A Taste of Two Cities

A Taste of Two Cities

Aylin Öney Tan - aylinoneytan@yahoo.com
A Taste of Two Cities This is the tale of two cities quite unlike each other, from distant ends of Turkey.

Their story is about having a certain pride, as both cities possess the same passion: good food. İzmir and Gaziantep are two cities that have cuisines very different from each other, yet both are good representatives of Turkish kitchen, from the west and from the east, truly representing the cultural diversity of Turkey as a bridge between continents. 

The two cities are designated as gastronomic cities in two important international lists. İzmir is already among the 23 cities listed in the prestigious Délice, Network of Good Food Cities of the World (Réseau des Villes Gourmandes du Monde), and Gaziantep is now included in the UNESCO Creative Cities Network under the category of gastronomy. The former is rather old news, as İzmir became a part of Délice network earlier this year in January 2015 and the latter was breaking news over the past weekend. Coincidentally, the two cities were hand in hand supporting each other at the first International Gastronomic Tourism Congress, held at Dec. 10-12 in Izmir. The event was organized by the İzmir Economy University, with the Greater Municipality of Gaziantep as the main sponsor. 

The trade port of ancient Smyrna, now İzmir, is the third biggest city in Turkey, with a food culture not unlike Greek cookery, sharing the same culture on the two sides of the Aegean Sea. But İzmir also bears the vast geographical heritage of the fertile inner Aegean and Anatolian agricultural terrain. Gaziantep, situated in southern eastern Turkey, just north of Syria, was historically connected to Aleppo in the Ottoman times and has always been on the trade routes of ancient times. Now a thriving city both in industry and agriculture, it is the shining star of the southeast as the sixth biggest city in Turkey. Its gastronomical heritage is legendary, renowned for its kebab culture, amazing pistachios and is home to the best baklava. Now with the inclusion in these international lists, the two cities are also gaining worldwide recognition for their gastronomy. 

Having a reputation for eating well is always an asset for a city to be proud of. If the city is reputed for its little eateries, street food, local produce and specialties, food shops, bakeries and so on, you can tell that its citizens are passionate about their food and take pride in identifying themselves with their culinary heritage. Both İzmir and Gaziantep easily qualify for this reputation. Everybody talks about food in Gaziantep; it is like their national sport. And though home cooking is usually in the hands of women, almost all men brag about their own special methods of making special dishes of Antep cuisine, of course in particular kebabs. Likewise citizens of İzmir describe “İzmirness” through their specialties, using local food names such as “gevrek” instead of the ubiquitous simit, or “kumru” for the sandwich sold in street stalls or the Sephardic Jewish boyoz, unknown elsewhere in Turkey.  

Délice Network was started in Lyon in 2007, gathering member cities whose culinary heritage and gastronomic expertise play a major role in defining them as great food destinations. Jean Michel Daclin, president of Délice Network, was in İzmir for the Gastronomic Tourism Congress, together with a group of representatives of Délice organization, where we had the opportunity to hear about the aims and objectives of this initiative first hand. Having a rich and deep rotted culinary heritage is a required asset, but conscience in having this identity and dedication to preserve and sustain this asset is another requirement for inclusion on the list. At that point, Daclin points at Sırma Güven, the driving force behind İzmir’s nomination, who is also from the team of Economy University Gastronomy Department that took the lead in the organization of the congress. Güven and her team were truly effective in the process of İzmir being included in Délice, just like the team of the Gaziantep Municipality that pursued the nomination of the city to the UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN) gastronomy list. 

The UCCN launched in 2004, in seven fields of creativity: crafts and folk art, design, film, gastronomy, literature, media arts and music. The network is now comprised of 116 cities worldwide, with 18 of them as cities with outstanding gastronomy. The list aims at fostering international cooperation with and between cities committed to investing in creativity as a driver for sustainable urban development, social inclusion and cultural vibrancy. This year, other cities included on the gastronomy list are Belém (Brazil), Bergen (Norway), Burgos (Spain), Dénia (Spain), Ensenada (Mexico), Parma (Italy), Phuket (Thailand), Rasht (Iran), and Tucson (the U.S.). Previously only 8 cities were awarded the title and Gaziantep is the first city in Turkey to be included on the list. The honor goes to all passionate citizens of Gaziantep, but it was especially to the Mayor Fatma Şahin, whose persistence is insurmountable. I personally recall her saying “It is not a case of to be or not be; we will be on the list, no other options!”

Hats off to the dedication and persistence (and tastes) of both cities!

Bite of the Week

Book of the Week: During the Gastronomic Tourism Congress, The Greater Municipality of Gaziantep had a stand dedicated to the re-printing of the book “A Taste of Sun & Fire: Gaziantep Cookery,” of which I happen to be the writer. The book can be a good Christmas gift, available at YKY publications