From Palate to Heart
A hot April afternoon… The dough pieces stuck in piles of peanut… I cannot get this scene out of my mind where I see on the white production counter of Gaziantep’s most famous şöbiyet manufacturer. Gaziantep cuisine’s magic is rooted a little in this. Special and abundant ingredients, meticulousness over delicacy, sophisticated and friendly catering culture… I put a special square baklava with plenty of ingredients right beside this triangular dessert which contains plenty of cream and pistachio. The flavor burst when I bring to my palate, the crunchy sound like that of thunder in the first bite, and the lightness that allows eating not one but platefuls of it.
Although it would take a few minutes to describe this stomach mischief we did while preparing packages, it all actually takes a few seconds. Levent Abi, one of the shop owners, gives a sign, and people take one piece of baklava to the taxi driver waiting outside for us. “He may feel like eating one…”
The global awareness of Gaziantep, recipient of the title of gastronomy city, in the network of UNESCO’s 18 “creative cities” around the world, is not a coincidence. Behind this feast of taste which takes place within a few minutes and appeals to the eye, ear, palate, nose, and heart lies a human experience. The city’s people, who ensure this unity, have this “food devoutness” we see in the Italians. Taste is one of the world’s most important matters for the city… Getting on the taxi with our packs, I witness the most beautiful description of kebab with eggplant during our conversation with the driver. “They make such a beautiful balcan (eggplant) kebab that they spread balcan like an ointment.” The best küşleme maker in the city, as well as the country, takes his meat from dozens of butchers in the city every morning saying “I know well about meat, and I like playing with it.” Taking down the shutters in the afternoon the latest because he runs out of meat, the fatherly smiling shop owner says “I cannot offer my guests meat if I am not confident about its quality just because I will earn a few pennies more.” The meat is so beautiful, and the prices are so convenient for such a big city that you see it in your dreams on your return path. When you want tea in the city’s most well- known katmer (a crisp pastry), he says gently, “We make katmer well, and they brew tea well. We tell them, and they bring it immediately.” Masters in the Historical Bakırcılar Bazaar continue to remind the forgotten arts. A shopkeeper in Almacı Bazaar praises his two neighbor shops: “Do not miss their pistachio and pomegranate syrup.” A masterpiece of meat and bitter flavor, beyran appears as the best food to eat at 05:00 in the morning. Your plane could not take off due to fog? After you checked out at the crack of dawn, your calls you back: “Please stay and rest in your room till dark.”
Gaziantep talks to you not only through great flavors on your plate. It also calls you with details at every corner of the city, in every mark and at every bite. “It’s not a coincidence,” you murmur with your mouth, “it’s not vallahi (par Dieu).”
by KORAY GUNYASAR