Two month hiatus! I’m not dead (I think?) – just traveling and now moving. Oh yes: a new place with a kitchen that has counters and outlets. That’s right, there’s more than one outlet in the general kitchen vicinity – I may go unnecessary appliance-crazy at a Williams Sonoma very soon.
This excitement has kept me away from posting delicious adventures, but I have a slew of posts coming up from some recent travels to Europe and Asia. Conveniently, Julie and I traveled to both in a single wonderful visit to continent-spanning bustling Istanbul. We brought our appetites, but what I should have brought was some insulin. Turks may be second to only Bengalis when it comes to sweet tooths!
There seemed to be 4 main categories of sweets, and the most beautiful were the dazzling pyramids of neon colored Turkish delight. They were kind of chewy, gummy, jelly sweets sometimes with nuts and sometimes with more fruit pieces.
I didn’t know about the many, many puddings that are popular here until my Turkish friend gave me a cheat sheet of what to order. At a dessert parlor like this they usually come topped with a very sweet fruit gelee that had more fruit or nuts in it.
Of course, what I did know about and was excited to have was authentic baklava. Turks perfected baklava in the royal kitchens of Topkapi Palace for the Ottoman Empire. Now they make it with almonds, walnuts, or pistachio and they come in a huge variety of shapes and textures (like shredded baklava) that I’d never have dreamt up.
Familiar Turkish flavors include the classic combination of pomegranate and pistachio.
Cutting a piece of Turkish delight for sampling.
Chocolate pudding with walnuts. The topping was like syrup: very very sweet.
Assorted baklavas and kaymak (a thick cream somewhere between clotted cream and sweet butter – so rich and divine!)
One of my favorite desserts was sutlac, a rice pudding with a scalded top crust. The beauty of Turkish rice pudding is that it is not overly sweet and thinner than Western and Indian counterparts. The burnt milk crust is caramelized and chewy – definitely the best part and you want to include a bit of it with every bite.
At a more fancy-pants place we had rose sorbet, local fruits and of course pomegranate. Rose is a popular flavor for a lot of desserts and was wonderfully aromatic and light against the tartness of pomegranate.
The final type of dessert we discovered was the heavenly confection known as dondurma: Turkish ice cream. Why this hasn’t been introduced to the US is beyond me because it is amazing! The ice cream is rich and dense, like gelato, but has a slightly chewy texture that is almost like ice-cream taffy. Some dondurmas are so chewy you need a knife and fork. They use a tree resin called mastic and a flour made from the root of orchids called salep to impart the chewiness. The flavors are somehow more intense and creamy – Julie and I ended up eating some dondurma every night despite the freezing winter temperatures, we were addicted.
Our drug supplier: MADO. A chain ice cream/dessert parlor with amazing dondurma. The waiters there watched us try out practically everything on the whole menu over the course of our trip. Here, chocolate dondurma over kazandibi – another lightly sweet, almost caramel-tasting burnt milk pudding.
Even the Turkish candy bars were fantastic. The Albeni bar, with its deep chocolate cake and runny caramel enrobed in chocolate, was decadence in crinkly wrapping.
For those 5pm hypoglycemic episodes after sightseeing all day, nothing hit the spot like this Bolero. The squares of crisp wafer layers were like a Kit Kat but with exceptional chocolate-hazelnut filling. Welcome to Istanbul, I hope you brought your insulin.