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How to make Turkish Delight

Stacks of Turkish Delight for sale in Bodrum. Photo by David Lansing.

At the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul I saw mounds and mounds of Turkish Delight (lokum in Turkey). But I think the capital of Turkish Delight has to be Bodrum. Walking around the alleyways of the old town you’re assaulted with boxes of Turkish Delight in every flavor imaginable stacked five feet high.

Until the arrival of refined sugar in the late 18th century, lokum meant an amalgam of honey and wheat flour. Then an Istanbul confectioner, Haci Bekir, got his hands on some white sugar and corn flour and began making these jellied sweets we know today as Turkish Delight.

Such was Haci’s fame and acclaim that he was soon appointed chief confectioner at Topkapi Palace. The sweet came to international fame after a delighted British traveler (it’s always the Brits, isn’t it?) took a sample back to England, wowing his mates.

Amazingly, the Istanbul sweet shop, which Haci Bekir opened in 1777, is still doing a roaring trade in lokum. So you can check that out, if you want, or make your own. Here’s a classic recipe for Tukish Delight.

Lokum (Turkish Delight)

1 lb. sugar

2 1/2 cups water

1 tsp. lemon juice

2 tbl. rose-water

2 oz. cornflour

icing sugar

Lay a piece of muslin in a tin and dust it with cornflour. Boil the sugar, water, and lemon juice in a saucepan, stirring constantly. Stir the rose-water in with the flour in a separate bowl then slowly pour the flour into the saucepan, stirring all the while over medium heat. When the mixture thickens to jelly, pour it into the tin and let it cool. Once cool, turn it onto a bench dusted with icing sugar. Cut into squares and cover generously with more icing sugar.

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Phantom jets over Bodrum

Maybe you’ve heard: Turkey and Syria have been squabbling lately. Syria shoots down a Turkish Phantom F4, Syria says it was in their airspace, Turkey sends tanks up to the border, etc., etc.

So we’re at this café on the beach in Bodrum, ordering up some nice cool Efes and some meze dishes, just, you know, kicking back and enjoying a summer day on the water. And BOOM! Out of nowhere comes seven Turkish Air Force Phantom F4s—heading right for our restaurant on the beach.

Dogs howl, babies cry, old ladies faint, and I duck under the table. It’s terrifying. The jets fly so low that I swear I could see the lead pilot’s decal of Ataturk on his helmet. Then they bank hard and fly not more than a hundred feet over the Bodrum castle.

And then they do this again. And again. And again.

For at least half an hour we were bombarded. It was if they were practicing bomb drops on Bodrum harbor. Except without the bombs. Flying low, straight at the beach, the harbor, the castle. Our table shook so much that you had to hold your glass or it would have been knocked over. The dogs couldn’t stand it. I swear I saw several of them go crazy and run off like stampeding cattle, howling madly as they went. Frankly, I felt like doing the same.

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Bodrum’s windmills

The evocative windmills that overlook Bodrum harbor. Photos by David Lansing.

It was hot yesterday. Somewhere in the mid-90s (or about 70 degrees celcius). And we’d had a long day. Lots of walking about: the harbor, the castle of St. Peter, the shopping district. By four o’clock, I was ready to head back to the hotel and either go for a swim or take a nap. Maybe both. But Sidar, my little Sancho Panza, had other ideas.

“Come on, guys, just one more stop. It will be worth it.”

“Where are you taking us?” I asked him.

“To the windmills. We must see them.”

Like I said, Sidar is a Turkish Sancho Panza.

The outdoor cafe next to the Bodrum windmills.

So up into the hills overlooking Bodrum we went, our taxi bumping over the dusty road. And what is waiting for us at the top of the hill? What looks like a barren dusty parking lot (and maybe it once was) that is now an odd little outdoor café with a dozen or so bent-wood chairs grouped around three or four tables that looks to have been made from scraps of lumber. There’s a little homemade hut, like an old fireworks stand, and an old guy sitting outside on a log smoking a cigarette and, when summoned, bringing beers to a young couple slouched on two of the chairs watching the gulets come in to Bodrum harbor at sunset.

Oh, and the ruins of several stone windmills. The windmills are derelict but evocative. Particularly near sunset. Sidar says they were built sometime in the mid-18th century and were used by the locals to grind flour until the 1970s.

There is a barbed wire fence around the windmills and signs to keep out, but the father of a family with two young kids simply holds up the barbed wire while his family slips inside. The boys, no more than nine or ten, grab stones and throw them at the hapless windmills.

“This first one doesn’t look too bad,” says Sidar, pointing at the windmill furthest out on the point. Indeed, it looks like it’s been recently cleaned and rehabilitated. Sidar says that the local council of monuments plans to restore all of the windmills. “But it will take some time. There is not much money.”

The goal is to give tourists another reason to visit Bodrum. But I don’t know. I kind of like the windmills the way they are now. A little sad and ruined. And I like the no-doubt illegal outdoor café in the parking lot. A place where you can get a cold Efes and watch the Turkish gulets going in and out of the harbor without worrying about someone trying to sell you tourist trinkets.

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Meze being brought to table as Sidar, middle, explains to us what everything is. Photos by David Lansing.

The only think I don’t like about Turkish food is that there is always too much of it. When Captain Yorgo invited us on a blue cruise aboard his Turkish gulet, the Zeus, I asked Sidar if maybe we shouldn’t stop at a market and get some snacks to take with us.

“I think he’s got snacks and drinks on board,” Sidar said.

What an understatement. While we were cruising the coast, a cook was down in the galley making lunch for us. I’m thinking maybe sandwiches and some fruit or something, but then Captain Yorgo and his crew start bringing dishes to the table and it’s one meze after the other: the typical Turkish summer salad, coban salatasi, made with chopped tomato, cucumber, onion and peppers, which I love; kisir, a type of bulgur salad; a carrot salad called havuc salatasi; smoked eggplant and yogurt; chickpeas with pine nuts; and then the kebabs of chicken and the kofte meatballs and some wonderful marinated octopus dish.

Brienneh, one of the guests on the blue cruise, tries to digest lunch. Photo by David Lansing.

It just kept coming and coming until there wasn’t any more room on the table for any more dishes and we had to start combining plates to make more room. See, the thing is that in Turkey, you would eat all this food slowly. You’d have some raki and a bite of bulgur salad and you’d chat with your friends for awhile and then maybe have a single stuffed grape leaf and another small sip of raki, and so it would go for three or four hours. You might even take a short nap in the middle of all this and then come back to the table. But Americans don’t do that. Not for nothing are we known around the world for our fast food. We fill our plate, down it all in 15 or 20 minutes, and move on to the next thing.

So when all this food was presented to us, we really didn’t quite know what to do. Some of us just looked at it. Some of us took pictures of it. Me, I took a single stuffed grape leaf, got a cold Efes, and sat back enjoying the sun, the water, and the company.

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Red carrots, covered with fresh dill, at the Bodrum farmers' market. Even Sidar said he had never seen carrots like this. Photos by David Lansing.

More about the farmers’ market in Bodrum yesterday: It was kind of like a moveable feast for me. I’d stop at one stall and buy a little bag of cherries, eating them while I walked around some more, and then maybe buy a few cashews, some plump dried apricots, a few olives, and even a peynirli börek (cheese pie).

About those dried apricots: I don’t know what they do to them, but Turkish dried apricots are the best in the world. I fell in love with them in Istanbul and now buy them wherever I see them (and you see them a lot).

Nuts, olives, and stuffed dried figs for sale at the Bodrum farmers' market. Photo by David Lansing.

One of the other wonderful things I found at the market were dried figs stuffed with sesame seeds and almonds. They were being sold by this little old lady named Elif. As I got near her stand, she practically grabbed me by the arm to drag me over to taste her figs. To be honest with you, I took one just to be polite. But Elif knows her figs. These were incredible. And so I ended up buying a dozen of them. I think the trick is going to be making sure I don’t scarf them all down at one time back in my hotel room. They’re that good.

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