Handan Kazanci (ISTANBUL)
The cuisine of Turkey’s southeastern province of Gaziantep earned praise earlier in December, as it was added to UNESCO’s list of “The Creative Cities Network” on gastronomy, a network that launched in 2004 and comprises 116 cities worldwide.
Among the ancient city's - also known as Antep - premiere delicacies, one finds the filo-dough treats, baklavas.
Indeed, around 1,100 km away from Istanbul, is the capital of the flaky dessert.
Characteristic of the former Ottoman Empire cuisine, baklava is rich, sweet, with layers of filo pastry filled with nuts and syrup.
The pastry is one of the most popular sweets in Turkey, as well as in the Middle East and Balkan countries, and seduces locals and tourists alike.
The Karakoy Gulluoglu, located a few steps away from the Bosphorus, is a baklava bakery run by the Gullu family from Antep, like most baklava producers in the country.
The high-end 300 square-meter baklava bakery - which opened in 1949 - sells almost three tons of baklavas during religious festivals or New Year's Eve, says Hasan Akbiyik, 62, a salesman for Karakoy Gulluoglu.
According to an Istanbul-based association on baklava and dessert production, Baktad, Turkey produces around 950 tons of baklavas daily.
The average of annual baklava consumption for per person is around 4.4 kg, the Baktad said in a statement to Anadolu Agency.
The industry employs more than 60,000 people at around 25,000 companies across Turkey and makes an annual domestic turnover of around 8.5 billion Turkish liras ($2.9 billion).
While the industry’s exports of baklava amounted to $1 million in 2005, it increased to more than $4 million in 2014, Baktad added.
Turkey mainly exports baklava to the U.S., Germany, and Saudi Arabia, Baktad added.
How to make baklava
The chairman of Karakoy Gulluoglu, and also a baklava maker for more than 40 years, Nadir Gullu, 60, told Anadolu Agency the key steps in making baklava.
He said that ingredients for Antep baklava - which received a protected status from the European Union in 2013 - should be grown locally during the right seasons.
Pistachios, "the main source of the good taste of baklava", he says, should be picked in Antep in August when the protein levels are higher, rather than in September, when they are usually harvested.
“Walnuts should be brought from [Turkey’s northern province of] Tokat during September and October,” he adds.
And the butter for a baklava should be made from the milk of sheep and goats that are fed untrodden herbs of the Harran Plain in southeastern Turkey.
“The animals should be eating those herbs during the spring months of April and May,” he says.
While the flour for baklava should come from Turkey’s central Anatolian province of Konya or southeastern Urfa, Gullu said that the water used for baklava should not be chlorinated.
Gullu has a very definite idea of what a good baklava should be.
“First of all, it should be gold in color,” he says. “Secondly, when you smell it, you should be able to understand if the ingredients are natural or not. Third, when you put your fork into the baklava you should hear the crispy voice, which shows how thin the 40 layers of rolled dough are.”
Lastly, one should chew the baklava slice five times in order to understand the pistachio aroma, he adds.
The Karakoy Gulluoglu bakery attracts around 3,000 people on an ordinary day. This number increases to 6,000 the weekends, says Akbiyik, one of its salesman.
Baklava is also one of the main souvenirs that Turks or foreigners bring back to their friends and family.
One of the customers in the bakery is Chloe Marie, 38, a social worker from Switzerland who is in Istanbul for a five-day holiday.
Her first taste of a baklava was in her home country years ago. “I just love them,” she says, adding that each time she is in Istanbul, she tries the filo-based sweets.
The best baklavas are the ones with pistachio, she adds.
Akbiyik, who has been serving baklava for more than 40 years at Karakoy Gulluoglu believes baklava makes people joyful: “I don’t know why. Maybe it is physiological; when people taste baklava, everybody laughs, [they are] happy.”