Food in Turkey: the Unesco List

There’s food in Turkey, and there’s food in Turkey that is on Unesco’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Just as there are food cities in Turkey that are recognized by Unesco as Creative Cities of Gastronomy. So, if you’re into food, and into culture get ready to be blown away in Turkey. Not only when tasting some of the must-try food in Turkey, but also during a visit to one of these fascinating food cities. So, what’s the deal with Unesco and food in Turkey?

Food Cities in Turkey: Unesco’s Creative Cities of Gastronomy

Hatay

First of all, technically speaking Hatay isn’t a city, it’s a province on the Mediterranean coast in southern Turkey. With two borders shared with Syria, it is most probably not too high on most travelers wish lists. Still, it is a fascinating place to visit for foodies and non-foodies alike, as the place dates back to the earliest civilizations and has welcomed 13 of the 23 civilizations; according to the Hatay Gastronomy website. For hundreds of years Arabians, Turkmen, Circassians, Christians, Jewish, Armenians, Nosairians, and Sunni people lived together in this place on the Spice and Silk Roads. The combination of all these ethnic influences and religions is still visible in the richness of Hatay’s culture and cuisine today. And that is something that also caught Unesco’s eye, resulting in a well-deserved award as a City of Gastronomy for Hatay. Most of the time, when people refer to Hatay, they are talking about Antakya or Antioch (Antakya’s old name). Nestled between Mesopotamia and the Middle East, it is a place to taste the exceptional cuisine, that was fusion, long before the word became trendy and hip. It would be impossible to list all the distinctive Hatay dishes, as it is said there are over 600 that originate from the area. Among those famous Antakya recipes you will find Künefe, but also Haytalı, a cooling dessert made off a layer of pudding, topped with homemade vanilla ice cream with salep and almost fluorescent rosewater syrup. The dessert is served with a special, custom-made spoon.

Haytalı

Haytalı

Other than its food, Hatay has plenty of sites to visit, such as the Hatay Archaeology Museum (well-known for its comprehensive Byzantine and Roman mosaics collection), the Church of Saint Peter, and the Vespasianus Titus Tunnel, to name a few.

Antioch Saint Pierre Church Front

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Gaziantep

Gaziantep’s gastronomical roots date back to the Iron Age. Just like Hatay, the city is located on the Silk Road and benefits from its unique location to be home to diverse local cuisine. The city today is still a buzzing marketplace for pistachios and other dried fruit and nuts, spices, and cereals. On the Gastro Antep website, they put it like this:

Gaziantep is the city which collated the dozens of different cultures from Yemen to the Caucasus in the North and from India to Aegean region of Anatolia on the east-west line. Throughout the history, the city’s cuisine has been the strongest element of this cultural blend. Gastro Antep
Gaziantep is famous for its pistachios, and the baklava made with it. But of course, the gastronomical experience goes way beyond that, with over 400 dishes inherent to the area.

Pistachio Baklava

Pistachio Baklava

If you’re heading to Gaziantep to taste their food, make time to include a visit to the Zeugma Mosaic Museum, Gaziantep Castle, Gaziantep Zoo (the largest zoo in Turkey), and Zincirli Bedesten where you will get a sense of what a historical market looked like.

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Early morning preparations in the greengrocers store / Gaziantep City / Turkey

Food in Turkey on Unesco’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage

Yes, you’ve read this title correctly, Turkey has such a vibrant food culture that some elements have made it onto the Unesco Lists.

Flatbread making and sharing culture

Flatbread, lavash or yufka is heavenly. This bread has become almost a symbol of the sharing culture that is entangled in Turkey’s traditions. It usually takes about three people to make the bread. Depending on where the bread is prepared, it is baked in either a stone or earth oven in the ground, on a metal plate, or in a cauldron. People serve flatbread alongside a regular meal, but also share it at weddings, births, or other social or religious gatherings or holidays. Traditionally, a couple’s neighbors receive flatbread at a wedding for prosperity.

Lavash preparation

Turkish coffee

Preparing Turkish coffee is unlike any other coffee making method. It is almost a ritual that has become part of daily life in Turkey, but also as an essential part of ceremonial occasions. Quite often, people read the coffee grounds to tell someone’s fortune. Check out our step-by-step recipe for Turkish coffee in this post. If you are offered the chance to witness Turkish coffee being prepared in hot sand, don’t refuse. It is fascinating!

Ceremonial Keşkek

Keşkek is a wheat stew with meat or chicken that is traditionally served as part of wedding celebrations or religious holidays. They wash the wheat with prayers a day earlier, before carrying it to a large stone mortar. This happens to the music from a zurna (double-reed pipe) and a davul (drum). Two to four persons with gavels hull the wheat at the mortar in a firm rhythm. Keşkek is customarily cooked outdoors; adding chunks of meat on the bone, hulled wheat, onions, spices, water, and oil to the cauldron and cooked it all night.

The cultural importance of food in Turkey

Living in Turkey, we get to experience on the daily basis how significant food in Turkey is. People have dishes for celebrations and mourning, for almost any occasion in life. It is all about sharing, sharing the event, and the food that is associated with it. Food in Turkey is still based on tradition, on recipes and preparation methods that are passed on to each next generation. And that is why visiting Turkey’s food cities and tasting authentic food is a profound experience.

How to get to Gaziantep and Hatay

Are you keen on visiting fascinating Hatay and Gaziantep? Both Antakya and Gaziantep have airports with connecting flights to and from Istanbul. Domestic air travel is relatively cheap in Turkey, so this is an excellent way to visit both cities. Of course, there are regular bus services to both cities, as well as the option to hire a car. You can read all about that on our Turkey travel resources page, including how to order your visa online. How about safety? Despite their location close to the Syrian border, there are no reports of issues with any travelers. Your biggest risk is probably weight gain! 🙂 You can read more about the hazards of traveling to Turkey in this post.

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