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Turkish delights and baklava are sweet little treats you can take home with you and give to family and friends. However, just like buying a regular souvenir, there are some things you need to be aware of, especially since you’re taking home something perishable. You want it to be enjoyed and not thrown away as soon as you open the box.
For the record, I’m no expert on the preparation of Turkish delights and I’ve only visited Istanbul once. I’m writing this post purely from experience and a little research about other travelers’ experience.
First of all, what’s a Turkish delight?
Turkish delights or lokum are confections made of starch and sugar, flavored and usually mixed with nuts, dried fruits, and other fillings. There are dozens of different types of Turkish delights, from rose-flavored ones to chocolate filled with Nutella. It is also rolled into desiccated coconut, powdered sugar, or even more nuts. It is dense but soft and a little chewy in texture.
And what’s Baklava?
Baklava is a sweet pastry made with layers of phyllo (filo) sheets, filled with chopped nuts (typically with pistachios or walnuts) and soaked in sugar syrup or honey. The layers of phyllo sheets are glazed with melted butter and sugar so it’s flaky when baked.
These Turkish treats are absolutely divine and you shouldn’t leave Turkey without tasting any of these little bites of heaven or even taking home a box or two.
Here are some things you should take note of when buying Turkish delights and Baklava in Istanbul:
1. BUY FRESH
There are plenty of shops around Istanbul selling freshly made Turkish delights and baklava, there’s absolutely no need to buy pre-packaged ones. You can’t be too sure when it was made nor was it packed properly. Fresh is always best!
2. AVOID THE MARKET
It’s true that most probably you’ll get a better price when you buy at any of Istanbul’s bazaars or markets. But buying cheap, more often than not, doesn’t translate to a better product. Buy only from well-known confection shops in the city. There’s plenty and you would know right away which are the reputable ones for you will see lines of tourists and locals alike purchasing these treats. It will be priced a bit higher but you can be guaranteed of the quality and freshness of the product.
3. CHECK HOW THE CONFECTIONS ARE HANDLED AND STORED
There’s been more than one occasion where a customer buys a box of Turkish delight and once they opened the box, they find worms or pantry moths have already grown and the confections are now inedible. We, unfortunately, experienced this too.
Some say that the nuts inside the Turkish delights could have been the source but that would mean that the raw ingredients, to begin with, are already infested with larvae even before the Turkish delights were put on display. I think it’s more of how the food was handled, stored and displayed.
This is the very reason why I suggest buying only from well-known and reputable confection shops. Observe how the confections are handled, if they were on display inside glass shelves, and how often they replenish the treats on display.
We didn’t buy ours from the market and the shop we bought it from was generally clean (and the shop owner was super nice and friendly) but the Turkish delights were displayed in stacks and in open shelves which aren’t very sanitary.
4. TRY BEFORE YOU BUY
Some shops will give you a free taste of their confections. The owner of the shop where we bought our loot was so generous that he let us sample anything we want! Don’t be afraid to ask if you could taste some before you buy.
5. CHECK IF THE WEIGHT IS CORRECT
Turkish delights and baklava are priced per kilo and as an extra precaution, check if they have weighed your treats properly because unfortunately, there are dishonest shopkeepers not just in Turkey, but all over the world. When we purchased ours, we told the shopkeeper exactly how much we wanted and then we picked out different flavors. He arranged them nicely on the box and showed us exactly how much they weigh.
6. VACUUM-SEAL THE BOXES
Most shops have a vacuum-sealing machine and would be more than happy to wrap up your treats nicely so that it’s ready for travel. This should also keep the candies fresh.
We have been told that it can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to 6 months. You can even freeze it if you want to keep it longer. But honestly, I don’t think sweet treats like these are meant to be stored for longer than a month.
7. BAKLAVAS ARE A GREAT ALTERNATIVE
Baklavas sold in confection shops are freshly-made. You can tell right away if it’s not because it would be soggy-looking and the top would not be golden brown or bright in color. I just absolutely love baklavas especially the pistachio variety, although some people may find it too sweet.
Baklavas have a shelf-life of at least two weeks, however, I suggest consuming it within 3-4 days after purchase. It can be stored at room temperature and on an airtight container but if you want to keep it longer, you can store it in the refrigerator.
Our Personal Experience
Just in case you’re wondering, we found the moths in the Turkish delight about a month after we returned from Istanbul when we already ate most of it. No tummy aches or anything. It was stored in the chiller in an airtight container so I’m thinking a few eggs somehow found their way into them before we bought it. Other people have experienced much worse, moths and worms all over just a few days after purchase. Most of these people are those who have purchased from the market, open stalls or bought the pre-packaged treats instead of freshly-made ones.
This post is not meant to discourage you from buying because really, these treats are delicious! And what we had experienced is not the norm but rather just an unfortunate incident. I hope that these tips can help you in choosing where and which Turkish delights to buy when you visit Turkey.
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Other Istanbul, Turkey Travel Posts:
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Istanbul Travel: Inside the Hagia Sophia
30 Photos That Will Inspire You To Visit Istanbul, Turkey
White House Hotel Istanbul Review