Gaziantep, Turkey: City of Baklava and Pistachios

It’s not so easy to determine which place can call itself the true inventor of baklava, since it’s existence isn’t well-documented prior to the 19th century. It may come from present-day Iran, Turkey, Syria, Greece, or Armenia, although its popularity certainly spread throughout the Balkans and beyond because of the Ottoman Empire.

Years ago, the European Union (EU) did Turkish cuisine a solid by considering Turkey to be the creator of baklava, placing it on its list of items protected designation of origin, as well as protected geographical indication. However, one joy of eating is to appreciate food without getting caught up in a geopolitical kerfuffle.

Koçak Baklava Gaziantep Turkey
Sampler Platter of Baklava and a Turkish Coffee at Koçak Baklava, Gaziantep, Turkey

Forming part of a hub of Turkish food in southern central Anatolia, if you want to eat like a local, the city of Gaziantep is known for two things– baklava, and pistachios. There’s also baklava’s cousin, katmer, but it’s not nearly as well-known overseas.

Unfortunately, I accidentally deleted my video of Karagöz Caddesi, or what I consider to be Gaziantep’s “baklava street,” but there are plenty of other sweets shops around to reel you in. However, I did prepare a brief baklava tour of the city; given the deliciousness of the country, more videos of Turkish gastronomy will undoubtedly follow!

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Katmer: Baklava’s Cousin that You Never Knew You Always Wanted

Turkey — my mistake, Türkiye — is one of my food paradises. I find the broader Turkish cuisine to successfully check off just about every box on the list, from grilled foods and dairy to stews and dessert. And for dessert and pastry in particular, I’ve got a major weakness for baklava.

Recently, I was the southeastern Anatolian city of Gaziantep, the baklava — and pistachio, called fıstık (fuh-stuk) — capital of Turkey. Although there wasn’t much of a variety of baklava, the choices that were available were of course, quality; not to mention, along the busy downtown street of Karagöz Caddesi, you will find no less than 12 baklava shops, so grab a container of milk and start the gluttony!

But what if I told you that baklava has a less well-known cousin (at least, outside of Turkey and Azerbaijan), an even more decadent, larger-than-a-crêpe phyllo pastry that counts kaymak (clotted cream, traditionally made with water buffalo’s milk), butter, pistachios, and sugar as its main ingredients?

What’s it called? Katmer.

katmer turkish pastry
Katmer, Katmercii Zekeriya Usta, Gaziantep, Turkey

Having only found out about katmer while researching things to do in Gaziantep, I was floored by the description– phyllo dough stretched out like a pizza, filled with kaymak and pistachios, then baked in an oven? ¡Asu madre!

The one place I read about, tucked away in the old town, was called Katmerci Zekeriya Usta (usta means expert, and in this case, I’d say it’s an apt description).  As the home of katmer, Gaziantep has more than a few places to try it, but I’d start with Katmerci Zekeriya Usta. It’s typically served for breakfast — given how heavy katmer is, it makes sense — and in that region of Turkey, is given to newlyweds to eat on their first morning of being married, with the intent of giving them a sweet life together.

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