The art of Turkish delight in Greece, in general.
With an aroma of rose, cloves, cinnamon and a sweet taste that gives pleasure to the palate, the loukumi, this small sweet that even today in the traditional coffee shops of Greece accompanies the ember-roasted food, reached from the sarayas and harems of the Ottoman sultans to our days coffee and is an integral part of the treat in Orthodox monasteries.
The history of Turkish delight, what the Anglo-Saxons call “Turkish Delight”, goes back to the end of the 18th century. According to one version, the Kastamonu-born confectioner Haji Bekir invented the lokumi when he heard the sultan shouting in anger because he had broken his tooth from the hard candy he was eating, and demanding a soft sweet. He rushed to the small pastry shop he had opened in Bahcekapi, Istanbul, poured water, sugar, flour, citric acid and rose water into the cauldron and began to stir it for hours until it became a clear, sticky mixture, which he poured onto a flat surface smeared with almond oil, and let it cool. Then, he cut it into small pieces, one bite each, and sprinkled them with sugar. Tried the dessert, it was soft and easy to chew. The famous rahat lokum had been “born” and gave Haji Bekir the title of the Palace’s chief confectioner.
According to another version, Sultan Abdul Hamid I, unable to bear the nagging of his wives and the hundreds of concubines he had in his harem, called the best confectioners to Topkapi’s sarai and asked them to make a sweet that would sweeten the women to stop shouting and complaining. Turkish delight was the dessert he chose.
Hadji Bekir started in 1777 from Kastamonou to reach the city to open there, in Bahcekapi, a small candies and loukumi workshop and become the chief confectioner of the Palace. His art was continued by his son, Mehmet Muhyiddin Efendi, and his grandson, Ali Muhyiddin Haji Bekir. After the death of Ali Muhyiddin Haji Bekir (descendant of the first Haji Bekir) in 1974, his daughters inherited the business and it was run by his son-in-law, Dogan Sahin. Sahin restored Haji Bekir’s shop in Bahcekapi and today it is exactly as it was when it first opened.
Referring to the secrets of the art of Turkish delight, Dogan Sahin says that the recipe is not something like a state secret, but a matter of professional ethics, professional finesse, selection of raw materials and baking. “Our principle is to uphold tradition and professional ethics,” he asserts.
Haji Bekir, according to Sahin, initially used raw cane sugar or a mixture of honey and petimize. In 1811, when a German created niseste (starch), Haji Bekir used it to replace the flour he put in the loukoumies and thus gave them a satiny texture.
At the time when Turkish delights were first created, their name was “Rahatul Khulkum” which meant “that which relieves the throat”. Turkish delight arose from the corruption of this name. At the beginning of the 18th century, an English tourist bought Hadji Bekir’s Turkish delights from Istanbul and brought them to Europe. Because it was not easy to pronounce the name “Rahatul Khulkum” he renamed them “Turkish Delight”.
With the passage of time, technology also entered the Haji Bekir Turkish Delight business. The workers who spent hours stirring the cauldrons where the Turkish delight mixture boiled with spoons were replaced by machines, while the fire from the wood lit under the cauldrons was replaced by a propane fire.
Haji Bekir became a symbol of an era. The Maltese painter Preziosi depicted Hadji Bekir in his work “The Confectioner”, which is now in the Louvre Museum. Haji Bekir’s delights entered the songs and the pages of literature. “And Haji Bekir lokum his sigh” sang the older ones. Maria Iordanidou did not fail to put Hadzi Bekir’s Turkish Delights in the pages of “Loxandra”, while the daughter of the Emir of Mecca, Princess Mihbah Haidar, in the third chapter of her book “Arabesque” entitled “The creator of Turkish Delight” refers to Hadzi Bekir and his shop.
Soon, Turkish delight went beyond the borders of the Ottoman Empire and became the favorite delicacy of Napoleon the Great and much later of the English Prime Minister Winston Churchill, while it is said that the Spanish painter Pablo Picasso did not spend a day without eating Turkish delight. Not even the famous film “Jilda” and wife of the Aga Khan, Rita Hayworth, was charmed by the Turkish delight. A Turkish journalist insisted on doing an interview with her, but faced her constant refusal. Finally, he managed to get the interview. How; Offering Hayworth a box of Turkish Delights. Recently, a children’s film, “The Chronicles of Narnia”, skyrocketed the sales of Turkish delight in Great Britain, as everyone rushed to try this sweet with which the White Witch of the film lured the four children who were fighting her.
In our country, the art of Turkish delight arrived from Polis in the first decades of the 19th century. Over the years, the Greek Turkish delight makers added new elements to the classic recipe and Turkish delights became part of the Greek tradition. Today, loukums are produced in many parts of Greece, but the most famous ones are from Syros, the SOYTZOYK LOYKOYM from Komotini and a variation of them, the akanedes from Serres.