Zeki Atilgan invites us into the Gaziantep kitchen to show us the skill of his chef, Orhan Kazankiran, who’s been making Turkish baklava for almost his entire life. We walk into a haze of white particles. It gets even cloudier as Kazankiran throws a clump of flour onto his workbench with the careless panache of someone who knows their craft intimately. “This is nothing. In Turkey everything is covered in white [dust]. Here too, it's usually three times more [dusty]. I think Orhan is trying to be respectful of us,” Atilgan says.
Kazankiran uses his hands and a rolling pin to work the dough fastidiously until it’s so thin we can see through it. He makes around 26 sheets of it, and between each adds a layer of nuts, syrup and butter. “We make it from scratch; it takes us all day,” says Atilgan.
We return to the shop, sitting at one of the tables to try a few baklavas with a miniature, cylindrical cup of powerful granular coffee more powerful than the feeling of finding out your crush likes you. Every piece is different. Kazankiran’s classic handmade portions are simultaneously brittle, flaky and crumbly. They carry that unmistakable baklava sweetness but not the cloying kind you get with the cheap versions.
One is circular and rolled with Turkish pistachios of such high quality they look like they’ve been dyed for St Patrick’s Day. We try one and instantly demand to know what’s inside, and when we hear it’s only pastry, butter and pistachio, we’re dumbfounded. Australian pistachios are more savoury and oddly tropical, but this is like a durian without the rotting smell.
“The pistachios are very important. Australian pistachios don't have the colour and when you roast them, they lose moisture and flavour. The pistachios we use are from our hometown [Gaziantep]. The colour is natural. I pay $60 a kilo for them,” says Atilgan.
Gaziantep is the largest producer of the nuts in Turkey, and the baklava from this region is regarded as the best. In 2013, it became the first Turkish product with a European-protected designation of origin.
The last thing we try is a large dose of kunefe (the Turkish version of knafeh). We watch Atilgan fry the concoction of layered cheese and pastry, drip syrup onto it, and then hand it to us hot and sizzling. It isn’t just the usual cheese-whack experience; it’s more texturally nuanced because of the brittle kadayif (angel hair pastry) and crumbed pistachios sprinkled on top.
Gaziantep is an institution. Atilgan’s parents quit their jobs (his dad was a bus driver and mum a factory worker) to open it in 1999, with a dream of bringing the baklava culture of their hometown to Sydney. They later moved back to Turkey to get jobs in Gaziantep. “We had cousins with a pastry shop there; we used to stay for a few months and learn. We’d be there every day learning,” says Atilgan.
When they returned to Sydney, they started wholesale production in their home kitchen before moving operations to a small factory next door. “I was 15 or 16 when I realised this was it, this is what my family does,” he says. “It wasn't easy for us; there was a lot of hardship. [It meant we couldn’t] do normal family things like picnics.”
The shop came last, after Zeki took over the business. His parents warned that opening a store would just add to his work schedule and stresses, but he wanted to take his family’s life’s work and culture beyond the Turkish-Australian community.
Gaziantep Sweets and Pastry
162 South Parade, Auburn
(02) 9643 2468
Mon to Thu 9am–10pm
Fri & Sat 9am–11pm
This is another edition of Broadsheet’s Local Knowledge weekly series, where Nick Jordan explores the eateries at the heart of Sydney’s different cultural communities. Read more here.