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Food & Drink

How to truly experience Istanbul's culinary scene

Best desserts in town

There’s no denying that desserts play a huge part in Turkish culture. Quite literally anywhere you look around the city, you’re bound to find a tempting treat beckoning you to just taste it. But how do you know where to go for the ultimate in desserts – whether they’re the syrupy, calorie-laden sweets this country’s famous for or their more international counterparts? We asked Mert Alkaya, whose passion for great dessert has turned him into a veritable expert on the best that Istanbul has to offer


November, 2011

Seval Pastanesi


Osmanlı acıbadem


I prefer to think of the 54-yearold Seval Pastanesi in Çengelköy as the ‘temple of desserts’. They’re unbeatable when it comes to Osmanlı acıbadem, or bitter almond cookie. This is only one of the desserts at Seval Pastanesi that are made with 300-year-old recipes from a work titled ‘Aşçıların Sığınağı’ (‘The Cooks’ Bunker’), pulled out of an Ottoman archive that Prof. Dr. Artun Ünsal shared with Seval Pastanesi.


Osmanlı acıbadem consists of almonds, bitter almonds, sugar and eggs. What sets it apart from other products on the market is that there’s no flour or butter in it. As you’re eating, the most overpowering taste is that of bitter almond, which actually isn’t bitter. Its gooey texture is just perfect –the ultimate feast!



Keşkül with Osmanlı acıbadem


At Seval Pastanesi, the quintessential Turkish dessert, keşkül, is made with farm milk, rice (sübiye), sugar, almonds and bitter almonds. What differentiates it from the keşkül served most other places is that it contains no artificial colourings or corn starch, eggs and vanilla – all of which are generally used to lend it texture. It’s hard to match the light texture and intoxicating almond scent of keşkül with Osmanlı acıbadem, since most places serve up an over-sugared, textureless version of this palatial dessert.


Lemon ice cream Another one of Seval’s specialties is its ice cream. The texture and flavour of this ice cream, made entirely with natural ingredients, is unbelievable. My favourite is the lemon ice cream, which only contains lemons, water and sugar. The secret to the recipe is that lemon rinds are re-strained after they’re grated. This lemon ice cream takes me back to my childhood!




Macaroons have been one of the most popular desserts in İstanbul in recent years – and they’re also one of Seval’s areas of expertise.This sweet must be left to rest for 10-12 minutes prior to baking. In order to get the bottom and top parts of the macaroons to cook evenly, the pan must have hollow sections in which the macaroons are placed. After they’re done baking, macaroons must be kept in a cold fridge, not left sitting outside at room temperature. I know that I’ve personally warned many patisseries in Istanbul on this subject. Other bakeries generally use colouring agents and can’t get the outside crust to be so thin and crispy. Many people think they’re eating macaroons when they’re actually eating something like an almond paste in phosphorous colours. Then they say, ‘I don’t like macaroons’ when they don’t even know what a real macaroon is! The first Ladurée opened in Turkey last year, but unfortunately, the macaroons there come from Monaco, not France. The French are extremely conservative and sensitive on this subject. The macaroons in Turkey aren’t authentic French macaroons, but the ones that come closest to the original are Seval’s. My favourites are their cocoa, pistachio and coffee macaroons.


Çengelköy Caddesi 9, Çengelköy. (0216) 321 55 46.


Karaköy Güllüoğlu




When it comes to baklava, the first names that come to mind are the obvious three: İmam Çağdaş, Güllüoğlu and Zeki İnal Baklavacısı, all from Gaziantep. Good baklava is immediately discernible by its appearance. It should be fresh and crisp, not pale and wilted. Baklava made with thin dough is preferred; the crunchy sounds you hearas soon as you stick the fork in baklava are true signs of quality inthis dessert. Karaköy Güllüoğlu’s baklava is a classic that falls apartin your mouth, making you feel as if your taste buds are on a holiday.


