Photos by Preamtip Satasuk
Turkey’s most iconic dessert, baklava is a necessary part of the Turkey travel experience. The origins of baklava aren’t always well documented and other cultures – Greek and Arabic, for example – claim it as their own, with varying levels of proof to go with it. One origin story indicates the paper-thin layers of phyllo dough with nuts, honey or syrup, began as a sweet created for the sultan during the Ottoman Empire, something straight out of the kitchen at Top Kapı Palace.
Of course not all baklava is created equal, the recipes may vary, and you can find good stuff just about anywhere when it’s created by someone who is passionate and meticulous about it. But if you ask the Turks where the best place is to get it, you will likely be told Antep (Gaziantep).
A lot had been said about this baklava before we embarked on our journey to Gaziantep. This is the foodie capital of Turkey, we were told, and the “best baklava in the world.” I was never overly fond of the variety that includes walnuts, but Antep’s baklava features the region’s most famous product: pistachios. In fact, the city lends its name to the Turkish term for ‘pistachio’ which also comes from the word for ‘nut’ (fıstık). Pistachio is antep fıstığı or the nut from Antep.
Antep Baklavası or Gaziantep Baklavası is so famous and particular that it has been registered with the European Commission as a Protected Geographical Indication.
There are many baklava places (baklavacı) to choose from in Gaziantep, but one of the most renowned is Baklavacı Zeki İnal. We just happened upon it on our walk back from the alleged most famous nohut dürüm (chick pea wrap) in town. Perfect timing for dessert.
We had the good fortune to meet Bülent İnal who came out and spoke to us. He is the son of Zeki who founded this baklavacı but he is the fourth generation in his family making the heavenly sweets. Bülent has a Masters in Mechanical Engineering but his family’s tradition called him back. He started helping his father when he was 7 years old.
Baklava here includes kaymak, a cream mixture with semolina, and sells for about 45 TL for a kilo. Özel baklava – simply “special baklava” – is made with extra pistachio and a bit less sugar. This was my favorite – still rather sweet but not so much that my cheeks flushed red.
One of the varieties on offer is kuru baklava – literally dry baklava. Bülent explained that back in the day when customers traveling to Istanbul might require a week to get there, the cream element would spoil on such a journey. Kuru baklava leaves that out. In the age of refrigeration, however, normal baklava can last in the fridge for up to two months, he says.
Şöbiyet is another alternative – a flaky pastry stuffed with kaymak and pistachios.
And if the sweetness is too much for you, try one of their pistachio cookies. You can find a whole variety of items with pistachios in them here in Gaziantep.
But to truly enjoy baklava, Bülent warned us, you must eat it properly. “You eat baklava with all five senses. Eat, smell, taste, touch, and sound.” He demonstrated and we followed. First, one should use fingers, not a fork. Take a good look at the fine work that has gone into making all those layers of dough and breathe in the rich aromas. Then holding it upside down (“important!” he told us) take a bite out of it. The sweetness will brighten your day. But the final test of a good baklava, says Bülent, is the sound it makes when you bite into it. “Shhhhhhh,” he says.
Exactly: shhhhhhh, don’t speak, I am savoring my baklava!
Where Do I Eat THIS?
Baklavacı Zeki İnal
Atatürk Bulvarı No:38/B
Phone: 0342 2312069
Enjoy more posts from Southeastern Turkey! Click here for the Gaziantep trip.
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