With rolling green parks, restored buildings and forts and a thriving food scene, this city is a true Turkish delight
The first time I heard about Gaziantep was when the thought of driving around Turkey was ruminating in my mind. As usual there were people concerned about safety. As if to strengthen their case, the news came in that yet another bomb had gone off in Turkey, this time in a police station in Gaziantep. I hurriedly checked Google Maps and learnt that the place is in Southeastern Turkey, close to the Syrian border. “That’s certainly not on my route,” I thought, because my road trip would take me along the usual tourist circuit from Istanbul to Antalya along the West and Southwestern coast of Turkey. So I thought, but a few months later, I was on a flight from Antalya to Gaziantep.
Tummy tales Tuck into katmer, kebabs, kaymak and moreRISHAD SAAM MEHTA
| Photo Credit: RISHAD SAAM MEHTA (+919820355939)
I believe that delicious tasty food, (read sweet and meat) is one of mankind’s greatest joys, and the Turkish nation on the whole endorses my belief. In the build-up to my trip, I had been following a few Turkish Instagram food accounts and this city kept popping up regularly. So, if “tummy tourism” is one of the pillars of your travels in Turkey, then you cannot skip Gaziantep that’s vibrant with people picnicking in parks and hanging out in malls.
I had three days in Gaziantep and plenty of restaurants to try. My first goal was to go to İmam Çağdaş, where the owner stated with conviction that meat chopped by machine has no soul. This is why in his kitchen a team of men reduced cuts of lamb to a fine paste with zirh (scimitar-like blades). Chopping by hand lets the cooks control the texture of the meat, so it’s firm on the skewer, but crumbles under the fork. The kebabs served with onions, peppers and yoghurt are delicious. I asked him what goes into the mince, but received a smile and a wink in reply.
Ustas, as kebab-makers are called, closely guard the mix that goes into the mince. On the way back to my hotel, I stopped at Katmerci Cumaali Usta. Gaziantep is known for its katmer, a thin flaky pastry that is filled with clotted cream and pistachios. The katmer here is said to be the tastiest in all of Turkey as its made with full-fat milk and the unique pistachios from this city. When it was served, I pressed down on it with a fork and the cream came oozing out.
The next morning, I was rudely awakened by persistent tremors, the result of an earthquake 115 kilometres away. I ran down, but none of the hotel staff were perturbed, as these are a common occurrence in Gaziantep. However, the concierge did tell me I should head to Ciğerci Ali Haydar Usta (ciğer means liver), a short walk away. This roadside joint grills succulent pieces of lamb liver and serves them for breakfast on flatbread with parsley, onions, sumac and lime.
Since I couldn’t eat continuously, I decided to put my greed on hold and do a little sightseeing at the local market. But the call of kaymak and honey was too strong to resist. Soon I was sitting at a table with some strangers and dipping bread into thick cream (kaymak) laced with honey. Another Turkish breakfast staple.
With supreme effort, I managed to pull away from the food and head to the Zeugma Mosaic Museum. Zeugma (literally meaning bridge of boats) was a city founded by Alexander, where a bridge of boats crossed the Euphrates. The mosaics at this museum are from this ancient city. The most famous is the one of a girl with a scarf and earrings. The excavators joked she looked like a gypsy girl, but there are speculations that it might be Alexander the Great. The enigma only adds to her charm.
By that evening, I was back to treating my palate, this time at Cumba Kunefe. Another pastry popular in the region, kunefe is made with shredded wheat, margarine, soft white cheese which is drenched in sugar syrup and sprinkled with pistachio dust. I really don’t need to tell you it is delicious. But I can tell you this: if you’re serious about food, three days in Gaziantep don’t make the cut. A week is more like it.
Chew on this
Kebapçı Halil Usta
Order the mixed kebab platter and have it with ayran, a yoghurt drink.
Lahmacun is a flatbread with spicy mince that is rolled and eaten. Don’t ever call it Turkish pizza.
Beyran is a spicy lamb and rice soup rich with fat. It’s a breakfast dish that’s also a cure for a hangover.
Ciğerci Ali Haydar Usta
Known for its liver kebabs, everything is sold out between 5.30 am and 8 am.
Elmacı Pazarı Güllüoğlu Baklava
Go hungry to this baklava place and try them all.
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