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Published: September 30th 2017
Introduction to True Turkish Baklava ...
... while the baklava wasn't as good as I had hoped, the rich, thick Turkish coffee was definitely better than any other version I've had before.
Geo: 41.0059, 28.9814
Coming to Turkey is a bucket list item on its own - travelers from all over the World rave about its charms, the culture, the people, the sights, the food ... ideally, my first foray into this country would have been a three or four week trip hitting up many of the major sights. Unfortunately, this stop in Turkey will only be for two days in Istanbul - but I'll take it, especially since this visit ended up being a matter of convenience.
Flights from Chisinau into the South Caucasus were both expensive and time consuming - most of them involved bad connections through Kiev or Moscow, with the shortest option being at least nine hours of transit time. So when I investigated some other options, including one way flights from Chisinau to Istanbul, and then from Istanbul to Tbilisi, it totally made sense - the total cost of the flights would be just over half of those through Kiev or Moscow, and the flights would only be about two hours each. It was a no brainer!
Truth be told, I'm coming to Istanbul mostly for the food, which is a bit of a mecca of Turkish delights that have been
The Baklava Bible ...
... I was taken aback by the menu when I sat down - a huge picture book, because there were so many varieties of baklava, lokum, cakes, puddings, and Turkish-style ice creams. A veritable Heaven for those with a sweet tooth, and a cash cow to dentists.
adopted all over the World - I want to eat the original versions, to see how all the knockoffs stack up! Baklava, lokum (AKA Turkish Delight), pide (Turkish-style pizza), Turkish coffee, and of course, the mother of all fast foods in Europe, the venerable doner kebab. So many things to try in only two nights ... I don't know if it will be possible, but I'll damn sure try!
Perhaps the most intriguing Turkish food for me is baklava - I've had it all over the World, and more often than not, it has been disappointing. Maybe it's because it's the baklava I am most used to, but I seem to think a properly-made piece of baklava from Byblos Bakery in Calgary is about as good as it gets, particularly their pistachio variety. Very close and perhaps even slightly better, was the variety I had a few years ago in Thessaloniki, Greece. So how would Istanbul's offerings stack up to these awesome interpretations?
Open since 1864, Hafiz Mustafa is a bit of a local institution, and I figured it would be the best place to start this epic search for the World's best baklava. I thought it would be as simple as
Turkish Delights ...
... how could I come all the way to Turkey and not sample some lokum, to the tune of seven pieces, shortly after polishing off the three pieces of baklava? The flavours were a blur, and the most memorable were mint, lemon, and rose - sacrilegiously once more, I think I prefer the delightful lokum we first had last summer in Cyprus - the ones here were a tad too chewy for my liking. For some reason, I don't appreciate the original versions of delicious Turkish foods as much as the knockoffs!
ordering a few pieces and ramming them down my gullet, but little did I know that this quest would not come so easily - first, it would be required to study up on all the different types of baklava, and it wouldn't be as simple as reading the menu. Hafiz Mustafa's offerings are presented in a veritable baklava bible! Would you expect anything less, given that a sublime piece of baklava is an almost religious experience?
The variety of baklava on offer here is astonishing - while I've come across chocolate phyllo dough before, I've never seen the green variety, which I learned is made with pistachios to give it that colour. If the most delicious type of baklava contains chopped pistachios, then it would stand to reason that the use of pistachio phyllo would result in a combination so divine, that it would practically be an out of body experience!
To properly study the baklava bible, it would be necessary to sample a good spectrum of Hafiz Mustafa's offerings - however, such an endeavour is not for the faint of heart. Though a single piece of baklava contains more than enough sugar to send a typical man into diabetic shock, years
of gorging on this super-sweet dessert has given me the supernatural ability to directly inject multiple pieces of baklava into my veins, like the most depraved of heroin addicts. Don't try this at home, folks ...
The pistachio version was a little disappointing, and was richer than the typical piece of baklava, with the addition of cream - the best part was the fragrant note it had, but the rest of it didn't seem to work all that well. The almond and regular pieces were nice and crispy, but had a bit of a doughy flavour to them - though still very good, sacrilegiously, I think I prefer the pistachio version made back home by Byblos Bakery. Even though Turkey is the birthplace of baklava, I think I just happen to like the knockoff North American versions better!
Perhaps it's because I'm like the Canadian that thinks the best Chinese foods are ginger beef and sweet and sour chicken balls, even though they know it's nothing like authentic Chinese food. Or perhaps it's because I'm not enlightened or pure enough to fully understand the Baklava Bible ...
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