Turkish desserts and sweets! Famous in the country for their sweetness, palatable lightness, and an overwhelming ability to tempt you to a second helping, visitors to Turkey should try at least one Moorish dish if not more. Forget the Creme Brule of France, do not bother about the famous Tiramisu of Italy, and as a Brit, please forgive me for saying Turkey has far more delicious choices that put our Apple Crumble and Spotted Dick to shame.
Like many other culinary dishes, most Turkish desserts have a story to tell. Steeped in cultural heritage and drawing in a variety of influences from around the Arabic and European world, each dessert often has a meaning or local urban legend behind their recipe. They also stem from the Ottoman kitchens or even further back to the eastern nomadic Turk tribes.
Sometimes, simple choices are addictive. For example, seasonal fruits mark the end of a delicious meal; either served in a restaurant or at home and even better is the unusual combination of white cheese and honeydew melon whose flavours blend to cleanse the palette. However, more complicated and sometimes strange choices exist, and if you try our suggestions below, you will end up as a newfound fan of Turkish desserts.
Turkish Desserts and Sweets to Get Addicted To
1: Kadayif and Kunefe: Moorish
Kadayif combines shredded wheat, nuts, and sweet syrup. Add some soft white cheese to the ingredients, and it becomes Kunefe, a diet-busting dessert originating from Palestine. A healthy lash of white dondurma (ice cream) covers the top of it, along with a sprinkling of ground pistachio nuts and thanks to the dense and sweet combination, one serving is enough. With a crispy topping and a chewy middle, prepare to be addicted. For those who want to make it at home, Kadayif is also the name of the filo pastry to buy. Many Turks say this dessert is the nearest you’ll get to baklava so expect a sugar rush to overcome you.
2: Firinda Sutlac: Turkish Rice Pudding
Anyone who is a fussy eater or too shy to dive straight into the deep end should try Firinda Sutlac first that is a slight variation of western rice pudding. Baked in a clay dish, the milk-based delicacy is not sweet and is a gentle ride into the culinary diversity of Turkish desserts. The good news is that most supermarkets, and some coffee/pastry shops sell it. Should a Turkish person ever invite you to their home, they might serve it, because it is a common family dessert.
3: Tavuk Gogsu: A Chicken Dessert that Surprises
This complicated dish will raise a few eyebrows because the main ingredient is chicken. However, chefs ground the chicken into a fine paste, so the taste and consistency blend in with the other ingredients of milk and sugar and a fine dusting of cinnamon. Stemming from the Ottoman kitchens, this dish is one of Turkey’s signature alternatives. Also sold in pastry and coffee shops, the chicken adds to the chewy texture and delightfully surprises your taste buds.
4: Asure: Noah’s Seasonal Dessert
Local legends say Asure stems from when Noah landed the Ark on Mount Ararat. He asked everyone on the boat to hand over the last remains of food they had, and he combined it all into this one dish. These days, there are many recipe variations, but traditional ingredients include grains, dried fruits, and sugar This isn’t a year-round dessert because people only make it on the 10th day of the Islamic calendar’s first month. Don’t worry though if you are not a culinary expert, because adhering to time-honoured traditions, they also share it with friends and family.
5: Kazandibi: Burnt Pudding
This name means burnt bottom milk pudding, but the burnt bottom comes from caramelised sugar, which adds a heavy crunch to the lightness of this milky dish. Served refrigerated, it is a heavenly delight to eat during summer. For consistency, think gooey. That shows its addictive taste. Although often made at home, many Turks prefer to eat their Kazandibi in cafes, of which the best comes from brand names specialising in desserts and sweets.
6: Baklava: An Explosion of Sweetness
An article about Turkey’s love for desserts and sweets would not be complete without a mention of baklava, Turkey’s most consumed dish. Sold in restaurants as a dessert and baker’s shops as a snack, the ingredients of flaky filo pastry, pistachio nuts, and sweet syrup can overwhelm anyone with sensitive teeth. When visiting a Turk for dinner or as a present, baklava is an ideal choice. Many regional variations exist, but Turks agree the best comes from Gaziantep, and the well-known baklava shops in Istanbul make a roaring trade stem from that area. (Read more about Baklava, Turkey’s national dessert and sweet.)
7: Lokma: Turkish Sweet Fried Dough
Walk along any beach promenade or well-known street during summer, to come across street vendors selling lokma, a crunchy, sweet, oblong shape snack, the size of a large walnut. Despite its hefty dose of sugar, westerners often find the taste simple and easy on their palette. A warning for food lovers though because the addictive deep-fried dough means you always end up eating more. Our tip is to eat them when they are just out of the oil for an extra crunchy bite. Turks also serve these on special occasions, like opening a business. Should you try to make it at home, you only need the right consistency for the dough and to make sure your oil is hot enough.
8: Dondurma: It’s More than Just Ice-cream
It may surprise you to see dondurma on this list because it is ice-cream, but Turkish ice cream is different. Made from using salep and mastic, it has a more solid consistency, and the street sellers show this with their colourful performances while serving it. The best ice cream comes from the Maras region and is so gooey, you need a knife and fork to eat it. The word Dondurma translates into freezing and expect a variety of flavours to taste your way through.
9: Lokum / Turkish Delight
Known in the Western world as Turkish Delight, this sweet has also become a favourite souvenir. Again, stemming from the Ottoman Empire days and invented by Bekir Effendi in the late 18th century, it is sold in a variety of flavours and with or without nuts. This soft, chewy sweet is also served after a Turkish cup of coffee to lighten the palette and cut through the heavy, earthy, lingering taste. If you are on holiday in Turkey and want souvenirs to take home, delight is widely sold. The best brand is Haci Bekir, the original inventor whose family stills carries on his name and their shop is in the Pendik area of Istanbul. (Find out more about why Turkish Delight is the country’s favourite sweet.) If you visit Safranbolu, they also have a strong reputation for the finest delight.
10: Helva: A Popular Dessert Loved by Turks
Although not unique to Turkey, helva is sold in supermarkets and confectioners. Once again, a variety of flavours is available, but the base ingredient in the most popular version is flour, mixed with crushed sesame seeds. Given upon the death or anniversary of a death of someone close, a woman remembering her father’s passing may give helva to her neighbours on that day. Making helva at home is a complicated and drawn-out process, so we recommend trying a brand like Tatsan or Koska.
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