The room is really hot and I have beads of sweat gathering rapidly under my hair net. All around me is a flurry of activity; machines rolling dough into squares, pastry being cut and flour flying up into the warm air.
I’m in a baklava factory in Gaziantep in the South East of Turkey. Actually I am in ‘the’ baklava shop. It’s called Güllüoglu, a one hundred and forty year old family run business, and Omar, the owner is showing us around. He is 5th generation and his family have shops all over Turkey, and even as far as New York. The temperature is to protect the precious filo pastry from drying out and I am watching the end of a long morning of production.
Near the border of Syria, Gaziantep is not on the tourist trail in Turkey. It is a world away from the glamour of Istanbul or the stunning azure blue coastline of the Aegean. Despite this, the city is fabulous. It is full of character and is know all over Turkey for it’s food, especially the local pistachio nuts and glorious baklava.
We start by going to a pistachio farm where we walk through shady rows of knarled old tress that look a little like olive trees, but with bunches of pastel pink nuts growing all over them. It is harvest time and everyone is busy.
Huge green mats are placed under the trees and a couple of gazelle like men leap up into the branches and shake the precious pink pistachios onto the ground. A waiting gang sweep in and gather up the nuts and pass them in boxes to a gaggle of girls, sitting cross-legged in the nearby shade. As they giggle away, the pistachios are sorted into boxes ready to go off to the local markets.
Now I love a good pistachio nut and have been know to monster through bags of them, tearing the shells off like a robot and ploughing through them at great speed. Not anymore my friends. To get the bags of nuts as we know them is fiddly work and as I watched a production line of old boys slowing removing the soft outer shells, I gained a new appreciation of this incredible ingredient.
Now back in Güllüoglu, I watch as the fresh filo pastry is rolled out, ten to twelve layers at a time by experts who have trained for years. They work the pastry for around ten minutes to achieve the wondrous waif like consistency necessary for baklava.
Once perfect, the filo pastry is wafted over huge tins and circles cut out. Several layers are put in the bottom of the tins and bight green pistachios showered over the top. More layers of filo cover everything and a wicked amount of clarified butter is poured over everything to stop the pastry drying out during the cooking process. The sides are tucked in and the baklava is expertly cut into squares, ready for the oven.
We head down to the baking room, a huge space with wood fired ovens roaring away and sturdy bakers with huge paddles carefully turning the precious cargo to cook evenly in the 240 degree heat.
The cooked baklava is removed from the oven and carefully inspected. Any that have not crisped up properly are cooked again on gas rings to get the right crunch factor. Then came the final glorious stage, the syrup. A huge vat of sugar syrup bubbles way like something from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The baklava tins are put onto a gas burners and the syrup poured over the top. It bubbles and spits like clear lava. The smell is incredible, sweet and buttery. The tins are left to cool and then taken upstairs to the shop.
My tummy is rumbling and I have never been so desperate to eat. We return to the shop and I am presented with a plate of freshly made baklava. Omar, who is amazing, the don of Baklava with brilliant white veneers, a cheeky smile and word on the street a helicopter, tells me that the sign of a good baklava is the finish. It should be glass-like and shimmering and when you eat the baklava it should be really loud and crispy.
As I crunch, dunk and devour every morsel, with several small cups of thick black Turkish coffee, I am in heaven. This is a simple product, just dough with nuts and syrup, expertly crafted and beautifully made with the best ingredients. It tastes fresh and not too sweet. I love it and I love this wonderful family run business. Long may they continue and lets hope that Omar will one day set up in the UK!
Eat Travel Live was a guest of The Turkish Culture and Information Office UK and Pegasus Airlines.
Pegasus Airlines fly from London Stansted to Gaziantep (via Istanbul) £106.79 one way including taxes and charges.
For more information visit gototurkey.co.uk