By Jeremy Khalil on October 4, 2019

 

Gaya Travel Magazine team was in Gaziantep, Turkey to cover the GastroAntep International Gastronomy Festival that took place from 12 until 15 September 2019.

Jointly organised by the Gaziantep Metropolitan Municipality, Gaziantep Governorate and Gaziantep Development Foundation (GAGEV), the GastroAntep International Gastronomy Festival intended to place Gaziantep on the international culinary map since the destination is Turkey’s culinary capital where gastronomes and foodies head to because the area is blessed with fertile soil that produces crops like pistachio and vegetables in abundance. Gaziantep’s richness in gastronomic offerings and heritage earns it a spot within UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network since 2015.

Gaziantep sits within Turkey’s South East region that has been trading with many nations and civilisations since ancient times, receiving products and influences from East and West that enrich its culinary traditions and techniques. The destination is renowned for dishes like lahmacun (delicious flat-crusted pizza topped with spicy meat and herbs), baklava (Turkish pastry sweetened by sherbet, which is a light syrup made from sugar, water, and lemon juice) and kofte (meatball cooked with paste made of cracked wheat and meat then fried).

Besides showcasing various comestibles that hail from various parts of Turkey including neighbouring Syria, GastroAntep International Gastronomy Festival 2019 was attended by many world-class, Michelin-starred celebrity chefs, food industry professionals, gourmands, gastronomy writers, UNESCO officials, and members of media. Culinary presentations by local and international chefs, including cooking competitions based on Gaziantep ingredients, were also held.

Image: one of the international chefs giving presentation during festival

One of the participating international chefs giving presentation during GastroAntep International Culinary Festival

Malaysia’s own Dato’ Chef Ismail Ahmad gave a rousing and entertaining live cooking presentation by demonstrating the preparation of a delicious Kelantanese dish called ayam percik (Malaysian grilled or roasted chicken marinated in spices doused with spicy coconut milk gravy). His exuberance won over the audience, whom at the end of the presentation leapt out of their seats to sample the ayam percik, took photographs with him and even requested for the recipe.

Dato' Chef Ismail presenting ayam percik during festival

Dato’ Chef Ismail Ahmad presenting ayam percik to the audience during GastroAntep International Culinary Festival

Dato’ Chef Ismail, together with the rest of the entourage from Malaysia, were flown to Gaziantep by Turkish Airlines in collaboration with Tourism Malaysia to promote the Visit Malaysia 2020 campaign. The overwhelming response from the crowd motivated the Turkish Airlines and Tourism Malaysia officials to consider participating in the festival again in 2020 in conjunction with Visit Malaysia Year, this time introducing more Malaysian dishes and delicacies as a way to encourage more Turkish citizens to visit Malaysia. Flying on Turkish Airlines also provided Dato’ Chef Ismail and the Malaysian entourage the opportunity to learn more about Turkish cuisine during the flight.

Dato' Chef Ismail on plane in Business Class with Flying Chef

Dato’ Chef Ismail being explained by Turkish Airlines’ Flying Chef about Business Class signature candle-light dinner at 30,000 feet

Local delights

In one of the mornings during GastroAntep International Gastronomy Festival 2019, the participating chefs, food industry professionals and media were brought to a pistachio farm to learn how pistachio is harvested, including munching on local delicacies. Pistachio is crucial in the making of baklava. All participants found the experience authentic and educational because they were able to taste freshly harvested pistachios and satisfying bites like freshly baked flatbread that can be eaten on its own or serve as wrap filled with fresh vegetables and cheese, including stuffed eggplants.

Talking about local delicacies, when in Gaziantep, travellers must savour baklava, which is one of the destination’s specialties. Gaya Travel Magazine team was lucky to be brought to a baklava-making workshop, owned by Omer Gullu, the fifth generation of the family that established the baklava brand Gulluoglu since 1871. The workshop produces up to 1,000 kilograms of baklava each day, mostly made by hand using quality ingredients.

Good to know: Though baklava pieces are typically square-shaped, Omer Gullu’s workshop also produces baklava in the forms of triangle called sobiyet and bird’s nest.

