An open letter to the mayor of Gaziantep
WILCO VAN HERPENDear mayor of Gaziantep, Fatma Şahin:
Last week I had the privilege of traveling around your beautiful city. Despite having visited Gaziantep five times, I had never had the change to visit your beautiful and unique mosaic museum, the Zeugma Museum.
I went to Gaziantep for my cooking program, “Wilco’yla Yaşasın Yemek” (Long Live Food with Wilco). The idea was to make a program about pistachios, but unfortunately the season for picking pistachio nuts was already over. For that reason, I had to move to plan B, which meant the show would become a program without stretches of pistachio orchards. Instead, I went to the Emine Göğüs Gaziantep Culinary Museum, a small, cute museum in one of the town center’s many side streets.
While I walked toward the center, a man stopped his car in the middle of the street and insisted on showing me a very nice place to eat. Those who worked there used to be butchers and therefore knew everything about meat. Its name was Küslemce Mehmet Usta. I had just finished my late breakfast, and now this man was insisting on going to a restaurant. I could not refuse though; something inside me told me that I should take it easy and go with the flow. I stepped into his car and off we drove to Küslemce Mehmet Usta. Well, I can be very short and honest with you, its meat was perfect. The restaurant’s specialty melts on your tongue. After more than 14 days, the meat has matured enough, and that’s when they serve it to you. It was a real culinary experience.
My next stop was a small hotel, where I stayed many years ago. Wondering if Anadolu Evleri (Anatolia Houses) still existed, I walked up the ally next to İmam Çağdaş. Unfortunately Timur, the owner of Anadolu Evleri, was not at home, but I could sit down and have a coffee. People were eating breakfast in the courtyard. I walked around a bit, enjoying the quietness of the courtyard. With some nice classical music in the background, I checked out the new wing of the hotel. It all looked neat and tidy.
When I visited Anadolu Evleri for the first time, it was still winter and cold, very cold. Now, at the end of summer, the temperature was still very high, but the temperature of the rooms was quite nice. A last look at the sweet little place, and I was off to the Culinary Museum of Gaziantep. It is a small place, and I especially liked the little building on the right-hand side after entering the museum’s courtyard.
This used to be the house’s kitchen. It was always separated from the house, and people used to cook inside. It was almost considered a sin if your neighbors could get a smell of what was cooking.
Everything people needed was there, everything they needed to prepare the beautiful and special dishes of Gaziantep cuisine.
And this is where I come with a complaint to you, Mayor Fatma Hanım. While walking around in the museum, I was in a section where there were many pictures on the walls of the room. I gave the pictures a better look and noticed that these were all examples of your beautiful and unique local Gaziantep dishes. Dishes like Arap Köftesi, Kabak Oturtma, Erik Tavası or Yuvarlama were shown in the pictures, and slowly I stated to feel hungry again. The next room was the place where I could buy at least one of those beautiful local dishes. Unfortunately I was wrong; they did not serve this kind of food here. So, of course, I asked the kind lady working there where I could find a restaurant where they serve all those beautiful dishes. Unfortunately, there is not such a restaurant in Gaziantep. And that exactly is my problem. Why can I not find a couple of restaurants that serve your beautiful traditional food? Support a couple of women by opening a restaurant and let them make those dishes. That would greatly enrich your city.
As travelers, we like to see authentic things, and Gaziantep has plenty. Even the newly finished market where you can find all the copper workers mixed with people selling local souvenirs gives you a feeling that it has always been like this. I remember the coppersmiths in the little workshops around the castle. It looked beautiful, but now you are working on a big project, the restoration of the castle, and therefore, they removed those people many years ago. But at least here, in Gaziantep, they found a new and maybe even better place. The sound of the craftsmen making decorations on copperware is like music to my ears. As a photographer, you are disadvantaged because you cannot record pictures with sound. Fortunately, some smart phones have such programs, but unfortunately I cannot share this on Facebook yet.
Gaziantep is a place people visit to shop. They take the plane in the morning, have breakfast in Gaziantep and begin their shopping. They return to Istanbul or Ankara or any other place in Turkey on the last plane of the day. But Gaziantep is not just a one-day stop; it offers much more. You have the Zeugma museum with a beautiful collection of mosaics, you have some real nice little restaurants that serve liver, and you have countless numbers of museums and caravanserais. I really love the city and hope to go back soon again.