I had always detested Turkish Delight – that was until I went to Istanbul for the first time. I soon discovered a newfound respect for what the locals call “Lokum”. The sweet, as it is known today, was developed by a man called Haci Bekir. He moved to Istanbul and opened a confectionery shop in 1777. The shop still operates today and is a famous tourist attraction in the city.
Lokum was introduced to Western Europe in the 19th century. An unknown Briton reputedly became very fond of the delicacy during his travels to Istanbul and purchased cases of it, to be shipped back to Britain under the name “Turkish Delight”. It became a major delicacy in Britain and throughout Continental Europe for high class society. During this time, it became a practice among upper class socialites to exchange pieces wrapped in silk handkerchiefs as presents.
In London, I was given bars of Fry’s Turkish Delight as a child, and I got very bored of them after a while. Yeah, they were tasty and the goo in the middle was VERY tasty, but ultimately it was just another chocolate bar; a confection you could find on any supermarket shelf. I had never really been interested in the history and legend of Lokum, I just presumed that the Turkish people must despise it as one of their “local treats” in much the same way Britons would denounce such local things as Haggis or Brighton Rock. In that sense, I mean that it’s just for the tourists, and you wouldn’t eat it often – if ever – if you actually lived in the country (for example, I would NEVER buy a stick of rock from Brighton Pier haha).
There were so much Lokum on display in shop windows around Istanbul, especially in the Sultanahmet district where I spent most of my time and where my hostel was located. I can remember walking down the streets near the mosques perpendicular the Istanbul Tram and constantly staring in to every shop window that I passed.
The Lokum here just looks awesome, and there were so many different varieties and shapes and it would have been good to have a tasting session, but one of the pitfalls of travelling solo is that sometimes you become TOO sensible and start counting your Lira before you get the chance to get too excited!