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Gazientep Turkey - Help please

Given its proximity to Syria I'm hoping this is where some potential respondees might lurk. Political borders notwithstanding - I'll go with cultural relevance.

I'm in the final stages of planning a trip to Turkey with my final destination being Gazientep (from where I fly home).
While searching my food related files, I found this comment (from 2005!).

"Any Turkish gourmand knows that Gaziantep, a city close to the Syrian border and legendary for the spicy intricacy of its stews and kebabs, is the source of the country's best cooking.... the smoky wafer-thin lah¬ma¬cun (Turkish pizza) topped with grilled eggplant, along with the delirious syrup-soaked walnut rolls, would be worth a trek all the way to the Syrian border."

OK this is waaay out-of-date - but my question is whether the food around Gazientep is worth extending my trip for. Currently I'm planned to arrive on a Saturday and fly out on the Sunday. The quote suggests I should (at least) investigate staying a little longer.
Can anyone out there help? And specific suggestions would be even better.
Thanks, in advance.

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  1. Can't recommend a particular spot ther but definitely have to have pistachio baklava (best pistachios in Turkey come from around Gaziantep) and Ali Nazim (a sort of kofte-like kebap served on a smokey eggplant puree). On a non-foody note, I highly recommend the archaeology museum which has spectacular mosaics from Zeugma.

    1 Reply
    1. re: shpeizmaven

      Thank you for your prompt reply.
      Both of those foods are now on my list to try when I'm there. The mosaics will depend on whether I'm 'museum'd out' after several weeks touring Turkey. I'll do a little research on them.
      I'll also check out some of your local (to me) recommendations as well.

    2. Two thoughts come to mind for me.

      The first is, since you're already there, why not stay a little longer if you can manage it? It's a lot cheaper than a second trip, and who knows what wonders you may find with the extra time?

      The other thing is that I've had more success with finding great food by just winging it than I have had by following other people's recommendations. One of my basic rules is that when I want to experience the most "authentic" local foods, look for a small crowded place that has few to no tourists in it. I've never worried about language or a written menu because, no matter how large or small the place, they always know we're there to eat and that the easiest way to figure out what we want to eat is to take us to the kitchen and let us point. We've had some magical food experiences that way!

      Enjoy Gazientep, and safe journey home!

      9 Replies
      1. re: Caroline1

        Thanks for your suggestions.
        I totally agree with your philosophy about taking the extra time - except that means dropping something else - this year we are committed to two family reunions and are trying to ration the total vacation time we have available. With the reunion in UK we had 'almost planned' to hop over to Bilbao for a couple of days after the reunion - if we stay in Gazientep that plan will have to be abandoned (I know, everyone is crying at my dilemma!).
        I have been doing additional research and have also found some places in Istanbul serving 'authentic' Gazientep cuisine (research also shows it is the produce and spices that are perhaps more famous than the cuisine itself), so that's another alternative - my travelling plans currently give me several days in Istanbul at the start, so I can leverage an extra weekend (delaying return flights needs additional vacation time).
        The good news is that I will be there! Already I seem certain to be able to find some outstanding food that is a bonus - this was planned as an adventure trip (as opposed to a food trip) but I'll happily combine the two.
        And my suspicion is that none of the restaurants will have too many tourists - only an hour from the Syrian border is hardly top of most people's list. And the advice to look for crowded places is excellent.
        So, Bilbao/San Sebastian vs. Gazientep...... (is there a board for that?).

        1. re: estufarian

          Senseless for me to say "have fun!" because you're already doing that! So go have MORE fun! And now I'm running to the nearest mirror to see how I look when I'm green.... with envy! '-)

          1. re: Caroline1

            I think that comes from eating too many pistachios (from Gazientep of course).

            1. re: estufarian

              LOL! Those Turkish pistachios ARE addictive. I know. I lived in Adana for four years! Do NOT miss Turkish apricots, especially the dondurma (ice cream). Nothing short of incredible.

              1. re: Caroline1

                Thanks for the recommendations.
                Included in my list.
                I've had dondurma before (in Jordan). And it was involved in my favourite food story. As I was eating it and strolling around a food store, AmuseGirl pointed out the identification on one of the cheeses. Yes, it was 'Cheeses of Nazareth' - I think much of the dondurma was inhaled!

                1. re: estufarian

                  Then maybe this will massage your funny bone? '-)

                   
                  1. re: Caroline1

                    Estufarian: I've read many of your most helpful posts. I am now musing about a possible trip to Antep, in combination with other places in Turkey. Curious is you did visit the city and if so, what is your opinion of the general food scene?
                    Turkish friends tell me that it is the best eating city in the country, and my interest has been recently piqued by article about baklava in the NYTimes..although I love sweets, I am more focused on the savory dishes of the city and its area:

                    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/27/tra...

