As promised to bring the best sugar coated delights of the world to you, this week we look at what Istanbul has to offer sugar junkies. We have on board Kavitha Rao, a Bangalore based freelance journalist who writes on the arts, travel, people and current affairs for the New York Times, Time, the National, Elle, Open and several others.
So let’s see and hear what she has got to tell us about her Turkish excursion.
Think Turkey and you think of Turkish delight. But there's more to desserts than halva or baklava. One of the joys of Istanbul is people-watching over tea and cake at one of the many patisseries in the city, some over a hundred years old. The dessert fan should head for Istiklal Caddesi (pronounced Jaddesi) in the historic Pera district, now called Beyoglu (pronounced Bay-oh-loo). Istikal is a pedestrian-only street lined with beautiful Art Nouveau buildings, where a string of sweet shops offer everything from French pastries to Turkish puddings. Many are now being edged out by shopping malls, so go while you can.
1. Begin with Markiz, once the place for Istanbul’s ladies who lunched, now sadly converted into a modern fast food restaurant called Yemek Kulübü. But some of the old decor remains: stained glass windows, colourful wall panels and the original gold leaf ceiling. It still serves a great selection of French inspired pastries, including luscious meyveli pasta (berry cheesecake) and a chocolate soufflé which oozes a lava of chocolate when you cut into it
Tel: 0212- 252 27 01
2. Right opposite is Lebon, another famous patisserie which dates back to 1886. Try the chewy, cinnamon flavoured Turkish version of apple pie, called Elmali top pare, and the crisp cookies, best dunked in a cup of super strong cay, or tea.
3. A few metres away is Inci, an Istanbul institution, where fans line up for light-as-air profiteroles drowning in rich chocolate sauce.
4. Walk a little further down the street and you will find Saray Muhallebisi, a popular place for traditional Turkish sweets. Fancy Tavuk Gogsay- a burnt chicken breast pudding. Yes you read that right! This unlikely concoction actually tastes a lot better than it sounds, like a rice pudding, but much chewier. You can't taste the chicken, which is added simply for a more interesting texture. But if that's not for you, try the Firin sütlaç, a cross between a rice pudding and a crème brulee, with a crispbaked top but a soft and creamy inside. The asure pudding, a colourful medley of fruit, nuts and pulses such as chickpeas (yes, chickpeas), has an interesting history. Also called Noah's Pudding, legend has it that when Noah ran out of food on the ark, he tossed everything he had into a bowl to feed the people and animals. If you are not the pudding lover? Sample the sinfully rich künefe, a cousin of the baklava, but with a crunchy topping made of shredded filo pastry wrapped around cheese and doused with syrup. Or the imrik halva, a semolina pudding reminiscent of kesari bhath.
5. By this time you may be in need of a lighter treat, it is time for Turkish ice cream Dondurma from one of the many vendors on the street. This isn't your garden variety ice cream though, as you may discover when the vendor turns your cone completely upside down and the ice cream stays put. Turkish ice cream contains mastic, a gum which makes it soft and elastic at the same time. Even odder, it also contains the dried roots of a species of orchid.
6. Round off your day by going round the corner to the legendary Pera Palace Hotel for high tea. It's pricey at TL 55 or so per person (around Rs 1650) but how often do you get to have tea and cake in the hotel where Agatha Christie wrote “Murder on the Orient Express”? Ask to see Room 411; it's the room where Christie stayed. Other famous guests here include Ernest Hemingway, Greta Garbo, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Edward the VIII. On offer are a range of French pastries served on exquisite china, including delicate macaroons and rich Turkish treats (try the gooey walnut cake).
P.S. Do not forget to carry our cupcake tote to all the beautiful places that you visit in Turkey.
With a whiff of baklava in the air, we promise to bring you more eclectic desserts and much more from all over the globe. Till then, do send us recipes or even pictures of your favourite desserts!