Diyarbakır’s Sıtkı Usta, a burma kadayıf master

Sıtkı Altunay, also known as Master Sıtkı, has passed down the most important elements of making burma kadayıf to his five sons. (Photo: Today's Zaman)

February 06, 2012, Monday/ 16:58:00

Diyarbakır is one of the well-known cities of Anatolia because of its food and dessert culture as well as its history and spiritual wealth. Everyone there knows about the famed burma kadayıf (a wheat dessert with pistachio or walnut) and Sıtkı Altunbay, popularly known as Sıtkı Usta (Master Sıtkı), a kadayıf maker. Sıtkı Usta’s store in Diyarbakır is a great place for burma kadayıf, a place where the dessert has been produced for generations.

Batter being dripped on a constantly rotating copper tray makes for very thin strands. Those delicate strands, even tough the tray is still rotating, are sprinkled with bits of walnuts or pistachios thanks to quick and skilful hands. After that, they are neatly lined up on a tray greased with butter. After being oven baked, syrup is poured on it and the burma kadayıf is ready to serve!

This process taking place in the bakery of Sıtkı Usta’s store, where this centuries-old dessert of Diyarbakır is produced, has onlookers delighted. People who see kadayıf maker Master Sıtkı’s bakery, where flour is turned into a tasty dessert in a matter of a few minutes, may agree that the Turkish idiom “you don’t eat it but you lie down next to it,” indicating that the food is really delicious, applies to this place as the burma kadayıf is really delicious.

Burma kadayıf was first introduced by the Armenians. Therefore, it was one of the most important symbols of Diyarbakır’s multiculturalism. When the Armenians left Diyarbakır in 1910, the masters of burma kadayıf residing in Diyarbakır, who were raised by Armenian kadayıf makers, inherited this vocation. One of the few remaining kadayıf makers today is Altunbay, who is originally from Bingöl. Master Sıtkı no longer works because of health problems; however, he passed down the most important elements of making burma kadayıf down to his five sons. Sixty people are working for Master Sıtkı, whose store has four branches in addition to a bakery.

The sons of Master Sıtkı, Ahmet, İbrahim, Mehmet, Ömer and Süleyman Altunbay, deal with the whole process of producing and selling burma kadayıf. In everything they do, the five brothers adhere to their father’s advice, who told them to teach their skills to others, too. “The secret of this business is quality and honesty. We teach anyone who wants to learn,” notes Ahmet Altunbay. “Many people come from Ankara and İstanbul and take up this profession. We have never been greedy and taught them the way of doing things,” says Altunbay, adding that they inherited this skill from their father and that they intend to improve it.

“Our customers often ask what the secret of this business is. The secret is quality, mastership and honesty. A master, thus, is someone who uses the best ingredients in an honest way. If you make do with ingredients of lesser quality, it results in a loss in taste. My father always says that he succeeded because he was mindful of these three elements and told us to continue in this fashion.” Saying that making kadayıf is three times harder than making baklava, Altunbay points out that there are only few masters who make burma kadayıf since it is so difficult to do. All the ingredients that master Sıtkı uses are natural. He orders pistachios from Nizip and walnuts from Bitlis and Adilcevaz. Granulated sugar is best to make the syrup.

Turgut Özal ordered 50 kilos of burma kadayif after tasting it

Diyarbakır kadayıf has been served in the offices of the Prime Ministry and the Presidency for years. Late President Turgut Özal once came to Diyarbakır when he was still prime minister. Upon hearing Özal was in town, Master Sıtkı ordered that a kilogram of kadayıf be given to him. When Özal was on the plane, he was served Sıtkı’s burma kadayıf. Reportedly having said “I have never before tasted such a thing,” Özal ordered 50 kilograms of kadayıf from Master Sıtkı. President Abdullah Gül, former Diyarbakır Governor and current Prime Ministry Undersecretary Efkan Ala as well as İstanbul Governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu always order kadayıf from Diyarbakır. Similarly, people whose hometown is Diyarbakır but who are living in America or Germany order kadayıf from Master Sıtkı on a regular basis.

How to make mouth-watering kadayıf - Sıtkı Usta style

In order to make kadayıf, one first prepares the batter with flour produced in Ankara, Konya or Gaziantep. Mix it properly until it becomes more fluid. When the batter is ready, you put it aside for a while for it to rest. A little time later you drip the batter on a hot copper cooking plate called a “dık” through a filter named a “kıf.” The batter can be taken from the copper cooking plate either as coiled or as straight strands of dough. You keep filtering the batter until all of it has been used. The strands are then sprinkled with pieces of walnuts or pistachios and lined up on a tray greased with butter. Pour some oil onto the kadayıf and heat it. When one side of the kadayıf is cooked, drain the oil from the tray and then turn the kadayıf. After removing the tray from the oven, pour syrup made from granulated sugar on top of the burma kadayıf as a finishing touch.