Gaziantep – Turkey’s gastronomic gem

Most of the times, we end up travelling to the most touristic cities, because we do not know where else we can go. However, at other times, fate leads us to these unknown places that end up being so much more than we expected. It’s either because we need to pass through the city due to logistic matters, like flight transfers, or else, it’s because someone we know is living there.

After visiting Istanbul, we went for a few days in Gaziantep to visit a friend. Gaziantep is on the south eastern part of Turkey, close to Syria. Landing there felt like landing in the middle of the desert, with our plane the only one on the runway. Getting through the airport, which is one of the smallest I’ve ever seen, we knew that this was going to be a much different experience than the one we had in Istanbul. On our way to the city, it felt like the complete opposite of what we had just lived, with worn down and incomplete buildings everywhere you looked.

However, seeing a familiar face waiting for you as soon as you get out of the taxi, is always a good thing when you feel lost in a whole new environment. And so our mini adventure began – filled with food, drinks, street markets and ultimately, the local life which I sorely missed back in Istanbul.

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Sharing some Turkish salep and Nargile with our friend living in Gaziantep, David 🙂

The food!

We got to know that Gaziantep has been added to the gastronomic list of the Unesco’s Creative Cities Network. And that meant only one thing – we were going to eat a lot, and the food was going to be heavenly. From meat cooked in every possible way, to baklava, to kunefe, to turkish coffee or tea – we tried them all. To be honest, I was feeling quite sick by the end of the holiday, due to all the food we ate. But it was definitely worth it 🙂

Important to note that Gaziantep is known as Turkey’s pistachio capital. And baklava is traditionally made out of pistachio. So there you go – in Gaziantep you will find the best baklava in all of Turkey. Once I found this out, all of a sudden, the two hour flight here was oh so worth it. And so, my advice to you – if you love baklava, you need to visit Gaziantep. You’re welcome 😉

Here are some photos of the food (to prove that this was not just a dream 😉 )

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Menemen – a traditional Turkish dish with eggs, tomato, green peppers and spices
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Kunefe
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Traditional chicken stew in a pot
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The famous baklava
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Turkish coffee

The local life

Since our friend has been living in Gaziantep for almost two years now, we got to know quite a bit about the local life. Much more than if we were on our own, trying to understand what was happening. English is not widely spoken here, so it would have been very difficult getting around without someone knowing the language.

It was quite evident that this was a much more conservative city. Most probably because not a lot of tourists go there, except for local tourists. The beauty of this is the fact that you get to see the locals living their normal life – local people buying from the street markets, children playing in the street, men hanging around in bars drinking tea and gossiping on the latest news.

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Local women shopping from local markets
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Some street art found in an alley
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Everyday life in Gaziantep
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Children playing in the city
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Inside seating in a local cafe

Since the majority of the people are Muslim, alcohol is not widely available. And so, in order to drink some alcohol, we had to go into what seemed like an enclosed house, led up to a small room, some Turkish appetizers (meze) were brought to us, together with a bottle of Raki, water and ice, and there we could enjoy the night together with a few local friends.

The city and its people

To get a really good view of the city, get yourself to the castle, which is on top of a hill, and go to the outside area. You will get a stunning view of all of Gaziantep, dotted with mosques and buildings on hills.

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A glimpse of the city from the castle
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Gaziantep, as seen from the top of the castle

Getting to meet some local people and some Syrian refugees who are living in this city, we came face to face with the harsh reality of what is going on in Syria right now, and basically all around the world. We got to meet a lovely Syrian family who invited us for a typical Syrian dinner. This was an unplanned but such a memorable fun evening. We got to see the bubbly side of these people, but also hear about their pain and the separation in their families. These things are definitely not visible in Istanbul. And this makes you think about what we see when we travel to touristic places. We are detached from the harsh reality. But visiting places like Gaziantep, gives a glimpse of what is going on in the world right now. A world where people are going on about their lives, but if you look closer, you see the pain and the thirst for a better life. Here’s to hoping that all that glorious food found in this city, is doing the good deed of making life so much better for its people, in a world filled with greed and prosperity for the few.

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” – Hippocrates

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