Turkish sweets

I bet that when thinking of Turkish sweets there are three things coming to your mind: baklava, halva and turkish delights. Turks are known for their notorious sweet tooth and even me who would shuffle down my throat loads of desserts gets stuck after eating two or three of their highly syrupy pastries. But since I guess you all know those luscious baklavas, finger-licking halvas and scrumptious turkish delights, I’m not gonna write about them. I will try to show you a few other, a bit less common but nohow less delicious treats.

As much as I’m always allured by huge choice of sterile made market available sweets, I still believe that the best are those that are hand-made. They taste so much better when someone puts heart to create them. And so to get a real taste of artisan sweets we went for a visit to Altan ลžekerleme. The shop is stuck in a really weird neighbourhood, where you can buy a saddle as well as sharpen your knives. Once you open the doors you feel like you’re in a time machine, like you’ve just jumped back half a century or so. You do feel like this is not just another place, but that it actually has a soul. The shop was opened in 1865 and since then is run by one family, passing the secret recipes from one generation to another. You can get here halva or turkish delights but we were tempted by the huge rock candies sitting on the countertop in lovely vintage jars. Akide, as they are called in Turkish, come in many flavors – strawberry, lemon, caramel, cocoa, mint, cinnamon and my favourite – bergamot.

I’m sure I’m showing you all the things you must have seen before, but I bet that the sweet below will stun most of you folks. Looks like a typical boring milk pudding, right? Oh, believe me, it can be called anything but boring. I guess you would never tell it’s made with chicken breast fillets, would you? ๐Ÿ˜‰ No, it’s not disgusting and no ,it doesn’t taste funny. You basically don’t taste the chicken at all. If no one would tell you there is chicken you would never even have a clue there might be some meat inside. You may ask so why the hell they put it there? Well, I believe it’s all about the texture. You see, when you eat it, you actually can feel tiny tiny fibers that come from chicken breasts. Apart from being unusual tavuk gรถgsu (cause that is the proper Turkish name of this pud) has also quite a history – it emerged as a palace dish during Ottoman times. If you’re a bit more adventurous foodie then I guess you’ve put it on your “to eat” list.

Ever heard of helva? It’s a dessert that you’ll be offered in nearly every restaurant in Turkey. It’s really good as well as simple to make, so no wonder it’s so often set on menus. Traditionally, helva signifies good fortune and was used to be made on important family events such as births or deaths as well as moving the house, graduating or getting a new job. I’m pretty sure I’ll make this dessert in near future, so if you’re curious how it is done, please keep an eye on my updates ๐Ÿ˜‰

Last but not least a word about ice creams. In Turkey (as anywhere else in the world) you’ll get dozens of delicious ice cream flavours, but it’s a particular one that is unique and worth to walk your feet off to find. It’s famous Maras’ chewy ice cream. Yup CHEWY, that’s not a typo. The slightly chewy consistency comes from a pine-scented tree gum called mastic. It’s widely used in Turkey and Greece to flavor puddings, some bread doughs and raki. You will find it on bazaar stalls in form of crystals, that must be pulverized prior to their use. Additional thickening factor used in chewy ice cream, is another peculiar, typically Turkish product. Salep is a ground wild orchid root that apart from flavour and thickness gives the ice cream its typical pearly white colour. While wondering on Istanbul’s old city narrow streets, you’re sure at some point to bump onto an ice cream show. It takes one metal paddle, one vat cooling down the ice cream mass and one vigorous Turk to make your jaw fall down in amazement on how chewy the chewy ice creams can really be.


70 thoughts on “Turkish sweets

  1. Iยดm a vegetarian so ill pass on the chicken filet dish, but the other stuff sounds great. Iยดve had Flor de Michoacan ice cream that is chewy, but this must be even more chewy. Cool post.

