Gaziantep - Halfeti - Rum Kale - Göbeklitepe – Şanlıurfa - Harran
We are in Gaziantep and Şanlıurfa in northern Mesopotamia where the history of humanity began!
Let's start our journey from Gaziantep in the northwest of Mesopotamia. Gaziantep has a history of thousands of years and the culture created by this history is reflected in its amazing cuisine. It would be fair to say that Gaziantep is a culinary capital, and it is especially famous for its incredible kebabs and desserts like baklava.
Gaziantep is a city where cheese plates are embellished with chili pepper and kebabs are never served without chili pepper. The main dishes are spicy and desserts are incredibly sweet, drenched in syrup.
If you are in Gaziantep, one of the first things to do is to eat kebab. Not eating kebab in Gaziantep is like not seeing the Bosphorus in İstanbul! The kebab identified with Gaziantep is patlıcan kebabı, a long thin kebab on a skewer roasted with big chunks of delicious eggplant. You should drink lots of ayran to relieve the impact of the hot pepper!
Lahmacun is a popular food in Türkiye liked by almost everyone. Gaziantep, however, is among the cities with the reputation of making the very best lahmacuns. Gaziantep’s special red pepper paste and its spices add a unique flavor to this flat bread with minced meat.
Gaziantep cuisine has an incredibly rich kebab and lahmacun culture but it is also famous for other traditional dishes. We can give two hearty soups as examples: beyran and yuvarlama. Beyran çorbası consists of rendered lamb fat that's topped with rice and shredded lamb meat. The mixture is then cooked with the addition of garlic, pepper paste, and lamb broth. This soup is famous for its spiciness, making it a pretty unusual way to start the day. Yuvarlama (also known as yuvalama) is one of the most labor-intensive Turkish soup to prepare and one of Gaziantep's favorites. It is made, among others, with tiny handmade balls of rice and minced meat, chickpeas, meat, yoğurt, and broth. The soup is traditionally prepared for the three-day celebration of Ramazan Bayramı (Ramadan Feast).
And now, let’s talk about desserts. Before we begin, we have to mention pistachios, which are the main ingredient of desserts in Gaziantep. The best pistachios are grown in this region in Türkiye. Antep fıstığı (the Turkish word for “pistachio”, literally “Antep nut”) is identified with the name of Gaziantep. Pistachios are added to desserts, to main courses, and to warm and cold starters to add flavor.
Everyone knows baklava. An extremely thin phyllo dough filled with pistachios, hazelnuts, or walnuts, and covered in warm syrup... Gaziantep is the motherland of the famous baklava. Everywhere in Türkiye, the baklava of Gaziantep is preferred over other baklavas. In Gaziantep, the baklava is generally made with pistachios and the city of full of places where you can taste this mouthwatering delicacy.
Another special Gaziantep dessert is katmer - extremely thin phyllo dough, lots of pistachios, sugar, and butter served with clotted cream or ice cream... It is an unforgettable culinary experience!
Let's end our journey in Gaziantep with a cup of coffee. There is a special alternative to Turkish coffee in Gaziantep: menengiç coffee. Translated as pistachio or terebinth coffee, it is made of ground roasted terebinth fruits (Pistacia terebinthus), is naturally caffeine-free, and has a very pleasant taste and aroma. This special beverage will bring a unique taste to your coffee break in Gaziantep.
We move towards the east, from Gaziantep to Şanlıurfa. But before Şanlıurfa, we’ll visit Halfeti. Halfeti is a very old settlement on the eastern shore of the Fırat River (Euphrates River) which forms a border between Gaziantep and Şanlıurfa.
There are two dishes you should taste in Halfeti: şabut and haşhaş kebabı. The indigenous fish şabut lives only in the Fırat (Euphrates) and Dicle (Tigris) Rivers. Halfeti is among the rare places where you can taste this delicious fish. Haşhaş kebabı is prepared by roasting hand-chopped local lamb meat on a skewer, and is served with parsley and green onions. This combination is unforgettable!
If you visit Halfeti, you should join a boat tour and visit Rumkale (Rum Castle). Rumkale is located on a hill covered with tall rocks on a peninsula created by the dam lake at the junction of Fırat River and Merzimen Creek. Its location is one-of-a-kind. The ruins of the castle reflect the architectural characteristics of the Hellenistic and Roman period, as well as the later settlement of the Middle Ages.
We leave Halfeti and head to Şanlıurfa. However, a stop at Birecik district (also known for its delicious eggplants) is highly recommended to see its rare black roses, which are unique to the region, and to meet the bird kelaynak (northern bald ibis).
Now, we are in Şanlıurfa. The city promises wonderful flavors but first let's see the magnificent Göbeklitepe!
Göbeklitepe is located 18 km northeast of Şanlıurfa. It was discovered in 1963 and its importance soon became apparent with the excavations which started in 1994. The settlement at Göbeklitepe dates back 12,000 years, making it one of the oldest settlements in human history. In other words, this is history’s “ground zero”!
The first thing to eat in Şanlıurfa (known also as “Urfa”) is a kebab dish: Urfa kebabı. It is similar to Adana kebabı but can be described as a less spicy version. Its fantastic taste comes from the combination of finely minced lamb, tail fat, and vegetables! If you want to start the day like a local, you should have ciğer kebabı for breakfast – it is made with local lamb liver and served with fresh vegetables.
Şanlıurfa, like Gaziantep, is famous for its lahmacun. Another famous local dish is çiğ köfte.
Traditionally, çiğ köfte is made by thoroughly kneading together raw minced lamb with bulgur, onions, garlic, isot pepper, and various spices. It is a popular street food in Türkiye. Yet, nowadays, in most large cities it is made without meat. However, this is not the case in Şanlıurfa. By kneading the mixture, the meat cooks with the hot isot pepper, which is a symbol of Şanlıurfa.
Speaking of çiğ köfte, we should mention sıra gecesi. Sıra gecesi (sıra nights) is an important tradition of the folk culture of Şanlıurfa which combines music, friendly conversation, and literature. People come together, sing folks songs, and converse. At the same time, çiğ köfte is prepared for everyone to eat and share.
No matter how long you stay in Şanlıurfa, each day you’ll find a new delicacy to taste. Even if you are on a short trip, do not leave the city without visiting Harran which is located about 40-45 km south of the city center. Harran is one of the oldest settlements of northern Mesopotamia. Though not many people live in the region today, it is a special area where cultures have coexisted for centuries. One of the first universities in history was built here, educating generations of scholars.
Gaziantep and Şanlıurfa, the ground zeros of history, and the lands where civilization started to evolve... And two cities of unparalleled gastronomy!
- Old Halfeti
- The black roses in Harran
- Kelaynak (northern bald ibis)
- Old town of Harran
- Patlıcan kebabı
- Haşhaş kebabı
- Urfa kebabı
- Ciğer kebabı
- İsot pepper
- Antep fıstığı (pistachio)
- Menengiç coffee
- The great variety of spices
- Zahter (za’atar)
- The sound of the Fırat River (Euphrates)
- Local handcrafted products
- Local songs at sıra nights
- Stories of local legends told by the local elders