Gaziantep is located in the south east of Turkey, near the Syrian border. It is a very wealthy city and has a population close to two million people, making it one of the larger cities in Turkey. The name Gaziantep is usually shortened to Antep and is best known for its amazing quality and variety of food. When I went to Antep there was a sign that said, “If the world was a home then Antep would be the kitchen” - and I discovered why!
Turkish people tend to associate certain cities with the foods to eat there. For example there is a town in Anatolia called Çorum that is famous for leblebi which are dried and roasted chickpeas. Driving through Çorum you will find a series of shops one after the next that sell all kinds of leblebi, making it impossible to pass through without eventually buying some! Similar to this, along the Black Sea coast you will find towns that are famous for their hazelnuts or maybe a specific kind of bread and so on.
Antep is most famous for its production of pistachios and this is very evident in all their desserts which contain lots of it. It is the home of pistachio baklava, so much so that when I tell my friends that I’m off to Antep they all put in requests for me to bring back a kilo of baklava each!
A food that is much like a dessert but eaten for breakfast is Katmer. Katmer can be made in different shapes but the main base is a dough made from flour, water and salt. The Katmer maker I talked to told me he has been doing this job for eleven years and he looked to be in his mid twenties! He stretches the dough out by swinging it over his head, eventually making it form a really thin layer on the worktop. It then has ghee brushed over the top and is filled with pistachios, sugar and kaymak (a thick cream) and then rolled up into a snail like shape. This is then put in the oven and baked and is then served to you together with a glass of milk.
Künefe is another dessert that is decorated with pistachios on top. This dessert actually belongs to a neighbouring city called Hatay which we unfortunately didn’t have the chance to visit however it is my favourite Turkish dessert so it had to be included. For those of you who have a sweet tooth and a love for melted cheese, this is the dessert for you! It is made from a special kind of local cheese sandwiched between shredded dough (called ‘Kadayıf’) , this is baked in a hot oven (melting the cheese!) and then drizzled with a light syrup of sugar, water and lemon juice before serving.
One of the most famous dishes in Antep is called Yuvalama. The name yuvalama comes from the word yuvarlama which means to roll and refers to the process of making the small dough balls that are in the dish. Due to this lengthy process the dish is very special and is only made for Eid which is the three day Muslim celebration following the month of Ramadan. The preparations usually start a week before Eid and families get together to make the little kofte balls found inside the dish.
Yuavalama is somewhat like a yoghurt soup but the locals would get very offended if you call it a soup as it is seen as a main meal. The main ingredients are chickpeas, yogurt, beef cut into morsel sized pieces and most importantly mini kofte balls rolled into sizes smaller than a marble. These little balls are made from mince meat, egg, semolina, onion and rice flour which are all blended together. Yuvalama is then served with a mixture of warmed olive oil and dried mint which gives the lovely green colour on top.
Another traditional dish is Aspirli yoğurtlu patates yemeği which means a potato dish with safflower and yogurt. Similar to yuvarlama this is also a yoghurty stew like dish with meat in it but it looks amazing due to the colour coming from the safflower which is commonly called ‘fake saffron’.
In Antep what they call saffron comes from the safflower plant which is a thistle-like plant with bright orange flowers. Aspir/ safflower is more orange looking than traditional saffron, the strands are much shorter and the price is very much lower. Although obviously if you speak to anyone selling it in the market they will tell you it is the highest quality saffron in the world!
Since Turkish people tend to stick to their basic spices I was interested to find out that some very traditional dishes use lots of Tarragon (Tarhun in Turkish). One example of this is the Alaca soup which is a soup that contains wheat, chickpeas and lentils.
On the topic of soups one cannot miss out on eating Antep’s most famous soup called Beyran. Beyran is made by adding animal fat, red pepper flakes, rice and pre-cooked and shredded lamb meat together. The mixture is then heated on a very high flame with melted butter, a garlic sauce is added too and then the mixture is left to froth up (see below!), it is taken off the heat when the froth starts to die down. This pungent, garlicky soup is one to cure all ills they say, and is absolutely delicious!
Some Antep Mezes
Starting from the left we have Zeytin piyaz which is an olive salad with lots of fresh parsley, walnuts, onion, tomatoes, lemon and olive oil, with sumak and red pepper flakes on top. Then there is the Patlican piyaz which is a raw aubergine salad with similar ingredients to the olive piyaz but without the walnuts and sumak. Then we have the Maş piyaz which is a mung bean salad containing pomegranate molasses, sumak, red pepper flakes and orange juice! And finally on the far right there is the Fellah köftesi on tzatziki. Fellah köfte are tiny kofte balls made from fine bulgur mixed with egg, cumin and pepper paste.
Walking around Antep you come across many bakeries producing masses of pide bread everyday. However pide is not their only speciality. Most of these bakeries also allow people to bring their own fresh ingredients (mince meat, herbs, onions, tomatoes) to the bakery and the bakery then turns this into lahmacun - a thin Turkish pizza with mince meat on top. So you can leave your ingredients at the bakery in the morning and pick up your ready made lahmacun later, just by paying a small fee to the bakery.
As we were walking around the busy streets in the centre of the closed market in Antep we came across this little shop that was probably about four metres squared in size that had a massive queue outside so we went to see what everyone was queuing for. In the chaos we managed to get ourselves served some food in this small but extremely popular place
We sat down and were presented with firik pilav which is a rice dish made from firik, a particular type of slightly green coloured grain specially found in Anatolia, slow cooked with peppers, spicy pepper paste and chick peas. This was accompanied with ‘cacık’ which is a more watery Turkish style tzatziki that has dried mint and cucumber in it. It was served with bowls of red pepper flakes, cumin and a spice mix to sprinkle on top as you wish. We did have to eat quickly though, as this little place was so popular that the next group of people needed a place to sit. This was one of my favourite meals on this trip!
On our Antep excursion we also had a day visiting the neighbouring city of Şanlıurfa, also called Urfa. In terms of its spices Urfa is best known for isot which are dark red chilli flakes that have a smokey taste. One famous dish that uses isot is called çiğ kofte, literally meaning raw kofte. It is called this because it contains mince meat that is said to be cooked only through the long process of kneading the ingredients together with spices. Çiğ kofte is made with fine bulgur, mince meat, tomato and pepper paste, onions, parsley and spices including isot, and cumin. It tends to be on the spicy end of the spectrum!
Another of Urfa’s specialities is Ciğer (liver) kebap. For the liver kebap they often use a pre-made spice mixture containing mint, oregano, cumin and ground red peppers. You will notice that in Turkey almost all food is served with some sort of salad, this is not ordered separately but just comes as an accompaniment to your food. Whilst the majority of Turkish salads are dressed very simple with just olive oil, lemon and salt, in the East of Turkey salads are often served with sumak and red pepper flakes as well.
I was amazed by how rich Antep’s cuisine is and I have never eaten so much interesting, cheap and delicious food in such a short amount of time. If you are a foodie, then I highly recommend taking a trip to Antep!