Sticky obsession

Shabnam Minwalla | Updated on September 14, 2018 Published on September 14, 2018

Also known as lokum, the Turkish Delight elevates love for candies to another level

Edmund Pevensie is not one of literature’s endearing characters. He’s beastly towards his little sister, Lucy. He squabbles with his older siblings, Susan and Peter. He lies about Narnia. And, worst of all, he betrays his family to the White Witch — in exchange for “several pounds of the best Turkish Delight”.

Like most fans of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I always found Pevensie unfathomable. His treachery I could understand. His motives I could not.

Then, a couple of months ago, I bit into a Turkish Delight at the Egyptian Spice Market in Istanbul. And realised that — spiteful and sullen though he was — Pevensie had a point.

It’s not that I hadn’t encountered Turkish Delight before. I’d heard the story about the Sultan and his quarrelsome harem. According to this colourful tale, a sultan was so sick of his bickering mistresses that he ordered his chefs to come up with an irresistible dessert that would sweeten their temperaments. The chefs rose to the challenge and whipped up a gel of starch and honey that they called rahat-al-hulqum or throat comforter. Gradually, this acquired new names (lokum and then Turkish Delight) and new flourishes (coffee, ginger, sour cherry, chocolate, nuts and carrots, to name just a few).

Over the years I’ve consumed more than my fair share of synthetic cubes in pale pastel colours, the kinds of confection available at airport shops and supermarkets that taste distinctly like sugar-dusted rubber. During an earlier visit to Istanbul, we’d seen traditional shops selling lokum — plump rolls sitting inside glass cases in an intimidating array of flavours. But we didn’t dare venture into these dazzling candylands.

This time, though, foodie fortune smiled upon us. We signed up for a walking tour that culminated in the Egyptian Spice Bazaar, a covered market lined with shops selling fruit teas, candied fruits, nuts and elaborate spice mixes. And, of course, heaps and heaps of Turkish Delight — long wobbly rolls in dark brown and ballet pink, milk white and burgundy red. The guide led us to a shop to taste the lokum.

The shop offered little fragments of honey-hued lokum, flecked with greenish pistachio, the classic variety. Tentatively, we tried the little jellied cubes and nodded our approval. At which point the portly shopkeeper’s Possible Customer Alert went “boing”. He rushed to the glass case at the back of the shop, pulled out a long brown roll, and chopped it into small pieces. “Almond Turkish Delight,” he explained, holding out the plate.

I’m a badam-over-pista person. I reached out and popped a piece into my mouth, and knew that I had stumbled upon the flavour of Istanbul. The soft, outer layer of nougat held a sweet, nutty filling — almost marzipan, but studded with roasted almonds.

It was a moment of revelation, a moment that shed sudden light on Pevensie’s hitherto bizarre behaviour.

It was also a moment during which I quickly estimated the money in my handbag and the space in our suitcases.

And a moment that summarily scuttled our earnest plans for the day.

I’m mortified to report that instead of visiting the Blue Mosque we spent the afternoon in the Spice Market, stuffing ourselves silly. We sipped pomegranate tea, snacked on the local halwa and nibbled on some nuts. But we spent most of our time and tummy-space on lokum.

By this point, the shopkeeper’s Greedy Customer Alert had definitely gone “boing-boing”. He pulled out different rolls from the glass case. We tried the deep red pomegranate Turkish Delight and the lemon-and-hazelnut kind. We adored the plain white nougat. And we fell in love with the cinnamon-sprinkled delights. We found the traditional rose lokum pretty but oversweet, and the ones oozing Nutella pointless.

Packing our bags in Istanbul was a torturous business. Unpacking them in Mumbai was a glorious but fattening one. As it usually is after most holidays.

Years and years ago, Busybee — Bombay’s most beloved foodie and columnist — wrote a drooly piece about the goodies he brought back with him after trips abroad. I saved the column, determined to follow his unmatched advice about English hams and French cheeses. Then somewhere along the way, I misplaced the little rectangle of newsprint. So now I’ve started my own list of suitcase-stuffers from distant shores.

Overnight, Turkish Delight has risen to the very top. It is right up there with turrón jijona, a Spanish sweet made with almonds, honey and egg white, and senbei rice crackers from Japan. And then there are Tunnock’s tea cakes — shortbread biscuit topped with meringue and dipped in chocolate — from England, caramelised pili nuts from the Philippines, turó rudi — that strange but addictive cheese bar covered with chocolate — from Hungary. Let’s not forget the dried plums from China and sour-spicy tamarindo balls from Mexico.

These are created not just from honey and nuts, but from stories and memories. These are foods that can beam us back to Tokyo and Budapest, even months after the suitcases have been stashed in the attic and boarding passes tossed in the bin.


Shabnam Minwalla is a journalist and author. Her latest book is What Maya Saw






Tamarindo balls


Turkish Delight is a tricky dish to attempt at home. So, here is a recipe for the sour-spicy tamarindo balls from Mexico.


  • 300g tamarind pods
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup of water
  • 2-3 tbsp of red chilli powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt

For coating

  • (Mix all ingredients and keep aside)
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp red chilli powder
  • 1 tsp of salt


  • 1 Peel the tamarind pods and remove the the veins from the flesh.
  • 2 In a saucepan combine water, sugar, salt and chilli powder and boil. When it starts to boil, add in the tamarind pods and cook on medium low heat for about 10-15 minutes or until the liquid evaporates and the tamarind dissolves into a paste.
  • 3 Set aside to cool. Remove some of the seeds. It’s fine if some seeds remain, as they add texture to the candy. Take some of the tamarind paste and form it into a ball with your hands. If the paste is too sticky, sprinkle more sugar and chilli powder on it.
  • 4 Once all the balls are ready, roll them over the spicy-sugar mixture. Rub a little bit of this mixture on your palm and roll the ball until round.

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Published on September 14, 2018
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