    • Thank you ๐Ÿ™‚ You have to be very careful if you’re going to Turkey, they often consider that fish and chicken are also vegetarian ๐Ÿ˜‰ The “real” meat is beef and lamb ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Ha ha… how fish and chicken can be in category of veg?
        They are not from trees. ๐Ÿ˜‰


      • Well, Iโ€™ve recently been talking to a friend of mine who eats chicken and pork, but wonโ€™t eat beef or lamb cause she is pityful for those animals and their big eyes makes them look so cute. I just commented that its a bit weird โ€“ ether you feel pityful for animals and donโ€™t eat them at all or you just eat all of them. She replied โ€“ Oh come on, chickens are like bananas, they are ment to be eaten ๐Ÿ˜€ So you seeโ€ฆ. you never know ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. Lovely post, and it makes me home sick ๐Ÿ™‚ only one correction if you don’t mind, most of what you said about the “chewy” ice cream is correct but it is not “Istanbul’s chewy ice cream” it is actually called “Maras Ice Cream” and it is originally from the Kahramanmaras province ๐Ÿ™‚ and as you said, it is gooooodddd…..

    while on the subject: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3126047.stm

    • Thank you very much for that! I’ll correct the post. I was sure they are called Istanbul’s ice cream as it was written so in my guide. Anyway thank you also for the link about the disappearing orchids. I’ve heard that the population is getting smaller, but didn’t realize that it is actually so bad. I hope that they will switch to using synthetic powder rather than genuine one!

  3. Hi there ‘no onion please’. It’s nice to see some of the less common sweets on your blog. I am actually and Turkish Australian and enjoyed your lovely descriptions, as well as your beautiful photos. I will put a link on my blog to yours as I too have a food blog. Though I am Turkish, my blog is about all food. My neice and I started it together, a couple of days ago, as we are food mad. Thank you for your blog and I will check in regularly to read your interesting posts. I would love your experienced opinion on my post, http://www.feastingwithfriends.wordpress.com . Thanks Fusun ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Great.

    I think there is quite a bit of similarity with Indian sweets. (Apart from the chicken and icecream). Even in India, there are a variety of Halvas.

    Come to India and explore.

  5. What an awesome post! Now, I want to go to Turkey and eat sweets for a week ๐Ÿ™‚ But I guess I will have to settle for just eating sweets ๐Ÿ™‚ and postpone Turkey for when I’ve earned some vacation days ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. I would really like to see you put out that recipe for helva! I have been looking online but the recipes are so varied I wouldn’t know where to start! I like the idea of a more authentic Turkish recipe. ๐Ÿ™‚ Can’t wait to try it~

  7. Halva! I love it! I’m not sure if this is the same as “Halawa” that I ate growing up, that stuff is super sweet, but amazing! The picture you have for Halva is quite different from what Halawa looks like (a solid brick, flaky), so I’m guessing they’re not the same thing.
    But oh well, loved the post. Amazing photography!

    • Hello! I guess the problem is that there are several kinds of halva/helva. The one you’re talking about is probably halva made of tahini. The one you see here is Irmik Helvasฤฑ that is prepared from semolina ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. When you mentioned Turkish Sweets immediately I think of Turkish Delights….that beautiful jelly sweets…my favourite. I’m really fascinated by all the beautiful sweets here. Love all the food. They look delicious.

  9. That looks tasty!!! Oh yea we Asian’s like to make goooweeey sticky stuff that is either made out of rice or something floury! you got to love the chewy ice cream! so yummy!

  10. i love finding out about food around the world. i never knew about the chicken in the pudding…. that threw me but it just shows how different cultures have different ways of preparing food!

  11. I’m a macedonian who leaves in Turkey…it’s really nice to see some of the less common sweets on your blog. Turks are mainly good at this food stuff. thanks for this post.

  12. Ok- not sure abt the “chicken breast” dessert- but Helva… now THAT I would love to try! Lovely pics as well…. :o)

  13. Your blog and photos brought back many memories of past visits to Turkey, Greece and Morocco, and sampling these delicious sweets! I remember the chewy ice-cream!! and particularly the Turkish Delight. The particular stall we went to had all the samples in miniature chest-of-drawers, and oh what flavours!!

