It was our last day in Istanbul and we’d done a long walk through Eminönü. Now, late in the afternoon it was time for a small indulgence with a çay (pronounced chai). Just as I was about to say this to The Family, she indicated a lokanta in front of us. We’d eaten at lokantas before, but hadn’t looked for one after coming to Istanbul. Going into one would be a nice way to say goodbye to our experience of Turkish food.
The food that we’d eaten in lokantas ranged from wholesome to stunning. This one must have been somewhere within this spectrum judging by the number of people who were having a large meal at this odd time, halfway between lunch and dinner. We found our last baklava with the çay. This looked like it was a self-service restaurant, but there were some waiters around. We were told that our order would come to us at the table, and it did very quickly. We looked around the tiled interior, the mirrors on the wall, the interesting lampshades, the railing on the upper floor where there was more seating, and elegant marble-topped tables and spindly chairs. “Nice way to end the day,” The Family said. I agreed.
On my first day in Istanbul I had to stop every few steps to look in at the windows of sweet shops. The Family wanted to get to the Topkapi Palace at a reasonable time, and my distraction wasn’t helping.
I couldn’t stop to taste, so I did the next best thing: take a few photos. I always thought that halwa, Turkish Delight, was the main Turkish sweet. I was only just beginning to find that was a false impression. The commonest sweet in Istanbul seemed to be baklava.
When we planned to visit Turkey during the month of Ramazan, one of the things we looked forward to was the food. “There’s bound to be special food that’s only made in this month,” The Family told me. So when we finished our dinner on the second of the month, we asked the friendly waiter about special Ramazan sweets. That’s how we encountered Güllaç (pronounced guellash). We were too full to try one of these enormous helpings that evening (featured photo). When we did later, we were charmed by the thin layered pastry, filled with crushed nuts and pomegranate and oozing milk. The food of Ramazan is usually very traditional, so Güllaç is probably close to the origins of Turkish food.
Our evening’s guide through the esoteric world of Turkish sweets led us to the counter where varieties of sweets were on display. Another speciality of Ramazan, we were told, is the Ekmek Kadayifi. Ekmek is Turkish for bread, and the name of this dish would translate to bread pudding. It is essentially bread soaked in syrup and topped off with clotted cream (called kaymak). What made it special? Perhaps only a cultural connection with this month. I understand that the Id which signals the end of Ramazan is celebrated as Seker Bayrami, a time when plates full of sweets are served to family and friends. The simple Ekmek Kadayifi finds a place on this plate.
The cafe was full of Turkish families at their Iftari dinner. The children were happy at this treat at the end of a long and stressful day. Many of them ended their meals with Güllaç or Ekmek Kadayifi, but a significant fraction also had the perennial favourite, baklava, on their table. Baklava was another syrup soaked delight that I would get to love a little too much. After the trip I had to work hard to shed a couple of kilos which I attribute entirely to these nut-filled syrupy pastries.