What disappears are flat cardboard packing boxes and pan after pan of baklava.
This restaurant in Gaziantep in southeastern Turkey is so famous for baklava that people fly in from Istanbul and Ankara to load up and take it home. They also come to eat, because Imam Cagdas is the most famous restaurant in Gaziantep.
Dating from 1887, it has been in the hands of the same family for five generations. The first in the line was Imam Cagdas, who gave the restaurant its name.
On a typical day, there's plenty of action as baklava is brought to the front, packed and carried out. If you want to eat baklava at the restaurant, you had better go early. Late in the evening it's all gone.
Gaziantep baklava, considered Turkey's finest, is loaded with the freshest and best pistachios from the local crop. This plate from Imam Cagdas shows how generously pistachios are used. Sarma baklava on the right is rolled like stuffed grape leaves (sarma). A thin layer of pastry lets the green nuts show through.
If you're going to eat there, start with the two most popular dishes. One is the pizza-like meat pastry called lahmacun. Gaziantep style is to spread it with roasted eggplant (above), fold and eat. Another way is to top it with parsley, lemon juice and green chile.
"Soganli" lahmacun--sogan means onion--combines the meat with onions, tomatoes, walnuts and pomegranate molasses.
Kebabs are grilled over oak. You eat them with a tangy, spicy onion salad, which is one of several salads on the menu. They're dressed with pomegranate molasses and olive oil.
The server above is bringing plates of grilled vegetables that include kebabs of minced lamb with pistachios.
At dinner, the food came nonstop--cheese borek, puffy breads, the yogurt drink ayran and more, until the table was so full I had to put my grilled vegetable plate on a side ledge. This happened because I was eating with a Turkish food expert, Filiz Hosukoglu, who brought members of the Cagdas family to the table.
Here she is with Talat Cagdas, who said that if the restaurant used "technology," the food would lose its taste. The kitchen staff is twice as large as it would be if mechanical shortcuts were allowed, he said.
The people of Gaziantep are so proud of this restaurant that if you ask anyone on the street where to eat, the answer is always Imam Cagdas. The food is traditional, from a cuisine so outstanding that Gaziantep has been honored by UNESCO for its gastronomy.
Photos by Barbara Hansen