Back in July, I travelled to Gaziantep to visit a relative—a foster sister—living there and it was a really humbling experience. The beautiful city—paired with its rustic buildings, courteous people and delectable food–is worth a mention, for a country that is less known as opposed to its neighbouring cities such as Istanbul. It is found in the Western part of Turkey, bordering Syria.
So here are a list of reasons Antep should be your next travel destination:
1. Quaint brick homes
If you ever get a chance to find accommodation in someone’s home via Couchsurfing or Airbnb, seize that opportunity. You will not regret it. Also, it would be better if your host could serve as your guide as most of the people there do not converse in English. Only then, you would get to experience how the locals get about to their daily routine there—from having a home cooked breakfast, to socialising over chai (black tea) after every meal, sleeping past midnight and even eating pistachios in the park at night.
2. Beautiful parks and quirky playgrounds
Look at how lovely the park looks. And the playgrounds—I actually found the bald, oversized, swing-carrying toddler statues creepy at first. You would be able to find them at almost every playground. Get used to it.
3. They are amazing with their hands
See all those copper ware? And those saddles? How about that man welding farming tools from scratch?
You would be awed at how good the locals are at craftsmanship and most of them own businesses specialising in different forms of craft.
4. They are BIG on spices and small in prices
If you walked around their herb and spice market, you would see tubs of locally harvested spices. For saffron lovers out there, you will be pleased to know that buying it from here will not burn a hole in your pocket. I even saw truffles while I was there. Amazing, huh?
5. The Gaziantep Fortress
This fortress was built since 3600BC and it still stands majestically on its man made mound. Day or night, it looks picturesque.
6. Lamba that lights up your life
People go crazy over these lamps (or lamba as they are called there). Well, at least I did—it is such a versatile piece of ornament that can be placed anywhere. I bought a standing one as a souvenir for my sister and she loved it. It sits perfectly in her new home and each time I look at it, I am reminded of Turkey.
Who doesn’t love kids? Whether you like children or not, you will love the kids here. Some are so curious—and courageous—they’d follow you for a bit, before running off with a cheeky smile when you notice them behind you. I am not sure what these kids get fed, but you would see them still playing on swings at the park…past midnight.
Being a barista for 4 accumulative years, I have always loved every kind of coffee. However, I never tasted coffee as good as this. It is called menengiç, coffee made from pistachios. It is caffeine-free coffee that looks like Turkish coffee, but is not—it has a rather grainy mouth feel and is definitely an acquired taste.
9. I ran into Ayran
Ayran is a buttermilk beverage widely consumed by the locals there. It has a slight sourish taste like that of yoghurt—but with a lighter consistency. Thirst-quenching too.
10. I’d travel bak there for you, my lava
This pastry is heaven on earth. It is called baklava and Gaziantep is the place to be to taste the best baklava in the world, apparently. My Turkish brother-in-law mentioned that Usher came all the way to a particular store just to have the baklava there. It is no surprise really. After all, Gaziantep is the heart of culinary reference—other cuisines in other cities adapt the recipes, tweak it and commercialise it in their own way. Know that when you visit Gaziantep, you are having the real deal.
11. And the best, for the last—people and language
The people there are really gracious and humble. When they treat you like family, they would shake you by the hand and kiss you on both cheeks. I obviously got this treatment, as I was visiting a relative who is married to a Turkish man.
I love their language too, as it portrays their warmth, hospitality and simplicity. For example, the phrase çok güzel means ‘very nice’ or ‘beautiful’, and is used in the most ambiguous way. See a pretty lady? Çok güzel. Handsome man? Çok güzel. Delicious food? Çok güzel. Pretty dress? Çok güzel. Simple, aye?
I was also fortunate enough to attend a wedding there. It is not like an ordinary wedding with lunch or dinner service. Instead, you just get served drinks and delicacies while guests are invited to do some form of Turkish dance—which involves linking up your arms and snapping to drum beats. If you do not do it, you would find yourself being pulled to the stage, eventually finding yourself among a throng of carefree men and women snapping away.
It was a great vacation indeed and I look forward to visiting again. Meanwhile, I am counting down the days to my next possible trip to the United States in February!