Turkey’s European Union membership bid may be stuck in the mud, but a different dynamic is at work on the food front. To wit: the European Commission has granted Gaziantep baklava a spot on its list of protected designations of origin and geographical indications. It’s the first Turkish product and the 16th non-EU food to make it on the list. In honor of this much-deserved recognition, we’ve put together our own list of favorite places to get baklava in Istanbul and Gaziantep.
1. Karaköy Güllüoğlu
Located a stone’s throw from the Bosphorus, this shop has been catering to Istanbul sweet tooths since 1949. Done up in borderline tacky décor that looks like it is meant to evoke late Ottoman splendor, the place serves more than a dozen different kinds of phyllo-based sweets, including pistachio or walnut baklava, none of them resembling the cardboard-like, past-their-prime versions that are often dished out outside the Middle East.
2. İmam Çağdaş
Founded in 1887, this kebab and baklava emporium in Gaziantep is run by Burhan Çağdaş, the grandson of İmam Dede. To best enjoy the shop’s exceptional pastry, he recommends forgoing knife and fork, taking it between two fingers and placing it upside-down before taking a bite.
The Gaziantep-style kebab restaurant on Istanbul’s Asian side serves a sweet flaky pastry bussed 850 miles straight in from Zeki İnal Baklavacısı in the baklava motherland. It’s available only on Saturdays and Sundays. Be sure to call ahead to make sure that a shipment is coming.
4. Rumeli Tatlı ve Börek Evi
At this tiny place, just a block or two from the Hippodrome in the Sultanahmet, the pastry is crispy on top, overstuffed with walnuts, and the syrup-soaked layers on the bottom never have time to turn into the chewy wad that one sometimes gets with mass-produced baklava. Rumeli baklava is so special that it is accepted currency among many in the bazaar (especially for payment of debts incurred over backgammon or pişti).
5. Sakarya Tatlıcısı
Nestled in Beyoğlu’s historic fish market, this pastry and sweets shop with its Old World charm is one of our favorites for not just ayva tatlısı, the seasonal fall specialty of quince in syrup, but also baklava and other traditional desserts. Although most people breeze into the shop and get their dessert to go, we prefer to sit down at one of Sakarya’s two tables, order a tea with our dessert and take in the atmosphere of the fish market.
6. Bizim Ev
The baklava at this storefront on one of the arcaded stretches of Moda Caddesi is worth a trip on the ferry and up the hill to Kadıköy. And while you’re there, you should also get the Laz böreği: layers of yufka (phyllo), buttery and moist, dusted with confectioner’s sugar, in a symbiotic balance with the custard, which is neither too sweet, nor too eggy, neither too runny, nor too stiff. Just right.