  14. If youโ€™re not familiar with the books, this sweet treat plays a pivotal role in the story as the second youngest child, Edmund, meets up with the White Witch who seduces him with the promise of as much Lokum as he can eat. Some people wonder how he could betray his siblings over a simple sweet (which was bewitched) but you have to remember that the story takes place during WWII when sugar was very hard to come by, even for children in middle class families. Iโ€™m enough of a sugar freak to have done some things that were probably not well thought out because I needed my fix that I can sympathize in a way for Edmund. (And he does redeem himself.)

    Turkish Delight is rather unknown in the States and probably with good reason. Americans are not really familiar with floral flavors and delicate candies such as these. They donโ€™t really keep well, so itโ€™s easy to get stale Turkish Delight, which only leads to disappointment. Iโ€™ve had my share of crusty Turkish Delight over the years which has made me question why I like it, but thereโ€™s something so elusive and sublime about it, Iโ€™m tempted to travel to Turkey just to partake of the freshly made stuff. Hereโ€™s a fabulous first-person account on Luluโ€™s Lulu Loves Manhattan blog.

    Turkish Delight is a rather simple jelly candy made from sugar, cream of tartar, corn starch and a little flavor. Itโ€™s quite different from other jelly candies in that it doesnโ€™t have any gelatin or pectin to firm it up, just the corn starch. (This makes it a good candy to get/make for Vegan friends.) This is a kind of unstable mixture which can go bad rather quickly, so Turkish Delight is always best fresh. Covering it in chocolate is actually a pretty good way to keep it fresh, as Fryโ€™s has found with their Turkish Delight bar

    Classic Turkish Delight is usually Rose flavored but can be mint or lemon. There are other varieties that include nuts (hazelnuts or pistachios are popular), coconut and of course other fruit flavors like strawberry, raspberry, apricot and I even saw this recipe on Becks & Posh for Cardamom Rose which sounded really good to me. I tried making Turkish Delight several times as a teen (having been told that the fresh stuff was the best) but never quite succeeded. A recipe probably would have helped. Heaven help the teen who has only the ingredients label to go off of; my mother was very patient with the strange pans of fragrant goo my sister and I created.

  15. Yum. This is really nice. I’ll be travelling to Istanbul next year so it’s nice to know what goodies will be coming my way…:-P

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  17. I’ve never been to Turkey, but have experienced that “Chewy Ice Cream” at a theme park in Beijing and an Anatolian Festival in California. It is so good and I can’t wait until I get to try the real thing in Istanbul one day!

  18. You write that “[…] I still believe that the best are those that are hand-made. They taste so much better when someone puts heart to create them.”

    For this there is likely a number of explanations, but I would like to ask you about your opinion of one, specifically: In my own (unsystematic and limited) comparisons of hand/home made/baked/cooked and factory made/baked/cooked items, it is often the apparent imperfections that give the former an edge. (For example, a baked item can have an unevenly heated crust, leading to one part being a little “too white” and another a little “too brown”—which can increase the experience by exposing me to different tastes and textures, or by resulting in an original product.) Do you have a similar perception? Is this, on the contrary, a nuisance that you feel that a good chef should try to eliminate?

    • That’s an interesting question. To tell you the truth I’ve never considered this aspect. For me hand or home made are better cause of several reasons: most of all someone has put a lot of work to do it, they show the skills one has and most probably passion as people tend to put a lot of heart into what they are doing if they enjoy it. Second of all home made is without additives, artificial colours and flavours that are supposed to make eg cakes prettier but on the other hand make them taste “plastic” as well. When I was younger I didn’t mind it but now when I have started to cook myself, i have learned that all those tastes I was previously exposed to are not natural, once I try how the real butter tastes in cookies I don’t want any cheap margarine there or vanillin instead of vanilla. A bit off topic but it’s sad that this world is teaching the young generations love to artificial tastes, it’s sad seeing kids craving for McDonalds while resenting a home fried chick fille.

