promote their food and teach youngsters how to cook.
Turkish Food With a Difference
If you have ever travelled to Turkey before, you will be familiar with the traditional fare that you can get in Istanbul or beach destinations like Marmaris and Fethiye. Perhaps you own a home in Turkey and have embraced the food culture and tried some dishes for yourself? Meat dishes, kebabs, bean salads and sweet treats can be found countrywide, so what makes the food of Gaziantep different? They say it’s the influence of the Oğuz Turks (Turkic tribes from the medieval period) and the culinary traditions of nearby Aleppo in Syria. The city also claims to be the birthplace of the popular sweet dish, baklava.
Over the centuries, Gaziantep chefs have used local produce to create Turkish dishes with a twist. Most meat dishes are known as kebabs and they are often accompanied by pistachio, olives, and fruits such as apricot, plum and apple. Meat stews with yoghurt are a staple, and meatballs are often stuffed with locally grown vegetables, bulgur and lentils with their meat. Then there are the desserts! Apart from their world renowned baklava, Antep Pistachio Cookies are a favourite with children and Sütlü Zerde (saffron and rice dessert with milk) and Katmer (buttery pastry with sweet paste fillings) are also popular with locals and visitors alike.
Baklava is a rich, sweet pastry made of layers of filo with chopped nuts, sweetened and held together with syrup or honey and is popular all over the world. The history of Baklava is not well documented, but there is some evidence that its current form was developed in the imperial kitchens of the Topkapı Palace in Istanbul. The Sultan supposedly presented trays of baklava to the Ottoman household troops and bodyguards every 15th of the month of Ramadan in a ceremonial procession called the Baklava Alayı. However, in 2008 the Turkish patent office registered a geographical indication for Antep Baklava and in 2013 Antep Baklavası or Gaziantep Baklavası was registered as a Protected Geographical Indication by the European Commission. So, baklava now officially belongs to Gaziantep!
Variants of Baklava can be found all over Turkey. Gaziantep Baklava is known for its exclusive use of pistachio nuts and often are cooked with no honey unlike its counterparts. In parts of the Aegean Region, in places such as Izmir and the town of Dalyan, pistachios, walnuts and almonds are used as the fillings between the layers of pastry and in the Black Sea region, hazelnuts are used.
Cultural Gaziantep Dishes
If you happen to own an apartment or villa in Turkey, you should try and visit Gaziantep at some point, if not for its famous baklava, then for its traditional meat dishes. Gaziantep has 30 different dishes registered for the region as official dishes of culture and there are a few special ones that you must try.
Soup is a major part of the Anatolian diet and Gaziantep has created a few that are well known across Turkey. Yuvalama is the most popular, enjoyed very much by locals during the three day Bayram festivities at the end of Ramadan. Yuvalama is a chickpea soup made with lamb, filled with meatballs and accompanied by a spoonful or two of yoghurt. This soup is regarded as one of the most important foods of Gaziantep culture. Beyran is another important choice of soup in Gaziantep, a simple lamb soup cooked with garlic and peppers which is truly delicious.
Stews are also a popular dish, again often accompanied by a few dollops of yoghurt. One of the more interesting choices would be Şiveydiz, a stew made with lamb, garlic and pistachio, not forgetting the much loved Turkish yoghurt to mix into the dish.
If meat accompanied by a side of vegetables or salad is more your style, try Ekşili Taraklık, a dish of chopped meat with lemon, tomato paste and pomegranate molasses. One of the most popular dishes of the region is Ali Nazik and you can find examples of this dish all over Turkey. Smoked and spiced eggplant topped with cubes of spiced and marinated lamb and a side of rice would fill you up nicely and tantalise your taste buds!
Meatballs are ever popular too and can be found in restaurants all over Turkey, often popular with tourists. İçli Köfte is a dish of meatballs stuffed with peppers, chills and nuts, or if you’re feeling brave, you could try Çiğ Köfte, meatballs made of raw meat!
We can’t talk about Turkish food without mentioning their famous kebabs and of course Gaziantep has it’s own versions of those too. The Kilis Kebab is a bit different, the meat is ground and then cooked in a pan in the oven rather than the traditional method on a grill. Turkish grown pomegranate fruit is featured again in the Sarımsak Kebabı, mixed with beef and garlic. Of course, they have also found a way to incorporate their famous pistachio nuts too with the Simit Kebab where you will find a mixture of meat and bulgur smothered in a pistachio puree.
While fish doesn’t make it onto the registered dish list, vegetarian dishes are plentiful. Sebzeli Peynir Böreği is a delicious omelette-like dish, potatoe, red peppers, onions, zucchini and feta cheese are bound together with eggs in a pan and then baked in the oven, reminiscent of a Spanish tortilla. Onion kebabs are also popular, or perhaps the Malhutalı Köfte, meatballs of lentil and bulgur, would be a more interesting choice. Salads are served with everything and one that must be tried and accompanied with delicious bread is the Antep Salat, a spicy tomato salad found in meze menus all over Turkey. Maş Piyazı is a spicy and seasoned green bean salad and a great dish as part of a meze or as a vegetable accompaniment to another dish.
Lahmacun also deserves a mention as the Anatolian answer to pizza or pide. This snack food can also be found all over Turkey. Thinner and rounder than a pide, this dough base is topped with meat and vegetables and sometimes cheese too. It is truly a delicious meal and very satisfying after a night of drinking raki! One last dish to get you salivating would be Peynirli İrmik Helvası, a beautiful dessert, semolina based with lots of sugar and cottage cheese. Turkey is known for its extremely sweet treats and alongside Turkish Delight and of course Baklava, Peynirli İrmik Helvası doesn’t disappoint and is a favourite among Turks, particularly in Gaziantep.
Are you reaching for your Turkish recipe book now? If you live in Turkey, or you are lucky enough to own a property in Turkey and visit this wonderful country regularly, visiting Gaziantep is a must do for your bucket list. If you can’t make it over to the food capital of the world, there are plenty of examples of wonderful Gaziantep restaurants in all of the popular destinations in Turkey.
Istanbul plays host to dozens of highly recommended restaurants where you can try all of these wonderful dishes. ‘Develi’ is one of the most renowned names in the kebab business in Istanbul and you are never far from one of their ten branches in the city. If you start to get hungry while shopping in the Grand Bazaar, try the Ali Nazik Kebab at ‘Gaziantep Burç Oçkakbaşı’. Located in a quiet side-alley amongst the hustle and bustle of the Grand Bazaar, you will find authentic Gaziantep fare at very reasonable prices and the staff are amazing too!
In Antalya, the simply named ‘Gaziantep Restaurant’ will serve you traditional dishes. If you live in Izmir, or happen to be visiting, you can find authentic Antep Baklava, made in Gaziantep at the small and unassuming restaurant ’27 Gaziantep Mutfağı’.
If you happen to be in the Fethiye area, there are three Gaziantep style restaurants which are highly recommended by locals,’Yöresel Gaziantep Gida Pazari’, run by the Kaplan family who are originally from Gaziantep and ‘Paşa Kebap’ has chefs originally from Gaziantep and claim to only cook their kebabs the traditional way. Lastly, for traditional baklava and ice cream after your kebab at ‘Paşa Kebap’, wander next door to ‘Gaziantep Ulaşlıoğlu Baklavaları’, a chic eatery adorned with copper-ware and Yemeni sandals, drawing you into Gaziantep culture straightaway.
You’ll feel like you’re in the world’s capital of food the minute you step through the door!