Antep or officially known as Gaziantep is the culinary capital of Turkey. At least it is for me. When I travel to Antep, I end up gaining few kilos of weight. Losing all the katmer, kaymak and sweets from my hips is never an easy task. But it is so worth it! Every time…
The city is located the South-eastern region of Anatolia, and it is one the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. However, to many, many, many people, Antep is known for its cuisine and food culture. Antepeans like to eat, and they like to eat well.
The food in Antep in many aspects differ from cuisine in other parts of Turkey, because of the influence of Oğuz Turks, Armenians, and culinary traditions of Aleppo, which was an important centre during the Seljuk and the Ottoman Empires. The differences are very well known, and one can taste it in every bite. The different influences can be noticed in rice dishes, soups (çorba), kebabs (kıyma kebab, liver (çiğer) kebab, onion (soğan) kebab, simit kebab, kuşbaşı kebab), all types of köfte (to name few: çiğ köfte, içli köfte, meatballs with yoghurt, meatballs with lentils, lahmacun and mixed dolama).
Antep food is one of my favourites in the world, and not only because of its variety, but because the locals take a lot of pride in preparing the dishes. They also know how to spice it. It is almost impossible to find any food that lacks spices, at least I am not aware of anyone who complained about “bland” food in Antep. Many dishes are prepared with Aleppo pepper, which is a mix of chili pepper and paprika. For the brave ones, if the food in front of you is not spicy enough, there is always a jar of extra pepper on the table. As an avid lover of “the spicier the better” food, I have a bag of Aleppo pepper in my cupboard.
The desserts in Antep are in their class of their own. There are bowls full of freshly made baklava, burmalı, künefe, kadayıf, şöbiyet and more, waiting at the windows of cafes, restaurants, bakeries and baklava shops. The smells of fresh sweets made with pistachios and honey spread on the streets, working on one’s strong will not to reach for yet another piece from the box.
Traditionally baklava in Turkey is made by filling between the several layers of thin dough with pistachios. In some parts of Turkey, the filling is done with walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts. The last ones are commonly used in baklavas in the Black Sea Region. The Antepean baklava has to have crushed local pistachios. It is a must!
Worth noting that baklava was introduced to Antep in the XIX century, in 1871 to be exact, by a gentlemen Çelebi Gülü, who had learnt from a chef in Damascus. Antepean baklava is simply melting-in-the mouth experience, and pistachio nuts is the key. Few years ago, in 2013, Antep Baklava (Antep Baklavası) was registered as a Protected Geographical Indication by the European Commission.
However, Antep is the most known for its pistachios. When you are entering the city from any location, you will see fields of pistachios surrounding Antep from every angle. To give you a little of the background of these lovely nuts. Pistachios actually belong to cashew family. They are low in calories, but high in fiber, minerals, vitamins, essential oils, unsaturated fats and antioxidants. Not only they are good to your heart, help you with your weight, help absorbing the iron from food, but they help to decrease the bad cholesterol, and they also have aphrodisiac properties.
It is not known where pistachio nuts trees are from originally, but probably they originated from the Middle East and Central Asia. Pistachio trees are female or male, but they both can produce a crop. Usually the nuts are produced on the female trees, and male trees provide the pollen to fertilize the female trees. Growing and cultivating pistachio nut trees is an entire science, that would probably require few blog posts, so I will not get into that. But, worth mentioning here is that pistachios from Antep are very well known for their quality.
Pistachios are not easy to cultivate, and it takes a long time to get into a production stage. There is a saying in Turkey that “a grandfather plants the pistachio trees, a father cultivates them, and a son collects the pistachios”. Pistachios in Antep are high quality; they are small, slim in a brown shell. They can be eaten as a snack or used when cooking different types of foods. Imagine a Friday evening while watching your favourite movie on Netflix, there is nothing better than sweatpants, a glass of whisky and a bowl of salty Antepean pistachios.
Antep is a 2nd largest pistachio producer in Turkey, right behind Şanlıurfa. Both cities are in close proximity to one another, so you can imagine how many pistachio nut trees are grown in the area.
The dish with pistachios that I cannot resist is Antep katmer. Usually served for Sunday breakfast (pazar kahvaltısı). It is a flaky pastry fried on a butter and filled with a generous amount of crushed pistachios and served with another layer of crushed pistachios on top. One can also get katmer with clotted cream, and this is the one that I like the most. Many places in the city still prepare it with traditional methods, making it the tastiest katmer in Turkey (at least for me:)).
I do not eat breakfasts at all, but when I land in Antep, my first request is for fresh katmer for the next morning. It really does not matter what day of the week it is. I need to mention that at least one box of katmer travels with me back home. For few days after the trip, I just open my fridge and eat a piece of already slightly hardened, yet still heavy and delicious katmer, directly from the box.
My glands are overproducing saliva now, so it is time for another visit to Antep:)