A FOODIE'S DREAM DESTINATION: GAZIANTEP, TURKEY
Updated: Jan 28, 2021
If you love food half as much as I do, then you have to add Gaziantep to your list.
Gaziantep was recognized as one of eight cities of gastronomy by UNESCO. The fact that there are only 8 cities in the world that was highlighted and given this title, is enough of a reason to consider visiting. The city is part of the Creative City Network. It is also one of the world's oldest cities.
Now you may be wondering, is it for really for me?
- Am I a foodie?
- Would I be willing to travel for food?
- Am I open to trying anything and everything?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you are already halfway there. If not, then I may still convince you by the end of this post.
Below, you may find some of the best eats in the city. I originally intended on visiting for 2 nights/3 days only, but decided to extend my stay, as there were too many delicious options! You are surely in for a treat.
Did you know that 90% of the baklava consumed in Turkey, is supplied from the city of Gaziantep? The baklava is made from locally grown pistachios and you will find a baklava shop at every corner of the street, since there are over 100.
After doing some research on the best baklava in town, I found the place to get the best one is at Kocak Baklava. You will surely not run out of options when you are in town, as there are so many varieties to choose from. You can easily find baklava shops in every corner, as you walk around town, thus even if you end up at another place, other than Kocak, you will find amazing baklavas. My favourite part was that they were not too sweet either.
What's so special about the pistachios in Gaziantep when you can get pistachios pretty much anywhere else? I found the taste to be very different from the ones I am used to and they are also pretty thin. It seems to me that the pistachios are roasted (at least the ones I bought). There are also so many different ones to choose from, and price varies depending on the quality of the pistachio that you want.
If you are able to find a local who knows where to go and how to get to a pistachio farm, you can add this unique experience to your list! Though I had previously done some research on pistachio farms prior to my visit, I did not get a chance to check it out. But, I did find that one of the best places to get your pistachio fix is at Almarci Pazari.
Like everywhere else in the city, pistachios are displayed in almost every shop. So, where do you choose to buy? We got ours from Tat Lezzet, since they were very welcoming and friendly.
An important note to keep in mind if you decide to buy pistachios or anything else that is out on display is to ensure not to eat it, unless you wash it first. They are left in open pretty much all day, so it can attract bugs (maybe not as much for pistachios, but for sure the other products, such as the dried fruits or lokum). If you feel safer to buy a prepackaged bag, you can also opt in for that, as some stores do offer that option.
Katmer is a must-try when in Gaziantep, as it is one of the specialities and the staple breakfast item. It is a rich, flaky treat that has clotted cream (kaymak) and pistachios. It is also traditionally eaten by newlyweds, the day after their wedding.
You will find many katmer shops in the area and since it is one of the best things you can eat while in Gaziantep, keep enough space to try different ones, since they vary, depending on where you get it from. My personal favourite was from Katmerci Zekeriya Usta (it was a little hard to find the shop, since it is hidden in a small alleyway, but it was worth the walk!). Another notable place is Katmerci Dayi, as in addition to preparing fresh katmers, they also have outdoor seating with live entertainment.
About two years ago, I stopped eating meat, as it was causing health issues. I went months without consuming any and though I eventually got used to it, sometimes I found it hard. Now, I only eat it occasionally, about once a month, or once every few months.
There were a few places I knew I wanted to try in Gaziantep. I did, but I had in moderation so that it would not affect me. One of the restaurants I visited was Kebapci Halil Usta. I originally intended on going to try their lamb kebap only, but the portions were smaller than I was expecting. We ordered some chicken kebabs as well and I personally preferred it over the lamb. It was tender and juicy.
When looking up blog posts and more information on Gaziantep, 99% of the time, recommendations for restaurants to try, were always the same. The map of places I wanted to try out were all from recommendations from other bloggers, but on one of the nights, I decided to do a Google search of other restaurants in the area.
Aside from having an amazing selection of restaurants to satisfy your Turkish cuisine cravings while in Gaziantep, there are also several spots offering International Cuisine. Since Gaziantep is renowned for its food, I wanted to try something new while there to see if it lived up to my expectations and the standards I heard so much about.
Out of the places I found, we ended up at Assado Kasap Steak House. It turned out to be the place where I had the best steak in my life! If you are in the area, I would strongly suggest you stop by. They have an extensive menu selection. At first, we had a hard time choosing what to order, but we ended up getting the Assado Special and the T-Bone steak.
After dinner, I was craving for kunefe and thought, let me go to the best place in the city - Cumba Künefe. I decided I wanted to walk there, to allow myself enough time in between dinner and dessert. As I followed the directions on Google Maps and thought I would make within 20-30 minutes, as it was showing, I ended up in the middle of a dark street. I thought maybe I had put in the wrong address, but it turns out that the address on Google was incorrect. At that point I had already walked for almost an hour, trying to find where to go.
I almost took a taxi back to the hotel, but instead, I gave up and decided to take a cab to Cumba. To my surprise, it was packed and well lit, though it was pretty late at night. I originally ordered the kunefe and the cumba burger (which is a dessert with ice cream in the middle and lots of pistachios!).
When the cumba burger arrived, I had to cancel the kunefe as the portion was huge, even for 2 people! I would say 1 is enough to share among 4 people. It was delicious and not too sweet, which I loved. Though I was disappointed that I could not satisfy my kunefe cravings, I added it at the top of my list and hope to come back for it on my next trip to Turkey.
There is also a store across the street, where you can find many of the ingredients being used at Cumba, as well as other things, such as soap, teas, spices and more!
With so many options in the city, it is quite hard to pick just one thing to indulge on. So, why not try everything? Be open! With every restaurant we visited, we gave it a star rating out of 10 and found that, there was no restaurants that scored under 8-8.5. That is enough to show how good the quality and taste of the food is in Gaziantep.
There was a restaurant we stopped at to grab food for the road. Everything was at 5 TL (~ 0.85 cents in CAD). At first, I did not feel comfortable grabbing anything from there, since it was still early in the morning (around 10 am) and they were still preparing to open. They had food available, but I felt that it did not look too appetizing to me. However, since we were left with very few options offering lunch for takeout (at that time), we bought 3 dishes with us for the road.
The food was amazing! The portion was enough to fill me up and the food was full of flavour. The chicken and bulgur were cooked just right and the vegetables were soft.
Though I had a set list of places I wanted to check out, we were short on time. Some other places on our list included Hisvahan Restaurant (for their 5 course meal), Ayintap (Baklava), Dürümcü Recep Usta (Nuhut Dürüm), Bogazkoy Restaurant (Pistachio Lava Cake) and a pistachio farm ( you would need a local to take you!).
HUNGRY FOR MORE?
Visit this food capital for yourself. You will find it hard to come across 1 bad meal!
P.S: Please invite me with you go if you, as I would love to go back to visit all the restaurants I did not get a chance to cross off my list!