A short history of Turkish delight, and where to taste it

Delve into the history behind this legendary Turkish confection, we tell you where to taste the real thing

by

Turkey Editor

Turkish delight (lokum in Turkish) was one of the most creative recipes to enrich the table of the Ottoman sultans. Until the 18th century, it was sweetened only with honey and grapes. With the introduction of sugar to the Ottoman lands, Turkish delight soon conquered the hearts of both the sultans and their wives.

According to legend, the first Turkish delight recipe was actually created when a sultan ordered his confectioner to create a unique sweet, perhaps to seduce one of his reluctant wives. Delighted with this opportunity to please his sultan, his confectioner blended a concoction of honey, various flavourings, nuts and some dried fruit, and then bound them together with mastic - a kind of natural gum that grows on a certain Mediterranean tree. The result of his efforts, seemed to work wonders for the sultan, and from then on, Turkish delight became an institution at the daily feasts of the Ottoman court.

With sultans and daily feasts as a thing of the past, nowadays, Turkish Delight is kept hidden somewhere in the kitchen, ready to be served with a cup of strong Turkish coffee to the most valued of guests, as a delightful sign of welcome.

Naturally, over the years the confection changed with respect to its initial ingredients, but the excitement that it creates has remained the same. Sampling all the varieties of Turkish delight in order to discover your favourite may take quite a long time, so follow our recommendations on the best manufacturers, whose selections will guarantee love at first sight or or bite.

In Istanbul, there are a few unmissable addresses that are well-known both for their admirable decoration and their variations on this confectionery theme. The oldest is Ali Muhiddin Hacı Bekir. Longing for a touch of history, most shoppers pop into this old mahogany-clad store on Beyoglu’s Istiklal Street, and go for the plain, rose, almond, mint and mastic-flavoured lokums. Hacı Bekir was the first owner of a small confectionery in the 19th century, also famous having given the product its name. Its English name comes from Bekir's smart publicity trick. He gave a British tourist the suggestion of taking it home and calling it ‘the Turkish delight.’

Another place worth visiting is Lokum, a small but attractive store that makes delicious and aesthetically pleasing delights in Arnavutköy. If you’re sampling at Lokum, we recommend pistachio, followed by rose, mint, fig and walnut flavours. Thanks to their admirable use of Ottoman imagery and signature pompom tassels, Lokum’s delights will catch your eye, persuading you take a few boxes home as souvenirs.

Every confectioner has their speciality and they are all very tasty, but don’t leave the shop before trying the local favourite, çifte kavrulmuş, small pieces of delight made with double roasted pistachios.

Addresses and information

Ali MuhiddinHacı Bekir: Hamidiye Caddesi, 83, Eminönü, Istanbul, Tel. +90 212 5220 666, www.hacibekir.com

Divan: Bebek Mah., Cevdet Paşa Cad. 28/A, Bebek, Istanbul, Tel. +90 212 2577 270, www.divan.com.tr

Lokum Istanbul: Arnavutköy Caddesi 15/1, Arnavutköy, Istanbul, Tel. +90 212 2871 528, www.lokumistanbul.com