Thursday, April 19, 2012

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Indulging in Istanbul: Turkish Delights!


Room-service Turkish delight, courtesy of the Four Seasons.
Ever since I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as a kid, I've been intrigued by Turkish delight. In the book, the White Witch enchants the little boy, Edmund, with the treat, so I've always imagined it as being seductively sweet and insanely decadent. After my arrival in Istanbul last week, I didn't have to wait long to try it—as soon as I checked in at my hotel, the desk clerk presented me with a silver platter of the stuff.

A Turkish sweetshop
       What I discovered: Turkish delight is nothing more than a glorified gummy bear. A local baker confirmed my suspicions—she said it consists of cornstarch, sugar, fruit puree, and water, simply melted down and coated with sugar. Not exactly decadent. In fact, the most exciting part of my Turkish delight experience was smuggling it through customs. Apparently, drug dealers coat the candy with cocaine instead of sugar, so it's often confiscated.

Turkish delight display @ the sweetshop

       The sweeter side of Turkey didn't fail me entirely, though. The baklava, for one, was to die for. And I discovered sekerpare, or "sugar bit"—little pastry balls, drenched in syrup and often coated in poppy seeds. (This was my personal favorite). Then there was kabak tatlisi, an odd but tasty poached pumpkin dessert, and badem tatlisi, an almond cake moistened with syrup. All of these treats were bite-sized, and they were collectively referred to as Turkish delights, though they weren't all gelatinous. Delightful, indeed.

       The best part: Each day, a different plate of sweets was left waiting in my hotel room. On the first day, it was chocolate-covered hazelnuts, which I promptly inhaled. Then, it was a baklava variety plate—honey, pistachio, and chocolate—that sustained me after a lunch consisting entirely of fish (which I hate). And, the last day, I received more Turkish delight. Re-gifting victim, to be determined.

Baklava variety plate
Dessert tray @ the Four Seasons Bosphorus
Armut tatlisi: Poached pears with bourbon
Irmik tatlisi: Milky semolina dessert
Dessert buffet @ the Four Seasons
The gooey, delicious middle

Almond cake, poached pumpkin, & poppy seed sekerpare