Cemil Cahit Güzelbey
Cuisines, like every other human endeavor, have reached their present forms as the result of a long and continuing process of experimentation. Even something as simple as salt was once discovered by our ancestors, and made its way into food. Later other flavoring ingredients such as red pepper, spices and pepper paste came into use.
The quality of a dish is affected both by the quality of the ingredients, as well as the mastery and meticulousness of the cook. In Gaziantep, a good cook is known as a kerdiman.
Certain techniques used in Gaziantep cooking have a profound effect on its flavor. Examples of this are to be seen in the cooking of okra and yogurt dishes.
Okra are naturally slimy, and this characteristic passes into the broth they are cooked in, something which makes them unpopular with some people. In Gaziantep cooking, whether the okra is fresh or dried, this problem is solved with the addition of something acid to the cooking water.
Yogurt curdles and separates when it is heated. In Gaziantep, in order to prevent this in yogurt dishes, one or two eggs are beaten into the yogurt and then the mixture is heated for a short while.
The local dishes of Gaziantep are many and varied. This is the result of its history and geography. The city’s cuisine includes many meat, vegetable and baked goods from other regions of Turkey which were brought by immigrants to the region, as well as many foods that have come from our southern neighbor Syria. The first group includes some dishes as karakavurma, boranı, sarıksak aşı, pişi, börek çorbasıor tutmaç, and the second includes several dishes made with meat and bulgur and certain sweets.
Another reasons for the variety in Gaziantep’s dishes is the variety in cooking techniques and utensils. Saffron, known locally as hasbir; a local herb called tarhın (tarragon), yogurt, red pepper and garlic are of major importance in the cuisine. Some savory dishes also make use of certain fruits, local vegetables and wild plants.
In Gaziantep, rather than the Arabic-derived word mutfak for kitchen, they use the Turkish word ocaklık. Before the advent of modern plumbing, every ocaklık had a well in one corner where water was raised with a rope; as well as three hearths, the middle one large, flanked by two smaller ones on either side. The large was used for baking bread and the smaller ones for cooking other dishes. The kitchen also included charcoal grills, a board for rolling out bread, a sac or convex griddle, an oklava, or long thin rolling pin for making yufka, an evirgeç (a flat long wooden implement used in making yufka) and large kitchen tools.
There was also a separate area, a sort of pantry for the storage of food and kitchen utensils. In it were two or three boxes raised on legs in which the fine bulgur used for various types of köfte were kept; these were known as bulgur ambarı. There was also an un ambarı or flour bin, which was a box lined with tin; and a kavsara, which was a large, cylindrical wooden container that held enough dried flat bread to last at least thirty to forty days. In addition to these were various containers for oil, cheese, pepper and tomato pastes, pickles, brined vine leaves, topaç (orange-size pieces of kavurma), molasses, red pepper, tarhana for soup, legumes, various dried vegetables, hulled wheat, honey, preserves and wheat for flour, as well as jars, tins, boxes and sacks. Sofra sets not placed in the kitchen were also kept here. Although the wood and charcoal bins were usually in the kitchen, they were sometimes in a corner of the pantry as well.
Preparation of Various Ingredients
The various staples necessary for cooking were made or acquired seasonally and after processing, were stored in the pantry. Butter, cheese and garlic were bought in the spring; tarhana made from hulled wheat and tarhana was also made in the spring and early summer when yogurt was plentiful. Brined vine leaves, garlic and plum pickles, keme (truffles) and fuzzy acur (a cucumber like vegetable with light fuzz and black lines) for stuffing were also acquired during this season. Summer and early fall were the seasons for eggplant, peppers, zucchini and haylankabağı (a long variety of winter squash) and for the drying and storage of beans, okra, blackeyed peas, purslane, grated zucchini, peppers and tomatoes. This was also time for the making of green grape, sumac, red pepper and sour pomegranate concentrates/pastes. Fruit preserves were made according to the season, bulgur was boiled, dried, ground and separated into grades; wheat starch and hulled wheat were made, wheat for flour was washed and made into a type of sweet called şire. The foods that required the most effort to make were bulgur, şire, tomato and pepper pastes, sour molasses of pomegranates, green grapes and sumac, wheat starch, and tarhana. But şire came at the top of the list. Another staple is topaç. To make it, a sheep is bought in the summer and fed until mid to late autumn, then slaughtered. The meat is separated from the bones, then fried and pressed in fist-sized pieces. This was hung from the ceiling in a food storage area.
Grapes, pomegranates and pears were also strung and hung on nails, this was called hevenk. A thick-skinned type of watermelon from Diyarbakır and melons called kabiye were stored bardak altında. The dry sweets known as şire were kept either a box bardak altında or in some room of the house.
Some of these preparations are still done today; among those still practiced are the making of şire, bulgur, wheat starch and tomato paste; new professions have grown up around these jobs. Homemade flatbread has become much less popular, this is partly due to the inconvenience of making it in apartments.
Because of the difficulty of including so much information in a few pages, I have avoided going into detail about the preparation of some staples as well as of some types of dishes.
Categories and Types of Dishes
The foods of Gaziantep can be classified in various groups according to when they are eaten, the occasions on which they are made, chief ingredients, preparation technique and where they are made. Such categories include foods for iftar and sahur, feasts, festivals, weddings, deaths and traveling; according to ingredients such as meat, yogurt, olive oil, vegetables, dried vegetables; and according to preparation, such as köfte (locally pronounced küfte), soups, pilafs, kebabs, boiled and baked dishes etc.
As dishes to be served at weddings and other large celebrations are made in large amounts, easy-to-prepare dishes such as the doğrama, kabaklama, beans and pilaf described below are preferred for such occasions. For feasts, deaths and festivals on the other hand, the best dishes which are in season tend to be chosen. During the Feast of Ramadan, middle- and upper-income families would prepare several dishes to distribute to the poor.
Following is a list of dishes according to type with their names and short descriptions.
Eighteen different soups are made in Gaziantep. After cooking, they are garnished with clarified butter, mint, red pepper, black pepper or saffron; this changes according to the type of soup. The names of the soups are mostly based on their main ingredients.
Lebeniye, rice and yogurt, öz çorbası: Made with hulled wheat puressed through a sieve.
Börek çorbası: An old Turkish dish, also known as tutmaç. Yufka is rolled out and stuffed with meat, then dried in the sun and fried in oil. The soup is made with yogurt.
Püsürük çorbası: Made with small balls of dough made by sprinkling water over flour. These are dried in the sun.
Uyduruk: Literally “dreamed up, off-hand,” this is a soup made with leftover pilafs with bulgur, rice or lentils, cooked together.
Muni çorbası: Made with molasses and rice, this soup is served mostly to women who have just given birth.
Aşure çorbası: After boiling molasses, hulled wheat, white beans, chickpeas and dry fava beans together, it is sprinkled with pounded walnuts. It is said that aşure was first made by Noah by combining all the leftover staples in the ark when they hit ground. This soup is mostly made on holy days and especially during the month of muharrrem.
Although there are meat dishes made with vegetables, yogurt, rice and bulgur, let us leave those for the moment and concentrate on those in which meat is the chief ingredient: