We might call the traditional cuisine of Gaziantep after the old traditional houses of the city. Today, these homes are located in several districts of the city centre.
Depending on the economic level of Gaziantep houses owner, cookers might have different sizes. The area of the kitchen itself is called "cooking room". There are also examples of separate cookers but located side by side, made from stone. These cookers are situated at approximatly 40-50cm from the floor. Large pans are placed on the cooker while niches located bellows allow tidying up utensils used for cooking. In this "cooking room", we might generally find along the walls wooden shelves and cupboards. Sometimes a well is also placed in the kitchen.
Today, of course, substantially, in place of the traditional houses of Gaziantep, we will tend to use more modern buildings as apartments. However, in this new modern place, the kitchen is not just a place where food is cooked, but also a place where each step of food preparation structures the social and cultural life. Besides the restaurants that widely spread Gaziantep gastronomy culture, domestic kitchen is where this culture remains alive and is transmitted to the new generation.
Kitchens are also places where one welcomes families. Today as in the past, guests cannot be without a meal. Every meal is lived as a social activity that joins occasional guests.
In addition, some kind of food activities is made with the involvment of people who are outside the family. Thus, the making of tomato or pepper paste, pickles, and sun-dried products is often the pretext for working women to a meeting with their neighbors. Besides these products, dried mint, red chili powder and pomegranate sour sauce, etc. are also products that housewives often help to prepare with working women. This assistance consists in all treatment phases of these herbs such as collecting and cleaning, etc; as for yuvarlama which is prepared in advance to be served during prestigious meal and is preserved in the freezer, women formed a system of very effective solidarity.
People living in Gaziantep see in nutrition a powerful element of social life based on culture. Traditions such as funerals, picnics and holidays days or meals celebrations are inseparable events of the city gastronomic culture.
Funeral Traditions in Gaziantep
Funeral and mourning culture are part of these very important events in Gaziantep. In Gaziantep, during the 40 days that last the mourning, the events such as weddings and other celebrations cannot be observed by the relatives of the deceased and the distant relatives must ask the persons responsible for funeral permission to celebrate weddings and other festivities. This situation is called "moving the mourning”. Distributing a meal during the funerals, in the name of the late is a practice that must be served. In the region, usually in order to "relieve the soul of the dead," a meal made with meat is served to the guests during the funerals.
Guests, who coming to the condolences area, make lahmacun in order to help funeral responsibles; they also bring baklavas as a dessert. In addition, people coming to offer condolences often bring tea or sugar to contribute to the cost occasioned by the numerous visitors, sweet tea having always served.
During these funerals, all the acquaintance or family members bring a kind of food. The end of mourning (40 days later) is closed by the reading of Koran verses and prays, this ceremony being called Mevlüt. During this ceremony, persons responsible of the funerals offer meals, such as Kabaklama (courgettes cut in cubes) and doğrama (a dish with meat). Butter or olive oil with chopped and dried mint is added on it.
Picnics in Gaziantep
The picnic culture is a living tradition in Gaziantep. Gaziantep sundays are usually reserved for family picnics. It is important for famillies and relatives to be together at picnics and getting together in areas dedicated to this practice, usually green areas on the city’s outskirts. Generally, kebabs are preferred as a main dish. Kekabs are prepared, cooked and eaten together, with the cooperation of all family members. Except this, another essential tradition during picnics is the preparation and tasting of köfte (usually made of vegetables and fine bulgur).
Turkish Hamam culture in Gaziantep
Local folk songs reflect a strong tradition of the Turkish baths culture in Gaziantep, which can be seen in the light of the numerous public hamams that dot the city. Turkish hammams are reflecting one of the traditional places in the city where the importance of cleanliness in common is branded. In Gaziantep’s Turkish baths are consumed various Gaziantep’s traditional food dishes that people brought with them, çiğ köfte (a kind of balls made from fine bulgur, meat, spices and herbs) are made; the whole in the middle of songs sometimes with the accompaniment of musical instruments. The Turkish bath in Gaziantep, with its characteristics, beyond the fact of just taking a bath together; is the pleasure of being in a place which is important in Gaziantep cultural life.
Ramadan and the Feast of the Sacrifice (Eid al-Adha) are days dominate by peace, brotherhood and solidarity. Especially in Gaziantep, religious holidays are days of unity and solidarity. Generally, the first day celebrating end of the fast for Ramadan and the first day of Feast of the Sacrifice, yuvalama, previously been prepared and frozen for the occasion, is prepared then served with rice. While women prepare the meal, men, who got up at the same time as they, go to the mosque to pray and return generally when the meal is ready. Then, yuvalama and rice are consumed at the first morning of Bayrams, during the breakfast. Also, baklavas and homemade cookies are presented to guests who come to celebrate these holy days.
Hidirellez is an Islamic feast celebrating the day of the anniversary of the encounter of prophet Elijah with Khidr, mystical figure of the Islamic culture. Hidirellez is generally celebrated near a green area with trees, near a water point or a river, or near a shrine or the tomb of a saint. Hidirellez takes place in spring and on this occasion; we eat meals prepared with lamb and fresh herbs. The popular belief is that this day, if ones pick some flowers or herbs in the wild and drink it after having boiled it will heal all diseases; and if you clean your face with this water for forty days, you can get young and beautiful!
From the moment the family of the bride accepted the marriage proposal; various banquets are given and under various names, until the wedding takes place. The engagement ceremony is always held by the bride side; baklava and various fruits (depending on the season) are provided by the groom side to be served to the guests. Traditionally, guests are offered a coffee, prepared and served by the bride.
Generally, the main meal served at the wedding is the doğrama. Once again, pilafs are served with doğrama to the guests who come to the wedding ceremony. The doğrama served at weddings is a dish consisting of meat, eggplant and chickpeas cooked in their own juice and served with it.
Also, depending on the season, baklava or cold drinks can also be served.
Besides the Feast of the Sacrifice and Ramadan, other religious days in Turkey are the funeral, Thursday evening, Friday prayer, the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad and kandils (other very important religious days in İslam). Sebil is a beverage resulting from infusion of licorice; it is usually called sebil during Ramadan time, and is distributed in the districts of the city by street’s vendors. For people who want to do charity (one of the inseparable notions of Ramadan for any religious person), it is a way to give money without risking seeing it denied. This tradition is old but still in place and very popular in Gaziantep. Iftar (time of breaking the fast) often opens with licorice juice.
“Postnatal period drink”
In many parts of Turkey, women who gave birth experiencing a postnatal period of 40 days called lohusa or loğusa (wich means "Motherhood"). Loğusa is a word of Greek origin that means “new breed woman”. During this period, mother and child are not allowed to go out, however, visitors are welcome. In Gaziantep, this is the opportunity to offer to visitors a drink reserved for this period and called loğusa şerbeti. This beverage, obtained by boiling cinnamon with water, is first served to the mother, then to people coming for a visit. It is generally accompanied by a dessert called kuymak (made from corn flour, butter, unsalted cheese and sugar). The drink is bottled and refrigerated on the first day and so on for 40 days long. Drinks and sweet desserts symbolize congratulations and best wishes for the newborn child.
The culture of Gaziantep table that reflects the most important days for its inhabitants continues during the month of Ramadan and during the three days that mark the end of fasting, called Şeker Bayram (“Feast of Sugar” or Eid al-Fitr). During the 30 days that lasts Ramadan, families, friends or just colleagues, families of engaged or recently married couples, quarelled people; everyone is invited to break the fasting. During the last days of Ramadan, Gaziantep homewifes prepare meals and sweets for Şeker Bayram, as yuvalama again. Yuvalama is a dish that requires a lot of patience but Gaziantep people cannot go without during these festivities. The first familial breakfast of the Eid al-Fitr, the Antep yuvalama are eaten with rice. During these three days of celebrations are offered to guests cookies specially made for this occasion, köy kahkesi (another kind of cookies made originally in villages) and zerde (a kind of sweet pudding from rice). Baklavas, bought for the occasion, are also served.
Food prepared in common: "Shira"
Şire (Shira) is a festival, a celebration, a kind of flavor’s rite. It’s a mobilization which everybody joins; it’s a collective work, a production made by joining together.
The rite which roots back to the Bacchanalia (roman festivals of Bacchus) starts with breaking the back of dry summer heat at the end of September. Everyone starts to pick up grapes and additionnal grapes were taken to the bazaar. The name of this grape is “Dökülgen” and it does bring back to home on the back of mounts such as horse, donkey, mule, in big crates called mahra in Gaziantep. The grapes are boiled on a big boiler called mahsere kazanı, put on a furnace and after cooling and drying, the rotten grapes are cleaned. They are then poured into a tank called raft where was added a kind of soil called “shira soil” and coming from the moutain. This will make the shira transparent. Girls and boys trample the grape with their feet and the gathered juice poured into big boilers. These boilers are put on fire called alamaşa and when the juice finish to boil it’s transfered into copper basins then filtered and clean to remove the soil first added. İf the soil is not separated, the color will be blurred and it will not be tatsy. It is said that it is healthy to drink the filtered syrup, especially for stomach ache.
Then the filtered shira is mixed with starch and put on the fire again. Two people stir the shira on a low fire in order to do not stick and burn, until obtaining a honey color mixture. Meanwhile crushed walnut and crushed pistachio and almond are put on a string which is tied on a stick with 11 other at a distance of 10 cm from each other. Then the strings are plunched into the shira. This moment is called integument. If the shira is thin, five or six integument are sufficent; if thicker, 4 are enough. Then the strings are taken into the terrace of Gaziantep houses that Antep people call Bağ Evi ("vineyard house"). After drying, they can be eaten.
Then, the boiler is washed, shira is made again but thicker that the previous one, then left to dry on a white textile. After dried, it is remove from the textile. The name of this sweet is bastık.
Finally is prepared the sweet tarhana, with shira and thin grind cracked wheat inside.
During the shira, relatives come to help and stay overnight; meals are prepared and eaten together. Today, shira is not made in Gaziantep as much as before because there are fewer vineyards than before. However, since 3 years, the Şirehan Festival organized in Gaziantep aims to remind and maintain the shira tradition: it last 3 days in the course which starts with vintage, continues with all stages of shira making, and achieves by the presentation of meals cooked by chefs from different countries.