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Sweet success in Istanbul 10 décembre 2011

Posted by Acturca in Art-Culture, Economy / Economie, Istanbul, Turkey / Turquie.
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The Australian, December 10, 2011

Alessia Spedding

The art of eating baklava is serious business here at Karakoy Gulluoglu, nestled in a street back from the banks of the wind-whipped Bosphorus in the historic Istanbul neighbourhood of Karakoy. This landmark establishment is tipped by many locals to have the finest baklava in town: no small feat in a city renowned for its excellent representation of this time-honoured sweet.

But there’s more to appreciating baklava than one may think. My initial attempt to slice a piece then scoff it in two rapid mouthfuls has been thwarted.

Turan, a dapper mustachioed gentleman, and staff member, has materialised from behind the brass-trimmed counter to help me with the finer points of enjoying this famed delicacy.

« We must engage all our senses, » he urges, spreading out my selection of triangular, pea-green flecked sobiyet (a type of cream-filled baklava) and rounded squares of the more familiar walnut and pistachio varieties. A bushy eyebrow raises as I move in to help myself; it appears there’s still work to be done before these beckoning wedges can be tasted.

The slightly rounded golden dome of the pastry must be admired for its consistency and smooth crust; a deep breath is necessary to properly smell the glorious combination of sheep’s butter and freshly ground pistachios. Each baklava log is made by hand; we’re talking 40 paper-thin layers of yufka pastry sandwiching a thick ream of nuts and then doused with melted butter and sugar.

Time must be taken to appreciate this feat of kitchen alchemy.

Finally, the baklava may be brought to our lips, but not before twisting the fork so we make contact with the underside first.

« All the juices soak down to the bottom of the baklava, » explains Turan, flicking his wrist in one clean motion. « You will taste these first, and it will be followed by the crunch and butter of the pastry. Magnificent! »

Crackly and headily perfumed, it is indeed something very special. I’ve never tasted baklava so fresh and balanced, and the slightly ritualistic but logical way of eating it adds another dimension to the experience, like discovering a sprinkle of salt on ripe tomatoes for the first time. I realise now why my efforts at slicing provoked such alarm.

As we work our way through the spread of delights, there’s constant action around us in the elegant mauve and dark wood-panelled room. The counter buzzes with a steady stream of sweet-toothed locals. Kids clutch oversized glasses of the excellent house-made lemonade, perching with their grandparents on the plump leather stools that surround the few low cedar tables. For the most part, it’s standing room only.

Men with soft, dark eyes and pot bellies lunch companionably on plates of steaming meat and cheese-stuffed coils of borek, a traditional Turkish pastry.

Tourists stock up on rose-tinted Turk lokumu, or Turkish delight; staff members methodically pack parcels of spanking fresh baklava for the flight home.

A whopping 1000kg of the sweet stuff is sold each day here and a typical Saturday will see 3000 to 4000 people stepping through the doors in search of flaky, buttery perfection. The store manager of 50 years, Muhsin Ozkan, attributes the popularity and high standing of Karakoy Gulluoglu’s baklava to the superb quality of ingredients and the strictest of production control.

« Milk, butter, pistachios, walnuts: everything is natural, the best we can get, and all grown in Turkey. Standards are everything; if it’s not perfect, it’s not used, » he says.

The proximity of the production house, a short skip along the same road, is just as important. « Our baklava, it couldn’t get any fresher, » Ozkan explains.

« As soon as it’s made in our big kitchen, it’s down here to be sold. »

And sold it certainly is, with huge replenishing trays of glossy squares hustled in from the back door at a rapid rate. The conversation turns to the precise origins of baklava, a raging debate, it seems. Turkey steadfastly claims it as its own, as does Greece and half the Middle East.

« Baklava is Ottoman, » is Ozkan’s firm, brook-no-argument response to this controversial topic. We’re soon interrupted by a shout from the back of the serving area. Nadir Gullu has arrived: fourth-generation baklava maker, shop owner and general captain of the ship. He’s a jolly little man with a thick moustache and vast amounts of energy.

Gullu’s great-grandfather opened his first Karakoy shop in 1949, just around the corner, having previously owned a shop in Gaziantep in the south of the country. The first Istanbul shop was five storeys, explains Gullu, but measured just 10sq m a room.

« No space! » he cries. « People come from all over Istanbul

to taste our baklava. We need more space! »

The store moved to its present location in 1977 and has been growing ever since. Three years ago, it expanded into the shop next door, and future plans will see even more floor space added.

Gullu bounds behind the counter and returns beaming, clutching a large framed painting. « Baracklava! » he bellows. Closer inspection reveals an image of Barack Obama constructed entirely out of baklava. « It took us many, many hours to prepare, » he says.

« Each layer must be set correctly, and the different colours had to be just right. »

The remarkable piece was created to commemorate the 2009 visit of the US President to Istanbul; they were hoping he might visit the store.

Did he, I ask?

« No, » Gullu says glumly, before brightening. « He wasn’t to know what he was missing out on. »



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