If there is one city that deserves to be in first place in the world in terms of quality, variety and better taste in the preparation of its dishes, that city is definitely Gaziantep.
Located in the southeast of Turkey, on the border with Syria, it was nominated in 2015 as the Creative City of Gastronomy by UNESCO and was nothing to be expected less, it is a city that has much to teach to the rest of the world.
Gaziantep has an immense culinary map; whose origins go back to the Paleolitic Period. It is very influenced by Arab, Syrian and Ottoman gastronomy. Nowadays, gastronomy remains the main driving force of the local economy. In a city of 1,890,000 inhabitants, 60% of the active population is employed by the sector, and a significant 49% of the enterprises are mainly dedicated to food, including spices, cereals and dried fruits. In Gaziantep, gastronomy is also synonymous with festivity, intercultural dialogue and social cohesion. (Source: UNESCO in https://en.unesco.org/creative-cities/gaziantep)
For a food lover, going to Gaziantep market is like going on a tour to an amusement park where smells, colors and flavors of this city come together. Emphasizes pistachio in all its forms (fresh, dry, drier, peeled, with peel, ground and as a pistachio pasta), nuts, dried fruits, legumes, a huge variety of species, a variety of edible seeds, their typical dried vegetables hung everywhere plenty of color and giving a folkloric touch to the market.
People also play a fundamental role in the gastronomy knowledge. With a desire to make you feel part of their city, the inhabitants of Gaziantep strive to show you their culture, their gastronomy, their species. They are, with good reason, very proud of their pistachio, one of the best in the world. With its balconies full of eggplants, peppers and other vegetables drying in the sun, the city acquires a very picturesque and special touch.
I was invited to this wonderful city as part of my gastronomic tour around the world to learn the secrets of its gastronomy. I was very curious to know and enjoy this culinary experience, but all my expectations were more than exceeded and my hosts, proud and very knowledgeable of their cuisine, showed me in detail the great value of this city and made me fall in love with this jewel of gastronomy and its universal history.
My experience turned into a real culinary journey in which, in addition to gaining a few extra kilos, I learned the secrets of Yuvarlama,which is not a soup as everyone can think, but a complete dish, with its tiny dumplings made with rice and lamb meat (and a lot of patience), which by themselves have been a great learning for me.
I also learned how to prepare Dolmas, vegetables (dried and fresh) stuffed with rice, lamb and Antep spices. The Kilis kebab, made with eggplant and lamb meat and doubly cooked (first in charcoal and later in a spicy tomato sauce) and where it plays vital importance the handling of the amount of fire that receives the meat to the coal.
I also learned how to prepare the Omağ, vegetarian Köfte made with tomatoes, parsley, onion, a typical Antep cheese and a dried thin flat bread, which I cannot put another qualifier that is absolutely healthy and delicious. I also learned the preparation of the yogurt base soup, present in many of its dishes, as well as the use of Köfte baharı, a local species with which it adds flavor to its dolmas and other dishes.
But my knowledge didn’t come only inside the kitchen, I also had the good fortune to know the places where the best food in the city is made. We went through many restaurants and a lot of food. All, without exception, I can catalog as absolutely unique and delicious. This is how I had the opportunity to taste its famous Beyran çorba, a delicious soup made with meat and stock of lamb, rice and lots of garlic, like the locals enjoy it, at breakfast, just before the start of the working day. See the preparation of this soup, as it goes from one pot to the other the stock and the super-hot meats, with an agility that only the experience can give was a spectacle per se. Although at first, I was not convinced since in my culture it is not usual to start the day with such a calorically heavy dish, the doubt lasted me only until the soup finally arrived at the table and I began to taste it. I was immediately convinced and since that moment the Beyran çorba occupied a privileged place in my list of favorite dishes of Gaziantep.
Although I am not very lamb meat lover, because of its strong smell and flavor, in Gaziantep I learned to enjoy it in all its varieties. Also, in this city I changed my opinion about Lahmacun, a kind of turkish pizza with ground lamb that they accompany with parsley and some vegetables. I enjoyed a lot as well to eat spicy pepper, that they eat in every meal during the day.
At Orkide Pastanesi, best restaurant in the city to have a really good kahvaltı and special lunch, I also had the opportunity to see the preparation of the Katmer, unknown to me until that moment. With a unique agility, what in principle can look like a simple dough of flour and water becomes, with the skill of the hands that prepare it, in a delicious dessert filled with pistachio, sugar and kaymak that locals take as breakfast. I also knew the zeytin cavurma, prepared with fried eggs, green olives, walnuts and ground lamb. Also, Lolaz, Miscver Börek, Antep Durum, Nohut piyazı, Batma Kaymak, Ali Nazik, Pimpirin, Haylan, Eksili Ufak Köfte, Doumeli, Occe, Cacikli Arap Köftesi, Malhutali Köfte and many others Antep specialties.
In brief, if you are a food lover, Gaziantep is a city that I really recommend visiting if you are travelling or planning to travel to Turkey. Is a paradise of tastes, but not only. Gaziantep is a city that awakens all your senses, from the visual to the hearing, from the smells to the flavors. It is definitely an experience that deserves to be explored and enjoyed at all levels… by the way, writing these lines I am savoring some delicious pistachios that I bought in my last visit to this wonderful city.