Chicken in soy sauce
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What: Perhaps the most recognizable Turkish dessert the world over, baklava is made of many sheets of superthin phyllo pastry laid flat in a large pan, brushed with butter, layered with chopped nuts (walnuts, pistachios, or hazelnuts), and soaked in honey. Now how on earth could that taste bad, right? But there’s more to it in Turkey, where baklava—also popular in the Middle East—has its roots. Here the baklava masters practice their art, inspired possibly by the medieval Turkish nomads’ early obsessions with layered breads and the Persians’ affinity for nut-filled pastries (source: The Oxford Companion to Food). Baklava as we know it—insanely rich and delicately flaky—was most likely born in the imperial kitchens of Topkapı Palace in Istanbul, although Gaziantep, in Turkey’s southeast, is most famous for its unique brand of baklava, made with semolina cream and local Antep pistachios (it now enjoys “protected status”in the EU). Today in Istanbul the best purveyors hail from Gaziantep, but their shops are all Istanbul.
Where: There’s no missing Karaköy Güllüoğlu (two locations including its factory store at Mumhane Cad. No.171, map); its factory signage towers above the cafes, galleries, Orthodox churches, and condos in the once-gritty neighborhood of Karaköy, on the edge of the Bosphorus. Its founders came from Gaziantep and established the store in 1949, though the family’s been in the baklava business since the 1800s; today there are actually two branches, located around the corner from each other. The main store is the nice one, spacious and tiled, with tables both high and low over which to linger with your baklava. It has a pretty big baklava scene come morning and night. The factory store is decidedly less glamorous, but hey—it gets its freshly made baklava first. (Fun fact: The factory is capable of churning out 2.5 tons of baklava a day.) Visit both, if you can.
When: Mon-Sat, 7am-11pm; Sun, 8am-11:30pm (both stores)
Order: Any and all pieces of baklava (6 TL for three pieces; 30 TL for 1 kg). Seriously, just go nuts, no pun intended. Try the sade (plain), for a taste of pure sweetness—press down on it and watch the honey ooze out—the sinfully delicious chocolate, the pistachio (the green nuts taste different here than anywhere else, by the way). If there’s ever a time to say “you only live once” and order thirds and fourths, this is it. Buy some boxes to go, too—it’s a souvenir must.
Alternatively: You’ll encounter baklava at many restaurants and meyhanes, such as Asmalı Cavit (212-292-4950; Asmalı Mescit Cad. No.16/D, map) in Beyoğlu, but really, in this city, Güllüoğlu is it. You must go to here. The end.
(Seriously, if you find any other really good specimens in Istanbul, do let us know in the comments below!)
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