South Eastern Türkiye
In 2015, Türkiye's south-eastern province of Gaziantep was added to a most exclusive list by UNESCO. The title of Creative City of Gastronomy recognizes Gaziantep's unique, long and vibrant gastronomic history.
Gaziantep stands out as one of the world's major gastronomic cities. It is not just history; it is a vibrant food and drink culture. Gaziantep cuisine is rich, ranging from kebabs, meat dishes, dishes with yoghurt, olive oil dishes, cold desserts, pilafs (rice dishes), vegetable dishes, meatballs, pastries, salads, and stuffed vegetables and even includes soups said to have healing properties. The beverage culture is one of the rich experiences to notice. Drinks here are made with love and a certain zest.
Gaziantep is one of only eight cities in the world that have been added to UNESCO's global gastronomy list. The cuisine of Gaziantep is acknowledged to be the richest in Türkiye; visitors will savour its unique fusion of Anatolian, Mediterranean, European and Middle Eastern tastes. The true strength of Gaziantep's cooking tradition comes from the quality of the produce cultivated in the fertile lands of the surrounding region.
Cooking is an art in Gaziantep; if you come to this city then you will taste this art, which is also impressive in its presentation, as you appreciate the endless creativity of many exceptionally talented Chefs engaged in what can simply be termed Culinary Artistry.
Beyran Çorbası (Beyran Soup)
Beyran Çorbası is a traditional Turkish soup originating from Gaziantep, where it's served for breakfast. It consists of rendered lamb fat that's topped with rice and shredded lamb meat. The combination is then cooked with the addition of garlic, pepper paste and lamb broth. This soup is notorious for its spiciness, making it a pretty unusual way to start the day. If desired, the soup can be served with lemon wedges and fresh Turkish bread on the side.
Alinazik is a Turkish kebab originating from Gaziantep. It consists of char-grilled and puréed aubergines that are combined with garlic yogurt sauce, then topped with chunks of tender lamb that melts in the mouth. The meat is typically stewed with onions, red pepper paste, tomatoes or tomato paste, and olive oil.
It is important that the aubergines have a smoky flavour, and the best way to achieve it is to roast them over a coal fire. When served, Alinazik kebab is traditionally accompanied by rice pilaf or grilled vegetables on the side.
Gaziantep Baklavası (Antep Baklavası)
The ancient Anatolian city of Antep, today known as Gaziantep, is Türkiye's gastronomical capital famous for being home to the world’s finest pistachios and the delicious Antep Baklavası. Originally an Ottoman legacy, baklava is regarded as one of the greatest creations from the pastry chefs at Topkapı Sarayı, the major royal residence of Ottoman Sultans in İstanbul from the 15th to the 19th century.
Baklava was traditionally prepared for Eid-al-Fitr, also known in Türkiye as Ramazan or Şeker Bayramı, a religious holiday when Muslims celebrate the ending of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. Today, this Turkish treat is available year-round, and with more than 500 baklava bakeries in the city of Gaziantep, it is definitely not to be missed, especially during the pistachio harvest from midsummer to September, when these emerald-coloured nuts are just the right size for baklava.
To make this popular pastry, the finely crushed, genuine Gaziantep pistachios are generously spread between paper-thin sheets of filo pastry which are brushed with melted butter and smeared with semolina cream. Antep baklava is then splashed with another dose of melted butter, baked, and finally, a hot sugar and lemon juice syrup is poured over.
According to Turkish ustaları or master bakers, a well-baked baklava is tender, but at the same time has a perfect crunch to it. When divided with a fork, it makes a cracking sound which is not only a sign of freshness, but also a sign of the finest baklava, which isn't too sweet or heavy and leaves a heavenly taste in your mouth.
Garnished with crushed pistachios, and often topped with kaymak, (Turkish clotted cream) or a scoop of creamy ice cream called kaymaklı dondurma, Antep baklava can be served in many ways: it can be enjoyed either with Turkish coffee as a morning sweet snack, or as a mid-afternoon treat with a cup of tea, but also as an after lunch or dinner dessert.
Yuvarlama (Analı Kızlı) Çorbası (Yuvarlama Soup)
Arguably the Turkish soup that is hardest to make and one of Gaziantep's favourites, yuvarlama çorbası is traditionally prepared for the three-day celebration of the fast-breaking Ramazan Bayramı, and it is served in virtually every Anatolian home.
The preparation of this festive soup is a time-consuming process, and everyone is involved, as often both family members and neighbours get together to share the work and joy of rolling hundreds of tiny round köfte. These spiced meatballs are typically made with lean beef mince, and either rice or bulgur flour, but they can also be made without meat.
The köfte are then steamed and, together with pre-cooked chickpeas, added to the warm süzme (strained) yoghourt broth which is then drizzled with minty olive oil. Yuvarlama soup can even include stewed chunks of beef, lamb, or chicken, and it is most often accompanied by a rice pilaf, which altogether makes not only for quite a nutritious meal but also an amazing combination of different flavours and textures.
Çiğ köfte is the Turkish version of steak tartare, traditionally made with high-quality ground raw beef (or lamb) that is combined with bulgur, tomato paste, onions, garlic, pepper, and a selection of Turkish spices. The dish is consumed as a meze, and it is typically served almost cold.
In recent years, due to food safety regulations and health concerns, the meat is nowadays almost always replaced with bulgur and ground walnuts, but these vegetarian versions are so good that people mostly can’t tell them from the real thing.
A great example of Turkish regional cuisine, Ezogelin çorbası is a hearty, mint-flavoured soup made with red lentils, bulgur, pepper paste, and various Turkish spices. The origins of this classic Turkish winter dish are attributed to an unhappily married woman named Ezo who lived in the village of Dokuzyol near Gaziantep in the early 20th century.
It is believed that Ezo used to make this soul-warming soup in a desperate effort to win over her mother-in-law's cold heart. Ezo's story was often depicted in films and lamented in folksongs, and her name still lives on in this flavoursome dish. Today, apart from being served as a warm starter or even as a breakfast meal, Ezogelin çorbası is traditionally prepared as a sustenance for the young brides-to-be in order to sustain them for the marital journey that lies ahead.
A type of sweet börek, katmer is a specialty of Gaziantep, or simply Antep – Türkiye's gastronomical capital and a rich melting pot of diverse cultures and cuisines nestled in south-eastern Anatolia – an ancient city whose claim to fame is being home to world’s finest pistachios and the delicious Antep baklavası.
Katmer is what most locals start their day with: in fact, there are bakeries and cafés in Gaziantep open from early morning until noon serving katmer for breakfast. Traditionally, it is also the first meal eaten by newlyweds after their first wedding night, as it represents the sweetness they hope to find in their marriage.
Filled with pistachios and kaymak – Turkish clotted cream made with water buffalo milk, which is often referred to as kaymağın kaymağı, meaning crème de la crème – these flaky, crunchy pastries must be served fresh from the oven, while they're still warm.
For a perfect Turkish breakfast, have your katmer drizzled with a little honey, sprinkled with crushed pistachios, and paired with a nice glass of tea.