Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sweet Treats Of Turkey

On my recent trip through the Mediterranean I made a stop in Istanbul.  I haven't been to Istanbul since I was a child, and I have only vague recollections of that trip.  The one thing I do remember however is how this trip ruined Turkish delight for me.  When I got back to Canada and sampled other Turkish Delights, they never held up to the stuff I tried in Istanbul.  It wasn't until a recently that I've learned that many Mediterranean and Middle East countries also make a fine "Delight", but for some reason North America gets it all wrong.  So even as a child, this city had a huge impact of my candy taste testing life, it was my first step towards being a candy snob.
The thing that I was most excited about on this return trip was to see if Istanbul still held up as a unique and tasty place to get sweet treats.  As it turns out, it is, in fact I might say that Turkey rivals Japan for unique and tasty treats.  As a Westerner many of the treats, and the way they're delivered are pretty strange, but if you get by your bias you'll discover flavours and textures like nothing you've ever tried before.
Living in Greece and having traveled around this area a lot lately, I found many similar treats in Istanbul, but for some reason there's a bit more authenticity to them.  In many European countries you start to find a great deal of influence from the French, German, and other Western European countries in sweet treats.  In Istanbul it seems like they avoid this, the places I visited didn't offer many Western baked goods at all, they focused almost completely on their own.  Even the grocery stores I visited had very few Western treats, there where several bars available with Pistachios, and other Turkish/Mediterranean ingredients, and very few M& Ms, Twix, or Mars bars.
The treats from the traditional Turkish stores and market stalls were exactly what you might expect.  First of all there where many bulk stores, particularly in the Bazaars, selling candy in bulk.  The candy they sold was nougats, delights, and nut filled baklavas.  There was not a French pastry to be seen anywhere. Even the coffee shops offered some uniquely Turkish drinks (I sampled something called Sahlep that is now favourite hot drink).
I only scratch the surface in my exploration of Turkish treats, so I could be missing something entirely.  I did however find that the treats available truly reflected the Turkish culture, that meant that there was little variety, but it also meant that the local treats where in abundance.  Keep in mind that when I say there's little variety, I don't mean little selection or even evolution in their treats.  I found so many flavours and formats of Turkish delight it would blow your mind.  In particular I came across a really creative way to serve sweet treats, in Donair form (they would shave the candy off a giant hunk of candy on a spit).
This city, and this country, offers unique flavours and a glimpse into the tradition that comes from their culinary history.  It gives you a great example of a culture that hasn't had a Western influence into its sweet treats, and how this sweet treat culture has evolved.  I'm sure I could spend a whole year learning about the many varieties of sweets available, and I'm sure I'll be back to sample again.


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