I still remember that fleeting image of red peppers lining the road as I drove from Izmir back to Istanbul at the end of a fabulous boat trip way back in 1982. I didn’t stop and always regretted not having taken a closer look. So, when I came across a similar scene a couple of weeks back as Jason, Filiz and I drove from Gaziantep to Maras, I immediately asked the driver to stop the car.
The set-up was slightly different. The sheets were further away from the road, spread in the middle of the fields, and there were no women working – back then, it was all women, dressed in the typical floral pants, busy spreading fresh peppers or packing already dried ones. This time, they were just men and the sheets were plastic and fairly dark as against the brilliant white cotton ones I saw back then. Still, the work was the same. The men were spreading fresh peppers to dry or gathering the already dried ones to pack into large bags to carry to market. Read more >
I am finally starting to find my way around Gaziantep — I have the worst sense of direction ever and I still get lost after several visits to the city — but now I know how to get to my favourite jeweller in the city. Gold is very important in Gaziantep and people buy kilograms of it to celebrate weddings and births. In any case, Platin Jewellers is on Gaziler Caddesi, a pedestrian thoroughfare like Istiklal street in Istanbul, and it is owned by the wonderful father and brothers of my equally wonderful friend, Filiz Hosukoglu. As I walked back from the shop, having bought a miserable 4.2 grams of gold ( or a sweet pair of earrings for my niece), I heard loud chanting and saw a whole group of licorice drink sellers distributing free drinks while invoking Allah in all his merciful ways and in between, shouting hayrat, hayrat (from the Arabic word khayr and meaning distribution, good deed or gift). I didn’t quite understand what was going on until later when Filiz and then Tim, the lovely owner of Anadolu Evleri, another of my favourite places in Gaziantep, explained it all to me.
Here is a salad from Gaziantep that is very intriguing. I saw it being made at the home of Belgin, a wonderful cook, and a friend of my great friend Filiz who is an authority on the foods of Gaziantep. She introduced me to Belgin.
It starts out by looking like it’s going to be a normal salad, with beautifully chopped ingredients, arranged neatly in a tray as you can see above, waiting to be tossed together. But instead of mixing the ingredients lightly, Belgin kneads them together, and quite roughly towards the end until they are blended enough for her to shape the mixture into balls, which you can then pick up with your hand and bite into. Absolutely delicious but not quite a salad as I or you would understand it.
Well, there had to be a redeeming feature. The boutique hotel we had just arrived in in Gaziantep was awful, a little like an Ottoman Adams house. Everything had an abandoned and dusty feel, even the dug up lane leading to it. Still, there was one advantage. I had spotted a qataifi (or sha’r in Arabic, meaning hair) maker right opposite. So, we decided to escape and go there to see how the pastry was made.