Gaziantep - A Resilient Community
Of course, this is the Great Antep
I have been waiting to write this story for a long time. First of all, it was hard to start writing since I wanted to make sure I could transmit what I experienced during my trip. And then when I heard of the devastation caused by an earthquake, my heart was broken.
So this is where it all begins. A few months ago, I shared with some friends that I was invited to a food festival in Gaziantep, Turkey (known affectionally as Antep by many), I got different reactions, from "how exciting", to the expected "Is it safe?"...."arent you to close to Syria?"...." are you taking your own bottled water?"
Without a doubt, I can tell you that if you are afraid or concerned about traveling to Gaziantep, you should not. Of course, take the same precautions you might have when you visit any other place, but let me tell you that at no time I felt unsafe or unwelcome. Not a surprise here, the food is simply amazing (no wonder they are members of the Delice Network and a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy), but without a doubt, the best aspect of Gaziantep is its people. And yes, I WILL BE BACK!!!!
The city was named Antep, and over a hundred years ago, the name was changed to Gaziantep, meaning the Great Antep.
Baklava - The right way to eat it
One of our first visits during the trip was to Thamis Kahvesi & Baklava. This bakery and coffee shop has been baking the most delicious Baklava since 1635. I was able to tour the bakery where filo dough was produced by hand. I ended up like a beignet (all covered in flour) but hungry to taste this beautiful pastry. We went across the street to a coffee shop where I had Turkish coffee, tea, and of course baklava, made with the should-be world-famous Antep Pistachios. Here is where my friend Fuat Ozharat told me I was eating my baklava the wrong way. You should pick it up with your fingers, turn it around, and eat it with the bottom part facing your palette. Yes it made a difference (check the image above)
Mutfak Sanatlari Merkezi - as seen on TV
I met chef Doğa Çitçi back in Stavanger, Norway, where he was attending an event hosted by the Delice Network. When I was told we were visiting his restaurant in Gaziantep, of course, I was excited. During my flight from Frankfurt to Turkey, I was scrolling through the inflight entertainment device from Turkish Airways, and wow, I recognized chef Çitçi. The video made me even more excited about my visit to his restaurant.
True to his style, Chef Çitçi served us a meal using local ingredients. From lamb to rice, to beautiful cheeses from the region, this place is an excellent experience while visiting Turkey. One of my discoveries, and now a staple on my diet back home, was ayran, a refreshing drink made from yogurt, water and salt.
İmam Çağdaş - a true Gaziantep experience
Since 1887, this restaurant has been serving traditional local cuisine and baking delicious baklava. Make sure to visit and order a family meal and be ready to be surprised. Not only the food is amazing, but again the people are so nice and caring. I say this because one of my fondest memories of my trip was when I was walking up the stairs, and feeling young (I am the older of the Hygge Foodies), I decided to rush climbing the stairs, and guess what, I fell. My physical pain was not that bad, what hurt the most was my pride. You are wondering why I have a fond memory of falling and it is because about ten people close by in seconds came to my help, offered me a chair, a drink, a clean towel, you name it. Even two days later while walking at the Gastrontep food festival some of the staff that were enjoying the festival recognized me and asked me is I was OK.
Zeugma Mosaic Museum
Everywhere in Gaziantep you see images and souvenirs featuring the famous gypsy girl. These images are from a mosaic that is inside the Zeugma Museum. This museum is named after an ancient Greek and Roman city close to Gaziantep. Zeugma was built by Seleucus and Alexander the Great in the third century B.C. The mosaics, and other objects, were found underwater close to Gaziantep and relocated to an impressive facility in the city.
The People of Gaziantep
As I previously mentioned, the food is outstanding in Gaziantep, but what made my visit truly memorable is its people. My friend Derman Kahraman and Fuat Ozharat were outstanding hosts, and spent a lot of time answering my questions and sharing about the culture and history of the community.
During my visit, I met Chef Araz Aknam, a competitor of Master Chef in Turkey. He was so fun to hang out with, but most importantly, he was my Turkish food mentor. I remember that during one event, I ate several appetizers, and I was really satisfied. All of a sudden, I see Chef Aknam with a plate full of food making its way through the crowd. He heads my way and yells "I made you a plate, you have to try all of this". I got my strength back and spent time with him eating and talking about the food. After the earthquake in Gaziantep, I noticed that the same day, Chef Aknam was in the region setting up kitchens to feed those affected by the tragic event. I was not surprised.
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