What do jelly beans, Narnia, and 18th century Constantinople and have in common?
Invented and sold in Constantinople as early as 1777 (the city wasn’t named Istanbul until 1923), Turkish Delight is a popular treat widely available in Turkey and a bit more selectively around the rest of the world. Made from a gel of starch, sugar and natural flavoring, the bite-sized cube-shaped candy is often filled with nuts or dried fruits. It is usually coated with icing sugar or copra (dried coconut meat) to prevent it from sticking together.
Rahat lokum (which means “comfortable morsel” in Turkish), or simply Lokum, was developed by a Turkish confectioner in response to the sultan’s request for a soft-chewy treat to impress his lady friends. (My guess is that harder candies broke teeth, posing unnecessary challenges for the 18th century dentists!) A short while after the treat was made available to the general public, a British visitor to Turkey sent several boxes of the treat back to the UK, and the name “Turkish Delight” took hold.
Unlike other candy, Turkish Delight has a subtle, not-too-sweet taste. Traditional flavours like rosewater, mastic, bergamot orange and lemon remain popular to this day. It’s also available with chopped dates, pistachios (my favourite), walnuts and spices, like cinnamon, ginger and clove. Delightful!
Turkish Delight is a popular gift item between Turkish people, especially during Seker Bayrami following Ramadan. And I can attest that almost every visitor to our boat buys a box or two to take home as souvenirs for friends and family. It’s often served alongside a cup of Turkish coffee, a little bit of sweetness to offset the strong taste of the coffee.
The recipe has changed very little over the years, and Turkish Delight can still be purchased at Ali Muhiddin Hacı Bekir Şekerleme, the original shop where it was prepared and sold. The shop (shown on the linked map) is located two blocks east of the Yeni Cam (New Mosque) in Istanbul.
So, what’s the connection to Narnia? Perhaps you need to watch The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to see The White Witch of Narnia use the age-old treat as a bribe. Apparently, the irresistible temptation piqued the interest of many North Americans and Turkish Delight sales increased signficantly after the release of the film.
And jelly beans? Turkish Delight is believed to be a precursor to the modern day jelly bean.
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What are your thoughts on Turkish Delight? What’s your favorite flavor? Leave your replies in the comments below. And, if you like this post, please consider sharing it with your friends!