      Anyway, I absolutely don’t mind imperfections. They are natural. The perfect things that comes in hundreds and thousands looking all the same are not only weird but kind of creepy as well ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’ll never buy anymore any ready made cakes, though I used to before I understood that cooking isn’t any witchcraft and anyone can do it. And as you say imperfections are not only a kind of escape from routine (imagine eating 100 times exactly same made roast) but are also a way to learn what other tastes we may like. It’s often imperfections and mistakes that lead us to suprisingly great discoveries not only in kitchen (eg thats how penicillin was discovered). So i say a huge YES to any imperfection in cooking/baking ๐Ÿ™‚

  19. I just stumbled upon your blog, and your entries about Istanbul remind me of when I was there last fall! That was when I first fell in love with their ice cream, and really, CHEWY is the only way you can describe the texture! So delicious… oh boy, I’m craving one right now!

    • Actually you can make chewy ice-cream yourself. I bet you can find recipes around. The only problem you’ll encounter is to get mastic (it’s available worldwide but difficult to find, you’ll probably have to try to go to some middle-eastern shop) and salep – it’s unavailable outside of Turkey (export is forbidden), but synthetic substitutes are available. Of course there is another option, a pretty good one too – just go to Istanbul again ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • hahahah i would definitely LOVE to return to turkey!!
        but great idea on making the ice cream myself… do you think i’d need an ice cream maker? i mean, its not exactly the traditional ice cream… and yeah, it does sound like acquiring the ingredients will be the most difficult task! have you tried it out yourself before?

      • No I haven’t, I have a recipe though, so if you’re interested I can send it to you. For me it’s impossible to buy mastic here in Finland, so I don’t even get an option to wonder if I should do them or not ๐Ÿ˜‰

  20. Nice post…it looks so delicious ^^

    By the way… would you give me a recipe in cooking Helva? coz it seems no difference with Bubur sumsum in Indonesian culinary… I just wonder ๐Ÿ˜‰

    well, best regards from Indonesia….

    • Hello! I have one recipe for helva from a friend of mine (don’t know where she got it from). I still haven’t tried it myself but here it is:

      Semolina Helva

      225g butter
      450g semolina
      45ml pine nuts
      900ml milk
      225g sugar
      1-2 tsp cinnamon

      1. Melt the butter.Stir in the semolina and nuts till they become golden brown.
      2. Pour in the milk, mix and cover with lid. Simmer gently for 10-15 min.
      3. Add sugar and mix till it dissolves, remove from the heat and let it stand for 1h
      4. Shape it and serve it. Dust with cinamon

  21. I searched high and low in Istanbul to find that ice cream! My Lonely Planet guidebook let me down and I never got any (I was only in Turkey for 24 hours though) I have a cookbook that I bought in Turkey and it has recipes for chicken pudding, and I’ve been curious and hesitant to make it! Maybe I will take a chance and make it for friends one day if you say it is good.

    • Hi! I’m sorry you didn’t manage to taste them ๐Ÿ˜ฆ If you’ll get chance of going there again then please check the fish restaurants street – Kumkapi area, there is always a stand of chewy ice cream maker (though i don’t recommend to eat seafood in any of those restaurants). The idea with making chicken pudding is really interesting, if you have time why not to ๐Ÿ™‚

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  23. so long history of Altan ลžekerleme 1865 and since then is run by one family, passing the secret recipes from one generation to another.

    I have a question if anybody has the same service in UK? Would be great if anyone can share such a service link for UK.

  24. I am laughing along with you on the chicken pudding pictures and story- my friend and I were visiting Istanbul during a trip around Europe and long story short ended up going out for Turkish coffee and dessert with a Turkish man who spoke ery little English- halfway though eating this same dessert he tried to tell us that it was made of “meat”… We argued for a little while that it wasn’t possible and then he had the waiter come over to us and explain it in slightly better English- a very big surprise! Afterwards it made a little more sense- it does have a very off texture!

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