Gaziantep, Turkey

I first visited Gaziantep, a city in southeastern Turkey, in 1997. It's the country's gastronomic capital. I went to a market called Almacı Pazarı and saw blinding-green pistachios. The greenest and smallest are the most expensive, and are used to make baklava. I tasted them in the pastry at İmam Çağdaş, where apprentices who aspire to be baklava chefs were sweeping the floor. The intense combination of pistachios and goats' milk butter was an umami sensation I'd never experienced. In the city's main market, vendors were selling the region's famous spices. I tried smoky-sweet dried urfa pepper, a prized local variety. Gaziantep is about an hour from Syria, and the area has its own version of Aleppo pepper, called maraş. I also discovered acı biber, a paste made from sweet and hot sun-dried peppers. People in Gaziantep use it the way Italians use tomato paste. At my restaurant, Oleana, I use acı biber for many things—it gives body and richness to my carrot kibbeh, for instance. Restaurants in Gaziantep typically use wood-fired ovens, and you'll find traditional foods like lahmacun (flat bread with minced lamb, onion, parsley, and spices) and kebabs. I ate a melt-in-your-mouth fıstık (pistachio) kebab at Şirvan Kebap, made from ground lamb, pistachios, and red pepper paste. I can still taste it. —Ana Sortun, Oleana and Sofra, Cambridge, Massachusetts

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