by Joan Peterson, author of Eat Smart in Turkey: How to Decipher the Menu, Know the Market Foods, & Embark on a Tasting Adventure
While traveling all around Turkey in the mid 1990s, researching the food for my upcoming EAT SMART culinary travel guidebook, I met many kind and generous Turkish people who wanted to help me learn about their food. One man in particular, the manager of a hotel in Antalya, contacted folks in several cities I would be visiting after I left Antalya, who said they would be delighted to introduce me to their regional cuisine. The man he recommended to me in the city of Gaziantep didn’t speak English, and this fact set up an unusual chain of happy events that led to a marvelous food experience not only then but on all my culinary tours I ultimately started leading to Turkey.
The recommended man in Gaziantep reached out to a friend of his who could speak English--Efkan Güllü--and he became my host in Gaziantep. But the really fascinating story is that Efkan was, at the time, the current head of the Gaziantep branch of Güllüoğlu, the finest baklava makers in Turkey. I had the chance to tour his factory and sample many types of baklava desserts, as well as several other desserts made with tel kadayıf, delicate strands of griddle-fried dough made of flour and water, which are gathered from the griddle in large handfuls when done.
Efkan kindly made arrangements for me to visit the Güllüoğlu baklava makers in Istanbul when I returned there at the end of my research trip before heading home. Although the Güllüoğlu family started their baklava adventure in Gaziantep (1820), other branches of the family were in the baklava business as well. The Istanbul branch I visited was in the Karaköy district. It was the first branch of the company business outside of Gaziantep, begun in 1949. The current head of this branch is Nadir Güllü. He gave me the full tour of his fascinating 7-story factory. Among the floors, there is one devoted to making the dough and rolling it out to create baklava and other desserts; one where the treats are baked and then doused with sugar syrup; one for offices; and one that is a dormitory for the men, who also work during Ramadan and are usually too tired to go home since they have fasted all day. The basement was actually intriguing as well. It had all the typical equipment basements have, furnaces, water purification units, etc., and everything was painted either bright yellow, blue, or red. It was the cleanest most colorful basement I ever saw.