Bitter sip, sweet bite
Life has sweet moments and bitter times. Sweets and bitter tastes go well together. They balance each other, pretty much like life. Sweetness is best appreciated with a little bitterness, just like having a sip of Turkish coffee with a morsel of Turkish delight. The soothing texture and the delightful aromatic sweetness of the Turkish delight balance the bitterness of Turkish coffee, an ideal combination to tantalize the taste buds. There is another unseen component to enjoy this inseparable duo: It is time. You have to take your time, sit back, relax and savor the moment. Now you have the perfect balance.
Both Turkish delight and Turkish coffee are well-known tastes that originate from Ottoman times, hence they are also the culinary of heritage of many countries that were once part of the Ottoman territory. But what are they exactly? Everybody seems to know them, but it becomes blurry once you go into the details.
Turkish delight is a gelatinous squidgy sweet made only with three ingredients plus a flavoring. It is only sugar water and starch, and a flavoring of choice, such as rose, mastic, mint, lemon or other fruit extracts. However, it can also be made without any flavoring, just to enjoy the soft velvety pillowy texture is enough to admire a properly made Turkish delight. Sometimes certain nuts such as walnuts, hazelnuts, or pistachios step in. In that case the flavorings are out of the scheme. An unwritten rule that no one seems to notice, is that it is either a flavor like rose, or a nut-like pistachio that is used, but never the two together in the traditional Turkish delight. Unlike its Western imitations, gelatin or other jelling agents are never used. In the old times, pure wheat starch was the choice of starch; nowadays cornstarch is also widely used. Of course Turkish delight is not the word for it in Turkey, we call our most classical sweetmeat “lokum,” pronounced “locoum,” which is not very difficult to say. I wish the world would recognize it with this name, and just call it “lokum,” it will be instrumental to stop all the controversies with our neighboring countries who tend to swap the Turkish tag with their nation’s name. After all, we were all a part of those Ottomans.
Turkish coffee is both a method of brewing coffee and also the type of coffee, with its particular roasting and grounding method fit for brewing the coffee. In short it must be 100 percent medium slow roast Arabica, very finely grounded to an almost powdery stage. The Turkish coffee is mixed with water and sugar if desired, in a special coffee pot called “cezve,” mixed and put on slow heat until it raises a developing froth, almost to a boiling point, and then transferred immediately to a cup. This raising and transferring step is repeated twice or three times in short intervals, to ensure that the coffee does not boil over and lose its desired froth. The coffee grounds remain in the coffee, and one has to take a moment for the coffee grounds to settle at the bottom of the cup. Now the coffee can be enjoyed, first sipping the froth, then the rest, until only the thick muddy ground coffee remains at the bottom. Now it is time to turn the cup upside down to the saucer to read your fortune from the coffee grounds. Like the “lokum,” we did not call Turkish coffee with the Turkish tag in the past; it was just “kahve,” but with the introduction of instant coffee, often called by the brand name Nescafe, and other coffee types, we started to differentiate it as Turkish coffee. When that happened, again our dear neighboring countries started to use their nation’s tag, as always.
One thing that astonishes people who are not familiar with Turkish coffee is that the coffee particles remain in the coffee, which is an acquired sensation, a kind of gritty texture we enjoy sip after sip. Apparently some do not develop a taste for it: In 1867, the famous American writer Mark Twain tasted Turkish coffee during his visit to Istanbul and absolutely hated it, describing his disappointment in these words: “The cup is small, it is smeared with grounds; the coffee is black, thick, unsavory of smell, and execrable in taste. The bottom of the cup has a muddy sediment in it half an inch deep. This goes down your throat, and portions of it lodge by the way and produce a tickling aggravation that keeps you barking and coughing for an hour.”
Well one’s tastes cannot be argued. It is a pity that he did not like the experience. Maybe all he needed was a morsel of lokum to go with it, just to add some sweetness, but more to sooth his throat. Actually the name for Turkish delight was “rahat lokum,” coming from rahat-ul-hulkum, literally meaning “soothing or relieving the throat.”
Now that the “Şeker Bayramı, aka Sugar Bayram” is starting (we used to call Ramadan holiday as such), all we need is a piece of “lokum” with “kahve.”
Fork of the Week: My two favorite lokum shops are Cafer Erol and Cemilzade, I tend to prefer the first for their wide varieties and the latter for the silky softness of their freshly made classical lokums. Visit one of their shops and you’ll be rewarded with the true lokum, made in the traditional way. www.cemilzade.com.tr
Cafer Erol shop at Kadıköy is a sweet lover’s delight, also a heaven for handmade candies. www.sekercicafererol.com
Cork of the Week: No Şeker Bayramı visit is complete without having a tiny shot of liquor to go along with your coffee. Nowadays we seem to have forgotten about this tradition, maybe because we also lost to the state monopoly Tekel that used to produce the most wonderful fruit liquors possible.
One of the rare brands in the market has orange, mint, banana, sour cherry, raspberry, mastic and bitter almond flavors.
By the way, if there is anybody out there visiting Venice nowadays, visit Café Vergnano at Rialto, they’ll make you perfect Turkish coffee for 4,5 Euros, and consider this as the teaser of my next article.