“Bordell-Dessert”: Turkish dessert from Istanbul’s red street
Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside and sweet as sugar. Halka Tatlisi is popular among locals and tourists. The Turkish dessert used to be the best seller, especially on the red street of Istanbul.
We will cross the busy Galata bridge. In front of us is a lone street vendor who has loaded his stand with a popular dessert: halka tatlisi, a ring of dough that is fried and then bathed in syrup. You can feel the sugar immediately – the donut is sweet. It is also the sugar that gives the candy its nickname: “little dessert”. But I found out about it a few weeks after the holiday when I stumbled upon a BBC report that told the story of the dessert.
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Traditionally, sweets were especially widespread in the Karaköy district. The waterfront is on the European side of Istanbul, at the northern end of the Golden Horn, the main entrance to the Bosphorus. From the 19th century onwards, immigrants from many nations settled there. In 1884 they were allowed to open the first brothels. More and more establishments came. The multicultural and increasingly industrialized neighborhood became a red street.
“At that time, Anatolian merchants from the countryside and smaller towns came to Karakoy to do business and often visited the brothels,” Istanbul driver Leyla Capaci told the BBC. “The ring dessert is cheap, tasty, high in sugar and became popular here because it was said to give men the energy they needed before and after visiting women.” Halka Tatlisi is one of the oldest and most popular street foods in Turkey. The star-shaped fried donuts are reminiscent of Spanish churros.
Halka tatlisi related to churros
“The difference is that our version – often called ‘Turkish churros’ – has a round shape and is derived from Tulumba Tatlisi,” says Leyla Capaci. Tulumba tatlisi, which look like short and thick churros, are mainly served in celebrations. And during Ramadan, as a sugar kick after the hours of fasting. Be it Turkish or Spanish: all three desserts have similar ingredients and preparation. It is a typical starchy dough in which flour and semolina are mixed.
Then the mass is poured into the hot oil with a pointed tip. Although the recipe is simple, making the sweets is a challenge, famous Turkish chef and restaurateur Somer Sivrioğlu told the BBC: “The temperature of the oil has to be right so that they are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.” The three dessert variations come from medieval Arabic cuisine and They are made with a dessert called zalabiya mushabbak, a type of pancake.
Food historian Nawal Nasrallah told the BBC that many of the dishes arrived in Istanbul when the Ottoman sultans hired Arab chefs to work in their elite kitchens. When the Ottomans conquered Spain in 756, their cuisine spread to the Iberian Peninsula. “Fried donuts in Muslim Spain have been influenced by Middle Eastern cuisine,” says the expert.
Sweets as an aphrodisiac
Even then, people said that dessert had the effect of enhancing lust. “In the Middle Ages, people followed the principles of Galen’s theory of the four humors,” explains the food historian. Medieval physicians believed that human health depended on the balance between the four humors of the body. These included blood, phlegm (phlegm), yellow bile (cholera) and black bile (melancholia).
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Food and drink played an important role in medicine. One or a mixture of four properties heat, cold, wetness and dryness were attributed to each food. This had a certain effect. “Candies were generally thought to be an aphrodisiac; they increased libido due to their warm and moist properties,” Nawal Nasrallah explains.
According to Turkish star chef Sivrioğlu, Halka Tatlisi is still “known as natural Viagra.” But dessert no longer has anything to do with red light. The brothels in Karakoy have been closed for a long time. The last recently closed establishment on Zurafa street is now becoming an art and culture center. Halka Tatlisi can be found in almost every corner of Istanbul. The candy is still said to give strength, but these days it’s for long walks through the million-dollar metropolis.
By the way, variations of the dessert can also be found in Armenian, Cypriot, Serbian, Greek, Macedonian, Bosnian, Bulgarian and Albanian cuisine. Fried and sugary desserts are popular everywhere.
Sources:BBC, “The Standard”, “Eat Smarter”, Edeka, “Planet Knowledge”