A real Turkish Delight

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August 28th 2008
Published: September 28th 2008
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When I initially did some research on Turkey and learned about places I wanted to visit, Gaziantep (Antep) was at the top of my list. Well off the tourist trail, and paradise if you have a sweet tooth. It has been dubbed the baklava capital of the world, perhaps because it has over 180 pastry shops dotted around the city that produce tonnes of baklava, which is then sent throughout the country - even to the President! I just had to see what all the fuss was about!

So as part of my plan I wanted to meet a local who knew where to get the best baklava, kebaps and other culinary delights that this city had to offer. That's when Onal, a fellow Couchsurfer, came into the picture. When I read that eating was one of his interests I looked no further. When I met him and his family I knew I was in for a treat as they were so lovely and made me feel at home.

As Xavi was still sick, he wanted to try and stomach anything other than Turkish food. So my first meal in Antep ended up being pizza, not even
the root beer man the root beer man the root beer man

he insisted on having us try it even though we didn't want to and then made us pay for it even though we didn't drink it!
pide which I was not very happy about! But when Onal had told me that I happened to be staying a night that coincided with a big family dinner my excitement crept back. The only problem was that there were going to be about 20 people at this dinner in a village 30km outside of Antep, and Onal was going to be the only one who could speak English...

I was not going to let that stop me from trying to interact with his family though and as soon as we got to the village I tried to impress them with all the Turkish greetings and words I could muster up. I was met with smiles and laughs all around and according to Onal's mum, I even put on a very good accent. ha. I knew I was going to be in for a good night when Onal mentioned that there wasn't enough room for all the food for everyone to eat in the dining room so the women and men had to eat seperately! Traditionally men and women may eat seperately however it isn't that common these days, unless in our case, there was too much food and not enough space to put it!

I took a seat in between some of the women of the extended family and was glad that I had worked up an appetite. As the food started being served I couldn't believe how lucky I was to have landed here, in a small village where all the people are family, surrounded by pistachio and olive trees, enjoying Turkish hospitality at its best. The amount of food that came out surpassed my imagination, and I couldn't believe what I was seeing!

Basically for each person they served:

* a plate of eggplant, tomato and garlic kebabs
* a bowl of manti which is Turkish ravioli
* 3 sausage sized icli kofte
* about 6-8 sarma which we call dolmates but these ones were skinnier and longer
* a plate of meat pilav
* a plate of garlic beans
* bread

I wish I could have taken some good photos of all the food but it didn't feel right to stop all the food flowing and interrupt the feast. There was no way in the world I was going to eat everything that
dried peppers and eggplantdried peppers and eggplantdried peppers and eggplant

they stuff these with rice, meat etc and then cook them
was served so I started slowly and worked my way through the mouth watering food. It seemed that everyone else was eating quickly though and before I knew it they started taking the plates away just as I was starting to get into it! A part of me wanted to keep eating because the food was so delicious but I was warned there would be more food so it was probably a good thing that they took my plates away. I had tried each of the dishes that were served elsewhere in Turkey, but I can honestly say that this exceeded my expectations and the food was definitely some of the best I had eaten in Turkey so far.

Onal came to my rescue as up until that point I hadn't been able to engage in any conversation apart from some body language and pointing with the female members of the family. After a short break and lots of translating, plates of corn and fresh pistachios came out. I have never tasted fresh pistachios here, but pistachios are my favourite nuts. The fresh ones are even more fiddly to eat so that kind of put me off and I was already full by this stage so I had a few to be polite and then hoped that my digestive system was working overtime because apparently there was dessert to come.

Before dessert though, there were platters of fruit brought out and again, everyone got their own worth. Each person was served a banana, a peach, a bunch of grapes, a pear, and two types of melon! There is a thin line between not eating enough and therefore appearing rude, and being in pain from eating too much. I managed to get my way through the peach, grapes and melon before giving up.

They definitely left the best until last, and after much anticipation, I arrived at my first opportunity to sample the so called best baklava in Turkey. I was given not one, not two but three pieces of baklava for dessert!!! Made with the most fresh and organic ingredients, the baklava here is differentiates itself from the rest. When you bite into the baklava here, you know it's the real deal. The layers of pastry are so delicate yet crisp, and whilst the baklava is sweet, it's not sickly as it can be sometimes. I was
Antep castle Antep castle Antep castle

which happened to be closed for restoration whilst we were there!
able to eat two out of the three portions that were on my plate, and I probably could have eaten the third it was so good, but I stopped to save myself from the pain! We washed all our food down with cay and some more pistachios!

Our evening ended with the car not being able to start and for a second I thought we were going to stay the night and then that made me think that I would be able to eat the leftovers for breakfast! haha. But we managed to squeeze into Onal's brothers car and I went back to the family's house utterly satisfied and extremely grateful for the unforgettable experience I had. This family dinner had actually been planned for a previous date, but had been rescheduled twice. The family talked about this during dinner and Muslims are strong believers of fate. So apparently it was my fate to have experienced this wonderful feast.

The next morning I really didn't feel like breakfast, but I couldn't resist Onal's mum homemade jam and naturally dried fruit from the balcony. I didn't think I was going to be able to eat lunch either, but we had to visit a famous restaurant here known for its kebaps and baklava. Sandra and Xavi were still feeling ill but managed to stomach a couple of pieces of baklava.

I had been talking to Onal about trying a unique type of ice-cream that is particularly famous in a city near Antep. I didn't get to try it, but he didn't let me leave without eating some ice-cream, even after all the food we had already consumed in the last 24 hours. Dondurma which means freezing is the term used for ice-cream here and its distinguishing feature is the thick texture of it, a result of the amount of thickening agent that is used to produce it. The ice-cream is so thick that it doesn't melt and can be hung from hooks!

Apart from all the eating, the other thing I managed to do was visit a hamam , a Turkish traditional bath. Sandra and I were longing for a hot bath, a good scrub and a relaxing massage so we went to the recently restored hamam at the base of the castle in Antep. As none of the local staff spoke English,
the hamam the hamam the hamam

the dome shaped is typical of a building housing a hamam
we tried our best to explain that we wanted the full works. We had no idea what to do and how to do it so it ended up being quite a laugh trying to wash ourselves from a basin that we hoped was supposed to be used for washing ourselves. In the end, they ended up washing us, shampooing our hair, and gave us the roughest body scrub I've ever had that I am certain there was not one layer of dead skin left on me. After that we got to lay down on the hot marble stone which is centred in the main part of the hamam under the dome roof. We waited for our massage that we had paid for, and got a one minute rub down! The hamam was quite busy so I guess they took advantage of us not being able to speak English and waved us out in order to make room for the next guests. It was still enjoyable though and we felt relaxed walking out of there.

After a 24 hour gastronomical affair with food and our trip to the hamam, I had to say goodbye to Onal and his wonderful family for providing me with an incredible experience. His mother sent me off with a bag of naturally dried apricots stuffed with almonds, which was really sweet and I couldn't thank her enough. I knew they would be a treat on the 14 hour bus trip I was about to embark on.

The videos are from Antep bus station. It's that time of year where young men get sent off to the military, which many consider the most important part of their life so far. It's quite a big affair and there are hords of families and friends that send the boys off at bus stations around the country. It was cool to watch people of all ages dancing to the beat of the drum.


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