One of the main reasons why visitors (especially domestic tourists) visit Gaziantep is its legendary cuisine – the result of trading caravans having tramped their way through this dusty oasis following the Silk Road. The sought-after spices, carried to Europe from the East, created a trade that also gave birth to cultural and culinary exchange. Gaziantep’s local cuisine transformed accordingly, absorbing the culinary traditions and the wealth of spices and herbs passing through.
Did you know...
- Pistachios are so synonymous with Gaziantep, that they are known as Antep fıstık (Gaziantep nut) all around Turkey.
- The pistachio, or pistacia vera, is a member of the cashew, mango, and sumac family, and is native to the Eastern Mediterranean.
- The Queen of Sheba loved pistachios so much that she demanded the entire pistachio producing region’s harvest be reserved for her.
- A pistachio tree takes approximately seven to ten years to mature.
Walking around this city on a sunny day (of which there are many), you get the strange impression that someone is purposefully wafting the mouthwatering, stomach rumbling perfume of chargrilling meat in your direction. The appetizing smells lead to minced meat studded with the city’s famous pistachios or chunks cooked with young garlic or fruits such as loquat, quince or plums – pairings that you’re unlikely to find elsewhere in Turkey. Yet, the real richness of the local cuisine lies in good old fashioned home cooking and sadly, unlike Istanbul, there aren’t many esnaf lokanta (tradesmen’s restaurants) serving up this wholesome grub. So, if you get an invite into someone’s home, never turn it down!
Eating Your Way Around Town
8:00am Metanet Lokantası
If you want to set yourself up for a hard day’s shopping, eating, and exploring, try the traditional kickstarter: a bowl of beyran soup. In this canteen like restaurant, each bowl is cooked over a small flame and individually prepared to order. Made with shredded lamb meat cooked with tail fat, rice, garlic, chilli and broth, it’s a fiery dish, and a hearty breakfast. But you didn’t expect this spice loving industrious city to start their day with cornflakes did you? Kozluca Mahallesi, Kozluca Caddesi No.11, Şahinbey; T: (0342) 231 46 66
10:30am Katmerci Zekeriya Usta
Before you can even take a seat at one of the rickety street tables for a mid-morning indulgence, the charismatic owner waves down and ushers visitors into the cramped kitchen space to watch “the magic happen.” Here, deft fingers work meticulously to swing the dough, stretching it to the required thinness before topping it with knobs of kaymak (clotted buffalo cream), a dusting of sugar, and a hefty sprinkling of chopped pistachio. They are then folded into a neat package and slid into a stone oven, before being chopped and served steaming hot, though not without a new sprinkle of pistachio dust. Çukur Mahallesi, Körükcü Sokak, B Hilmi Gecidi No.16/C-D Sahinbey; T: (0342) 230 09 71
It’s not just the food that’s worth seeking out, there are also some interesting thirst-quenchers to sample. Swarms of traditionally dressed street vendors peddle a rather unusual drink from the copper samovars that they wear on their backs, describing the contents as ‘Turkish cola.’ Meyan Şerbeti is actually something of an acquired taste, with a conspicuous bitter flavor that comes from licorice root. You can also find dut suyu (mulberry juice) from various street carts; advertised as a natural antibiotic, it makes a sweet, refreshing drink.
2:00pm İmam Çağdaş
Open since 1887, İmam Çağdaş is more than a restaurant; it’s an institution – a bustling cavernous temple devoted to the local cuisine and particularly kebabs. Try its specialty, Ali Nazik, in which pieces of perfectly grilled minced lamb kebab rests on a bed of garlicky yogurt that hides a smoky aubergine base, topped with chili-infused melted butter. The crispy stone-baked lahmacun topped with an equally garlicky mixture of spiced minced meat is also worth a mention. Eski Hal Civarı, Uzun Çarşı No.14, Şahinbey; T: (0342) 231 26 78
3:00pm Tahmis Kahvesi
Established in the 17th century, Tahmis Kahvesi is the city’s oldest coffee house, but it wears its history well. While its dark wood ceilings lend it a solemn tone at first glance, the atmosphere is lifted by the rattle of backgammon dice and the occasional visits of traditionally dressed roving Türkü music players (listen out for the famous Antebinin Kalesine song). Try the menengiç coffee, made from roasted terebinth berries (also known as wild pistachios), with its thick velvety texture and creamy nutty taste, served in an ornate metal coffee set. The contents of the silver bowl of unrecognizable nuts and seeds served alongside the coffee is a house secret. Elmacı Pazarı Civarı, Sahinbey; T: (0342) 232 89 77
Baklava is probably Gaziantep’s most famous product, with hundreds of producers, all of whom exclusively make this saccharine treat. Koçak’s baklavas are so light and crispy that their upper layers crack like papery shells as you gently cut into them with a fork. An abundance of syrup-soaked and finely-chopped pistachios spill out, sometimes revealing a heavenly kaymak center, truly the last straw for those watching their weight. Ali Fuat Cebesoy Bulvarı, Ş. M. Engin Özdinç Sokak No.3, Şehitkamil; T: (0342) 321 05 19
There isn’t much of a meyhane (tavern) culture in Gaziantep, and it is very rare to find a good kebab shop serving alcohol. However, if you’re looking for a more atmospheric evening meal, where you can also enjoy a few drinks, pay a visit to the recently converted Bayazhan. Built in 1909, as the residence of a wealthy tobacco merchant Bayaz Ahmed Ağa, it also served as a rakı manufacturer. It now houses a city museum as well as the restaurant. However, as pleasant as it may be to sit in the courtyard, soak up the history, and enjoy some meze, be warned that the size of the bill reflects this (and then some). Akyol Mahallesi, Atatürk Bulvarı No.119, Şahinbey; T: (0342) 221 02 12