When in Istanbul, it’s a must to indulge in baklava, that ubiquitous delicacy made of countless layers of impossibly thin phyllo pastry that enconsces chopped nuts within its delicate layers, then finished off with a drizzle of thick, gooey syrup all over it. The phyllo pastry used for baklava is said to be so thin that when you lift up a sheet, you can see through it.
I once thought all baklavas are created alike and taste alike. So when T — a business associate who’s a native of Istanbul — told me she knows the best place for baklava in the whole of Istanbul, I was not entirely convinced. Nonetheless, I tried to keep an open mind as her husband drove us across Atatürk Köprüsü (Atatürk Bridge) to Karaköy, a commercial neighborhood in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul which used to be known as Galata. Our destination: Karaköy Güllüoğlu.
T briefed me that the place, having started as a family business, has a complicated history. Hence, you can find several several baklava shops all over Istanbul bearing the Güllüoğlu name but there is only one Karaköy Güllüoğlu. This particular shop is said to be the one owned by the father and is the ‘original’. Karaköy Güllüoğlu itself insists — through its website and pamphlets in several languages in its shop — that they are “the only Karaköy since 1949”, clarifying that they are “totally different and unique compared with the products of the shops with the name Güllüoğlu.” So how can you tell which shop is which? The Karaköy Güllüoğlu has the Galata Tower in its logo and their registered trademark is Nadir Güllü.
A huge crowd is always a telltale sign of good food. Or in this case, cars triple (!) parked besides the kerb in front of the shop. The next encouraging sign: nearly empty shelves! T said it’s supposed to be a 24-hour shop but the baklava was completely sold out that day. Whatever remaining baklava there was on the shelves were being packed into boxes for customers who have pre-booked them.
Thus, just minutes after we walked in, they started rolling down the shutters in front of the shop. The interesting thing is that when customers would arrive, they’d still be allowed to go in then shown the empty shelves before being politely told that all the baklava sold out for the day.
As T went to order our baklava and çay (strong Turkish tea), I sat on one of those high stools clustered around a small round table, snapping photos as discreetly as I could. My face broke into a huge grin when she reappeared at my side with a plate of pistachio baklava served with a huge scoop of kaymak (Turkish clotted cream).
T’s husband then demonstrated to me the proper way of eating a baklava — he angled a slice of baklava slightly so that he could pierce it with his fork from the bottom at a slight angle [NB: approximately 1/3 of the piece should be behind the fork, the upper 2/3 facing you, so as not to break the layers], smeared a bit of kaymak on the slice, then popped the baklava upside-down into his mouth. This way, he explained, the thin phyllo layers on top can melt on your tongue. He also added that what sets Karaköy Güllüoğlu’s baklava apart from all other baklavas is how you can actually hear the layers of phyllo pastry crackling as you bite into a slice.
I followed his lead and obediently did everything that he said, including smearing my baklava slice with kaymak. I closed my eyes and let out a prolonged “mmmmmm…”. It was heavenly! The strange thing is: it wasn’t as sweet as all other baklavas I’ve tasted before. And I think I know why: if you look closely at the photo, only the lower layers of phyllo pastry are drenched in syrup; the upper layers aren’t, which explains how they retain their crispiness.
Quality always comes at a premium and Karaköy Güllüoğlu is not an exception: the lowest price I’ve seen in its shop is TL28 (Turkish Lira) for one kilogram of the heavenly treat. In contrast, prices at a Gaziantep shop at the Egyptian Spice Bazaar start from TL16. Despite the steeper prices, I still would have gladly bought a box or two of the delicious treats. Unfortunately, since all of the shop’s baklava were sold out that night, there was nothing left for us to pack up and bring back to the hotel.
T and I started off the evening as business associates discussing products, orders and shipments over an awesome fish dinner at Cibali Balikçisi; we ended the night like long-lost friends savouring baklava and kaymak with tiny cups of piping hot çay at the legend that is Karaköy Güllüoğlu.
This is not a paid post, but if Karaköy Güllüoğlu offers me some free baklava the next time I’m in Istanbul, I’d be more than happy to take it ;)
Rihtim Street, Katli Otopark Alti
Karaköy, Istanbul – Turkey
Tel: +90 212 293 09 10