                    1. re: erica

                      Hi Erica - and I'll return the compliment - many years of helpful posts.

                      Yes, I did make it to Gazientep. I started a write-up of my whole trip, but life got in the way!

                      Despite your plea for savory dishes, the whole town revolves around baklava (OK some people probably go there for the mosaic museum too!) - and it is fantastic. Nothing like the 'so-called' versions I've ever had before. Less sweet and a complexity of flavours, which almost seems to finish dry. We initially stopped for a sampling of ‘point and choose’ versions, with tea, at Güllüoğlu (maybe a dozen slightly different versions) and never found better elsewhere (slight hint: if you’re taking out for later eating, ask for the ‘dry version’ – if eating in, have the ‘wet version’ – the pastry goes soggy in the wet if kept overnight).
                      For savory dishes we encountered an unexpected challenge. Gazientep is incredibly popular with Turkish visitors from other regions. Busloads from all over. So restaurants that have a good reputation are continuously swamped. No reservations (typically) and mainly ‘turnover as fast as possible’ service. No opportunity to relax and enjoy, and when we attempted to find the ‘more authentic’ dishes we were told “not available today”. This happened specifically with perde pilaf, which was the one great dish we discovered on the trip. But outside Istanbul, it was consistently ‘not available’ even when listed on menus.

                      So, expect mainly kebaps (and rarely spiced with any expertise, often oversalted) and variable lahmacun, and identical salads throughout the whole country (cucumbers were in season when we were there – very tasty, but served at every meal (including breakfast) for 15 days and the palate becomes jaded. Occasional pide but the base in that was almost invariably doughy and chewy.

                      Other than a few initial days in Istanbul, we were mostly in far Eastern Turkey (Anatolia) and as a general rule, the food got spicier the further east one travelled. So Gazientep was almost our furthest west, plus our last stop, when we were searching for anything outside the kebap formats – and didn’t really find it. But we ignored some of the documented places, which had long lineups and noise levels that were above my current threshold.

                      Despite concerns from others, we found the entire region quite safe (we skirted the Armenian, Iran, Iraq and Syria borders). There are a significant number of refugees, and very noticeable street begging from the refugees. But it is persistent rather than aggressive. The refugee camps are ‘off-limits’ – not that I wanted to visit them anyway – so the refugees in that area are mainly women and childen. The men have dispersed to the more populous cities (including Istanbul). The Kurdish presence extends as far west as Gazientep, but is swamped there – if you want Kurdish cuisine ‘Go East’.

                      Fortunately, our first meal in Turkey, in Istanbul, was at Siirt Şeref Büryan (walking distance from our hotel; closes at 9:00pm). Located in the Old City, in the shadow of the Aqueduct; it was there that we discovered perde pilaf which was (by some margin) the finest dish we had in Turkey. Think a flowerpot shaped rice dish cooked in a tandoori oven until the outside is flaky/crispy, stuffed with pulled chicken parts, almonds and herbs. That dish was about $6 and the whole meal (for 2) was $15-20 (not licensed – the most common situation by far in Turkey). Apparently this is a Gazientep dish – at least in theory, as we only ever found it served here – twice! We also returned and had it again for lunch a couple of days later.

                      I guess the big question is – would I go back to Gazientep (and for how long?). We redeemed airline points for our trip, so it was the same number of points to get to Gazientep, as for Istanbul! So, yes, it was a bargain for us as it cost zero! So ‘worth a detour’ (in Michelin terms) but not a ‘Special Journey’. If anyone is visiting the ancient sites of pre- or early- civilization, then absolutely worth a stop – but I wouldn’t fly ‘there and back’ from Istanbul just for the food.

                      Hope this helps – the economy in Gazientep seems quite buoyant (no empty shops and a fair amount of construction), so prices are high compared to surrounding towns – but still far less than Istanbul. And very few western tourists but, as I mentioned above, a huge number of bus-based Turkish tourists. All the historic sites within, say, a 2-day drive from Gazientep had busloads of local tourists. I do recall another thriving hillside town where we had particularly good food (maybe 2 days further east), so if you do decide to go I’ll dig that out – but my notes are in disarray (we just moved after 30 years in the same house!).

                      1. re: estufarian

                        E: I cannot thank you enough for responding with ana actual trip report filled with such useful, if not always encouraging, information. Well done. And thank you, again.