In 2015, Gaziantep cuisine was designated as a “UNESCO Gastronomy City”, affirming the authentic culture structure of this city, which is one of the oldest and most important settlements in Turkey with its historical heritage and geographic location, adding color to the Turkish culinary tradition with the variety of its dishes.
With a history nearing six millennia, Gaziantep has been home to more than 20 civilizations each of which left its mark on the city throughout the centuries, and also thanks to its location on the Silk Road, this rich culture has culminated in a matchless cuisine. Gaziantep Cuisine offers a universal heritage that brings to our time the traces of civilizations that ruled in this land over the centuries with their distinct languages, religions and ethnic backgrounds. The golden rule of Gaziantep cuisine is to use local and premium ingredients while the core reasons for their authenticity include accuracy shown in the selection of the ingredients used to cook the dishes and desserts passed down as a heritage from grandmother to granddaughter, the skill demonstrated in preparation and cooking, and the spices, pastes, sauces and mixes used to make the dishes and give them their distinct tastes and flavors. With over 400 varieties and nearly 250 unique recipes, Gaziantep cuisine uses all cooking techniques also including boiling, grilling, frying, sautéing, and roasting be it a stew or oven-roasted dish.
The secret of flavor: local ingredients
Appealing to almost all palates, the secret of the flavor of Gaziantep dishes does not only come from the experience and skills of the cook. The superior aroma and flavor of the herbal and animal products locally raised and grazed under natural conditions also play a role in this flavor. Yet another characteristic of Gaziantep dishes is its use of a variety of spices. For instance, use of haspir (saffron) or mint in yoghurt dishes, tarragon in certain dishes and soups, cumin in liver kebab, fennel in aşure (Noah’s pudding), and cinnamon in sütlaç (milk pudding with rice) give the Gaziantep cuisine its unique flavor. While other cuisines typically employ one or two types of sour ingredients, Gaziantep cuisine has seven varieties of sour ingredients, which are used with specific dishes: Lemon, salt of lemon, sour grape, sour grape molasses, sumac powder, sumac extract, and pomegranate syrup. For instance, sour grapes are used with okra, plums with stuffed wine leaves, pomegranate syrup with stuffed cabbage and beetroot leaves, and sumac extract with juicy salad. Fresh garlic, on the other hand, is widely used in many dishes due to its health benefits, flavor and orexic properties while it can also be used alone in sarımsak aşı (a thick garlic soup) or bakla tavası (lamb stew with fresh broad beans).
There are more than 400 recipes in the Gaziantep cuisine, which are divided into 12 distinct groups, each including tens of dishes. The groups and the number of dishes under each are roughly as follows: kebabs (32 varities), meat dishes (50), yoghurt dishes (30), olive oil dishes (20), desserts (30), pilafs (27), vegetable dishes (40), meatballs (25), pies (20), salads and white bean salads (30), stuffed vegetables (30) and soups (30). Furthermore, there are 15 varieties of pickles and other dishes not included in these groups as well as some unique drinks including sweetened fruit juices and regular fruits juices.
Usually, mutton is used in meat dishes, and it is of great importance to know which part of the animal goes best in which dish. In Gaziantep cuisine, rib meat is used in lahmacun (very thin Turkish pizza covered with seasoned minced meat and onions), mutton for okra, and rump for çiğ köfte (steak tartar a la turca). In the past, since the butchers knew which part would go best in which food, they would ask their customers what they planned to cook and give them the meat accordingly. While this tradition no longer exists, people of Gaziantep know how to buy the best and most appropriate meat because they are already highly knowledgeable and experienced on the matter.
The use of yoghurt, on the other hand, is not confined to merely pouring some yoghurt on a dish, unlike other regions. What sets the yoghurt dishes made in Gaziantep from others is that yoghurt is cooked separately before being added to the dish. Many yoghurt dishes prepared this way are among the most popular delicacies of the Gaziantep cuisine.
A Masterpiece From The Gaziantep Cuisine – Alenazik
This dish’s name is derived by merging the words “Ala” and “Nazik”, it is written as Alenazik with the local Antep accent. But, it is known as Alinazik in areas other than Gaziantep.
400g of lean ground meat, 1.5kg of globe or bell eggplant, 1.5-2 water glasses of strained yoghurt, 1-2 cloves of garlic, 1 medium sized tomato, 1 green pepper, half tablespoon of paprika paste, half tablespoon of tomato paste, 1 tablespoon of clarified butter or butter, 1 teaspoon of black pepper, 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes.
Grill the eggplants in the oven, remove the skin and finely shred it with a knife. Place the meat in a pan and add a cup of water. Add the salt and cook on low fire in a covered pan until the meat releases its juice and boils down. Then add very finely chopped pepper and tomatoes. Fry the tomatoes and paprika in low heat until their color fades. Add the pastes and a little black pepper and fry as you mix for 1-2 minutes.
Keep the eggplants warm, add yoghurt, finely chopped garlic, and salt, and mix well. Warm a bit more in low heat and transfer into the service dish. Spread on it the fried ground meat while still hot and add the remaining black pepper and 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes. Consume with green peppers, flatbread or pita bread.