Why a bulgur festival in this city? Because Gaziantep produces 70% of Turkey's annual output of more than 1 million tons of bulgur, serving as a processing center for wheat grown in the region.
If you're new to bulgur, it's wheat that has been cleaned, boiled and dried, then ground into a variety of sizes.
The weekend festival promoted bulgur in the best possible way--by letting people eat as much as they could. The opening display of 101 bulgur dishes (above) was quickly demolished when ceremonies and speeches were over.
Cig kofte (above) is Turkey's version of steak tartare, made with raw lamb kneaded with bulgur and red peppers fermented until black. Eating it wrapped in a lettuce leaf is Prof. Dr. Mustafa Bayram of the Food Engineering Department of the University of Gaziantep. He's a leading authority on bulgur.
Bulgur manufacturers were on hand to talk about their products and offer generous tastes. I saw long yellow grains of bulgur that could be cooked like rice. And bulgur combined with roasted vermicelli so that cooks preparing bulgur this way don't have to roast the vermicelli separately.
Panels focused on how good bulgur is for you and how easy it is to cook--the grains have been boiled already, so they cook quickly. And how seamlessly bulgur blends into almost any cuisine.
Giovanni Terricciato of the Movenpick Hotel (above) made risotto with eggplant, tomatoes, basil and mozzarella, sprinkling it with pistachios--Gaziantep is also the pistachio capital of Turkey.
You'll never find chicken biryani with bulgur in India. Nevertheless, Chef Imran Rana of Musafir Indian Restaurant (above) gave it a try, and festival goers clustered around as he showed how to cook it in authentic dum style, layered in a pot sealed with dough (above).
I liked the way TV chef Yunus Emre Akkor, an authority on Ottoman cuisine (above), cooked bulgur with clarified butter and turmeric, then suggested using it as the base for sautéed lamb. Ottoman gourmands prized yellow foods, he said. If they didn't have saffron, they used turmeric.
Some escaped the rain in the restaurant Senfoni. My lunch plate there (above) included the bulgur salad kesir, a yogurt, eggplant and meat salad, another salad with tomatoes and walnuts and flat bread.
At a gala dinner (above), every course included bulgur. Sourdough bread was made with bulgur flour. Starters included diced beets in yogurt with bulgur. A creamy mixture blended two types of yogurt with bulgur, caramelized onions and spicy oil. Kesir was dressed up with squid ink, shrimp and pistachios.
What impressed me was that all the dishes at the festival "worked." Nothing seemed odd or forced. Bulgur was created thousands of years ago, the first processed food made from wheat. Thank heavens that happened. The first dish I cooked when I got home was bulgur pilaf. Even if you cook only that, you will have a great dish in your repertoire.
Photos by Barbara Hansen