Our team witnessed the painstaking process of how the employees at the baklava workshop need to repetitively roll up the dough until it turns into thin, translucent sheets, which are afterwards layered into a tray. Generous amount of clotted cream is slathered on top of the layer of sheets, followed by a layer of early-harvested ground pistachio. As more translucent sheets are stacked atop the ground pistachio, they are sprinkled with clarified butter.

Workers at the baklava workshop cutting the cooked baklava into shape

Workers at the baklava workshop cutting the cooked baklava into shape

The layers of sheets, clotted cream and ground pistachio inside the tray are then cut into square pieces, clarified butter poured over onto them, then the entire tray pushed into the stone wood-fired oven, a method that has continued for generations. Once cooked, the baklava pieces are again cut into shape before being immersed in boiling liquid sherbet. Finally, the tray containing the cut baklava pieces is placed on an open rack to cool off.

Cooked baklava immersed in sherbet and being cooled off

Cooked baklava immersed in sherbet and being cooled off

As we relished the finished baklava, upon each bite, we immediately understood why the Gaziantep version of this pastry is highly prized: the baklava is crispy on the outside but tender in the inside, tasting remarkably wholesome due to the harmonious balance between sweet and buttery with a hint of nuttiness derived from the pistachio. Because of this revelation, Gaya Travel Magazine team members have now become Gaziantep baklava lovers for life!

Tip: When eating baklava, be sure to turn the piece upside down so that the bottom of the baklava hits your palate as it enters your mouth so as to appreciate its flavour in entirety.

In short, the trip to Gaziantep opened our eyes, mind and soul to the destination’s splendid flavours that all food lovers and epicureans should never miss. Without doubt, Gaziantep is not just the culinary capital of Turkey, but also fast becoming one of the culinary capitals of the world…

Other things you should do when visiting Gaziantep:

  1. Shop for baklava as souvenir for loved ones back at home at Omer Gullu of Gulluoglu store (www.omergullu.com.tr).
  2. Dine at Imam Cagdas (https://www.imamcagdas.com/anasayfa), Gaziantep’s most famous restaurant, to try its kebabs and dishes like the gratifying alenazik (char-grilled smoked eggplant puree mixed with yoghurt and topped with tender lamb stew), baklava and homemade ayran (Turkish yoghurt drink) served in a bowl with ladle.

    Flavourful pistachio baklava at Imam Cagdas

    Flavourful pistachio baklava at Imam Cagdas

  3. Wolf down on variety of lamb kebabs and other gratifying dishes like lamb chop and grilled chicken at Usta Kadir (http://www.kadirusta.net/), including kunefe (crispy cheese-filled pastry dessert).

    Inviting piece of kunefe served at Usta Kadir

    Inviting piece of kunefe served at Usta Kadir

  4. Stroll along the bazaars like Bakircilar Carsisi (Handcrafted Copper Bazaar) and Almaci Bazaar filled with spices and food, including the well-built Zincirli Bedestan that has been around since 1781, for shopping and photo-taking.

     

  5. Enjoy menengic kahvesi (pistachio coffee) amidst nostalgic and historical setting at Tahmis Kahvesi or Tahmis Cafe (www.tahmiskahvesi.com.tr), which also has another wing located right across the street, offering a more garden-like atmosphere.

    Pistachio coffee at Tahmis Kahvanesi

    Pistachio coffee at Tahmis Kahvanesi

  6. Dine or enjoy drinks at the atmospheric courtyard of the impressively restored building called Bayazhan (https://www.bayazhan.com.tr/), formerly an inn that was first constructed in 1904 but now home to a restaurant, pub, and event space.
  7. Visit Zeugma Mosaic Museum (https://muze.gov.tr/muze-detay?SectionId=GZN01&DistId=GZN) to admire ancient mosaic designs as old as 2,000 years, salvaged from the ruins of public baths and villas found around the area, which are masterfully-crafted, testifying to the ancient local craftsmen’s excellent workmanship and aesthetics.

    Inside Zeugma Mosaic Museum

    Inside Zeugma Mosaic Museum

The best way to get to Gaziantep is to fly on Turkish Airlines (https://www.turkishairlines.com).

Gaya Travel Magazine team members express our heartfelt gratitude to Turkish Airlines, Tourism Malaysia and Turkish Embassy Tourism & Information Office, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for making our trip to Gaziantep possible.

 

 

Share with us what you think about this article!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

 
 
%d bloggers like this: