Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Weekend in Gaziantep: The food, oh the food!

Between going home for Thanksgiving, trying to make Christmas a little more Christmas-y, and my new job, I've completely fallen off the blogging-about-Turkey wagon. So without further ado, the second part of our trip to Gaziantep, devoted to the food...

I only learned about Antep from Lonely Planet and wanted to see it for the mosaics, but it turns out that Gaziantep is also a huge foodie destination, which is why our friends wanted to join us on this trip. The city is known for its pistachios, baklava (made from those pistachios), and kebab and besides visiting the Mosaics Museum, pretty much all we did was eat (though admittedly we did do a little bit of shopping in the bazaars...where Cagatay and I bought, you guessed it, food). The airfare is cheap enough that we've talked about going back for another weekend just to eat.

Turkish breakfast is an event in itself; usually it's a buffet with an assortment of small dishes, the most basic being fresh bread, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggs, cheese and honey. Even though it's just a little bit of everything, it adds up - when I came here backpacking two summers ago, I could pretty much fill up for half the day. In Antep, we had breakfast both mornings at Orkide, this cute little cafe in the heart of the city that redefined Turkish breakfast. Look at the photo below - that's not even half of it. Our table was positively overflowing with plates and everything was deliciously amazing (except for the liver - I refused to try it though everyone else seemed to be pretty keen on it). At the left on the table, you can see the large plate of katmer, a famous Gaziantep breakfast dish. (It's also pictured in the close-up.) It's kind of like baklava; it's made of dough and pistachios, but it also has a cream inside, which all comes together as this smooth, nutty dessert-like dish (but for breakfast...isn't this a great place?!?). Not surprisingly, we ate at Orkide twice.

For lunch one day, we also went to the famous Halil Usta kebab restaurant, which was just around the block from the new Mosaics Museum. The restaurant is like a huge hall, with long tables, and everyone eats the exact same thing, family-style. I don't usually eat much meat but for this trip, I decided that I wouldn't ask any questions and just try whatever was in front of me. (To be honest, this worked for about a day, and then I started eating pide.) At Halil Usta, they first brought us a salad, thin, gyro-like bread, and ayran, a Turkish yogurt drink. Then came the lamb kebab, which was amazing. The waiter at first brought me the unspiced version since I was a foreigner, but little did he know that as a Texan, I would prefer the spicy. :)

For dessert, we went to Kocak, one of the Gaziantep's many baklava shops. (In the comments section of a recent New York Times article by Frugal Traveler Seth Kugel on the city and its pistachios, I read that Antep has more than 700 baklava shops!) It's interesting because while the city has mostly bland architecture, a lot of gray three- or four-story buildings, all of the baklava shops that we went into were really fancy, with lots of shiny brass and wood, and I'm not sure why that is.

It turns out that there are multiple kinds of pistachio desserts, which I think the West collectively refers to as baklava. When we went to Kocak, we each got a starter plate, if you will, with three kinds: baklava, şubiyet, and havuç (which is also the word for carrot). Baklava is what we think of, the pistachios in between a flaky pastry layer; şubiyet seems similar but is triangle-shaped; and havuç is just pistachios with a thin layer of something keeping it all together. (How do you like my very scientific descriptions?) The server brought our plates with bottled water and only after did we have tea; apparently you're not supposed to have anything else so as to not dilute/ruin the flavor.

I think the most amazing thing about these desserts was the sheer amount of pistachios. Just look at how many pistachios are in that şubiyet! You don't see anything like it outside of Antep. Later, at the bazaar, we brought pistachios to take home with us...and an awesome (but alas, name unknown) grape-leaf wrapped pistachio dessert. Yup, it's all about the pistachios. Pin It

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