Gaziantep: A City on the Brink

This morning it finally arrived in the mail. It took nearly 2 weeks to arrive from Turkey, but menengiç is worth the wait.

Menengiç?! you’re probably wondering, is a popular drink in Eastern Turkey that tastes like coffee and pistachio.  In reality, the thick, rich drink is made of roasted, crushed terebinth berries and milk. You can buy a jar of the paste-like menengiç online – it’s very hard to find outside of the region where it originated – even in Turkish grocery stores it’s almost never available.

 

gazi 1gazi 2

 

To ‘brew’ 2 servings of drink, all you need to do is mix 1 cup of milk with 1-1/2 tsp. of menengiç. Stir over medium heat until dissolved and fragrant, making sure the milk doesn’t come to a boil. Serve with sugar, as needed. Don’t swirl or stir to keep the mixture from settling. You’ll want the sediment of the berries to settle to the bottom.

 

gazi 3

 

Softer and fruitier than Turkish coffee, menengiç may still be an acquired taste, but to me, it smells and tastes of Gaziantep, or as the locals call it – Antep.

 

gazi 4

 

Living as an expat in Turkey was one of the most bizarre and rewarding years of my life. Moving to a country where I knew no one, and only familiar with what I’d seen and read online. The terrain was completely alien – desert-like. A language with few similarities, and few who spoke my own language around the city.

Situated only a few miles from the Syrian border in Southeast Turkey, Gaziantep has a very unique cross-section of cultures and has rich and beloved traditions. Just up the road from the ancient ruins of Antioch, Antep holds ancient roots itself as one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world.

 

gazi 5

 

A Bronze Age citadel lies in the center of the city. In its shadow, the famed copper bazaar, and one of my favorite hideaways around town, Tütün Hanı. Wandering through the labyrinth of copper and metalwork stalls within the smoky stone walls of the copper bazaar, the Tütün Hanı café is just beyond a bold stone archway, almost hidden amongst the metal goods and the buzz of locals and tourists filling the halls, looking for a deal.

The 18th century open air bazaar has been host to tobacco merchants and coppersmiths for centuries, among other vendors. The open square in the center of the winding halls of the bazaar is where the waiters of Tütün Hanı bring out nargile (hookah), hot Turkish tea and menengiç to those lounging on the pillows and Turkish carpets under the central tent.

Remove your shoes before stepping in, order a menengiç and an apple nargile and enjoy the sweltering Turkish day in the shadow of the cool stone walls.

 

gazi 7

 

I have fond memories of lounging around Tütün Hanı for hours, shopping for copper trinkets in the bazaar and Antep as a whole. Hopping on the dolmuş (shared taxi/mini bus) to get around town, picking up the language and customs, befriending other expats and making new local friends with whom I’d go out to the ‘communist bar’ as the locals referred to it (one of the only bars in the conservative Muslim city). Drinking Efes beer and playing backgammon for hours in the chilly evenings.  Listening to live Kurdish folk music at the tea garden down the hill from my apartment.  Eating giant meals of kebab, lahmacun (lamb and herb-covered flatbread), nohut durum (flatbread filled with crushed chickpeas, herbs and spicy peppers), mercemek soup, and always with a giant glass of ayran (a salty yogurt drink). I think it’s safe to say that I quickly adapted to the way of Antep-life. I left my vegetarian ways when I moved to Turkey, and never looked back.

 

gazi 6

 

Istanbul straddles Europe and Asia. It’s a modern metropolitan city, displaying its long and eventful history with pride. Across the country, over 5 years after I left the quiet desert city, Gaziantep is now struggling to keep the peace. Nearly 2 dozen ISIL members were arrested in Antep late last year. The city is feeling a cultural shift due to the massive influx of Syrian refugees. And nearly 2 years after I left, there was a bus bombing in the same region of the city I had lived not so long ago. It’s tragic to hear about a bombing anywhere in the world. It’s surreal to learn of one that happened in a neighborhood you knew so well.

Antep has weathered a great deal in its many centuries of existence. And while it’s on the brink of very heavy political and cultural events, the city will persevere. It will be challenged as it has been in the past, but the Turks are a strong culture with ancient traditions that I don’t foresee going anywhere, anytime soon.  I’m proud to have been able to become a part of Antep, even though it was only for a short amount of time. I’ll never forget the history, the food, the kindness of the locals, and the beauty of the culture. One day, I’d love to make my way back to that fabulously exotic part of the world!

 

Print Friendly

3 Responses to Gaziantep: A City on the Brink

  1. Kathy June 17, 2015 at 2:38 pm #

    Fabulously interesting! Photos are amazing!

  2. Judy October 26, 2015 at 12:26 pm #

    LOVE this…I don’t think I have any pix of the restaurant/bazaar and it brought back many great memories. I love your postings!

  3. liz October 27, 2015 at 10:53 am #

    Thanks, Judy!

Leave a Reply