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, Gaziantep was rightly nominated in 2015 by UNESCO as Creative City of Gastronomy. This was nothing to be expected less. Gaziantep is a city that has much to show to the rest of the world.
Gaziantep has an immense culinary map; whose origins go back to the Paleolithic Period. It is very influenced by Arab 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. Another 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, visiting Gaziantep vegetables and spices market is like going on a tour to an amusement park. İn there, smells, colors and flavors of the city comes together. Emphasizes the pistachio in all its forms: fresh, dry, drier, peeled, with skin, grounded and as a pistachio paste. Nuts, dried fruits, legumes, a huge variety of species and a variety of edible seeds are displayed everywhere. Of course, their typical dried vegetables hanging everywhere, plenty of color, bring 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 spices. They are, with a good reason, very proud of their pistachio, one of the best in the world.
With the balconies full of eggplants, peppers and other vegetables drying in the sun, the city acquires a very picturesque touch.
A little history in each dish
I was invited to this wonderful city to learn the secrets of its gastronomy, following my world’s gastronomic tour. Even when I was very enthusiastic joining this culinary experience, all my expectations were more than exceeded. My hosts, proud and very knowledgeable of their cuisine, showed me in detail the great value of this city. They made me fall in love with this jewel of gastronomy and its universal history.
My experience turned into a real culinary journey. Additionally to gaining a few extra kilos, I learned the secrets of Yuvarlama, which is not a soup as someone can think. İt is instead a complete dish, with its tiny dumplings made with rice and lamb meat (and a lot of patience). This ingredient by themself 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 Kiliş kebab, made with eggplant and lamb meat and cooked twice. First in charcoal and later in a spicy tomato sauce. İn this recipe it plays vital importance the handling of the amount of fire that receives the meat to the coal.
We prepared Omağ, a vegetarian Köfte made with tomatoes, parsley, onion, a typical Antep cheese and a dried flat bread. This was for me more than another simply dish. İt is absolutely healthy and delicious one. I also learned the preparation of the yogurt base soup, presented in many of its dishes, as well as the use of Köfte baharı, a local spices with which it adds flavor to its dolmas and other dishes.
Beyran çorba – the prelude to paradise
I also had the fortune to meet the places where the best food in the city is made. We went through many restaurants, and a lot of food. Everything, 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. I tried it as the locals eat it, at breakfast, just before the start of the working day. I saw the preparation of this soup, as the stock and the super-hot meats moving from one pot to the other, with an agility that only the experience can give. For me it was a spectacle per se.
Although at first I was not convinced to eat it, since in my culture it is not usual to start the day with such a caloric and heavy dish, the doubt lasted me only until the soup finally arrived to the table and I began to taste it. I was immediately convinced and, since that moment, Beyran çorba occupied a privileged place in my list of favorite dishes of Gaziantep.
Because of its strong smell and flavor, I am not very lamb lover. Nevertheless, in Gaziantep I learned to enjoy lamb in all its varieties. Also I changed my opinion about Lahmacun, a kind of turkish pizza with ground lamb, served with parsley and some vegetables on the top. I enjoyed a lot as well eating spicy pepper, that they use to eat in every meal during the day.
At Orkide Pastanesi, best restaurant in the city to have a really good kahvaltı and a special lunch, I also had the opportunity to see the preparation of the Katmer, unknown to me until that moment. With an 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, a delicious dessert stuffed with pistachio, sugar and kaymak that locals take as breakfast. I also learned about 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 to stop by if you are planning to visit Turkey. It 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 taste.
By the way, while writing, I am eating some delicious pistachios I bought in my last visit to Gaziantep.