On Saturday afternoon, in the southeastern Turkish city of Gaziantep, our baklava was neatly wrapped with plastic and then paper, tagged “Antebi, Istanbul” in black marker and escorted to the bus station by either Levent or Bülent of Zeki İnal Baklavacısı. While we slept that night, our baklava passed through the central Anatolian plains, logging 850 miles on the road before reaching Istanbul.
The baklava was supposed to have arrived by noon. We’d confirmed that by telephone before setting off for Antebi, a Gaziantep-style kebab restaurant on Istanbul’s Asian side which serves a sweet flaky pastry straight in from the baklava motherland. We planned much of our weekend around the baklava’s arrival. However, it was late.
“It will be here at 1:30,” the waiter told us while we were en route to the restaurant, quickly hanging up the phone.
Arriving at Antebi with nearly two hours to kill, we perused the menu and ordered a lahmacun and an Ali Nazik kebabı. The lahmacun arrived steaming and flopping cartoonishly over either end of the plate, like an elephant riding a tricycle. Our Ali Nazik, shreds of marinated meat over a bed of smoky eggplant mash mixed with yogurt, was nothing impressive. The kebab at this kebab house seemed to us an afterthought, or perhaps we were distracted by the day’s main course, the baklava.
While in Gaziantep, we ate enough baklava to understand the mania around it. Tasting baklava in Gaziantep after years of eating it in Istanbul is like switching from Nescafe to espresso. It is that much better, the chronic of baklava. On our last visit to Gaziantep, we even skipped a side trip to the historic town of Hasankeyf in order to free up the day for more baklava eating, with no regrets.
How perfectly frivolous it may seem to bus in a dessert to Istanbul, like bringing a pocketfuls of sand to a beach. But this baklava with the giant carbon footprint satisfies something important for people like us who need to find, eat and declare the best.
So if it is agreed that the best baklava in Turkey comes from Gaziantep, and some of the best baklava in Gaziantep is crafted by moonlight at Zeki İnal Baklavacısı, then the last word in the Istanbul baklava debate belongs to Antebi. Case closed.
Finally, our baklava arrived.
If baklava has one thousand and one layers of membrane-thin flake, we detected well over 500 individually on the first bite. We might have understood more of the baklava’s complexity if we hadn’t been slapping high fives and hooting our approval to the waiter. The thick deck of pistachios sandwiched by airy flake and saturated lower levels unite in a bite that is neither dry nor goopy, has crackle and ooze. The bright nutty flavor of the local Gaziantep pistachios worked its magic against the sweetness lurking below.
In short, this was the baklava that kept us away from Hasankeyf. Luckily, we didn’t have to board a cross-country bus to find it.
(Note: Antebi only offers Gaziantep baklava on Saturdays and Sundays. Call ahead to make sure a shipment is coming.)
Address: Acıbadem Caddesi 74/A, Kadıköy
(photo by Ansel Mullins)