Rıhtım Caddesi, beneath the multilevel parking lot No. 34,Karaköy. (0212) 293 09 10.









I haven’t tasted another şöbiyet (a cream- and pistachio-filled flaky pastry) like the one I ate at Gaziantep’s famous baklava shop, Zeki İnal. For those who aren’t able to travel to Gaziantep, one of the best options available in Istanbul is, hands down, Karaköy’s Köşkeroğlu. The şöbiyet here is the best I’ve had in the city, and it’s extremely tasty thanks to its gooey, light texture.

Mumhane Caddesi, below the multilevelparking lot No. 2/2, Karaköy. (0212) 243 15 91.


Gaziantep Kafadaroğlu Baklava


Sütlü nuriye


You won’t find the sütlü nuriye (a milky baklava variant) you’ll eat in this tiny shop across the street from Kabalcı Kitapevi anywhere else. But beware! Its light, soft, melt-in-your-mouth texture might lead you to eat kilos of this stuff. The hazelnuts in this dessert are crushed, just as I like them – some dessert-makers put sliced hazelnuts in sütlü nuriye, which is just plain wrong. When that happens, my taste buds lose concentration, and I start wondering whether I should eat the baklava or the cut-up hazelnuts first.


Ortabahçe Caddesi 21/G, Beşiktaş. (0212) 258 07 59


Şekerci Cafer Erol




Even though şekerpare (small syrupy cakes) is a widely available and very simple dessert to make, this shop in the Kadıköy market is the only place that gets it right. It’s neither burned nor raw, and at Şekerci Cafer Erol, they never deviate from the standard.


Osmanlı tulumba


The tulumba (fried dough served in sugary syrup) at Cafer Erol is unique in that it’s enormous compared to regular tulumba varieties. You’ll be hard pressed to find another place that makes tulumba the way Şekerci Cafer Erol does – sweet, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.


Şam dessert with almonds


I’m a big fan of irmik helva (a dessert made with semolina, sugar and butter), so it should come as no surprise that one of my favourite desserts is bademli şam tatlısı (made with semolina, yogurt, eggs, sugar, flour and almonds). Cafer Erol doesn’t let us down here, either.


Yasa Caddesi 19, Kadıköy. (0216) 337 11 03


İnci Pastanesi





When it comes to profiterole, the number one address in the city is, of course, İnci Pastanesi on İstiklal Caddesi. First, you experience a brief confusion as to which ready-made profiterole you’ll select from among the ones sitting on the counter. Then, after you pick the lucky one and finish your first plate, you begin eyeing the others. The best chocolate-covered éclair I’ve ever had is also from İnci Pastanesi. The cream inside the éclair should definitely not be chocolate flavoured– nor should it be white or light-textured like whipped cream. It should be cream-coloured and tempered, just like the cream inside the profiteroles.


İstiklal Caddesi 56, Beyoğlu. (0212) 293 92 24



Baylan Pastanesi


Kup Griye


Another legend in Kadıköy is Baylan Pastanesi’s ostentatious ‘Kup Griye’. This 57-year-old dessert is  a Baylan innovation that blends vanilla and caramel ice cream, whipped cream, honey-almond and caramel sauce. Its presentation and appearance are just spectacular. Whenever I’m served a Kup Griye, I don’t eat it for a while; I just watch it and fill my eyes with this magnificent view. The ice cream is the perfect ingredient to balance the elevated levels of sugar in your mouth from the caramel sauce and brittles in this dessert.



Honey éclair


Another flavour left over from my childhood is the honey éclair dessert. The super-sized honey éclairs they made back then have been replaced in recent years by mini-éclairs, which come the size of a single ball of profiterole and are easier to eat. The crunchy caramelised sugar on top, the soft dough and the cream-coloured cream it contains all cause addiction.


Muvakkithane Caddesi 9/A, Kadıköy. (0216) 346 63 50. 




Milk ice cream


Even if I’m not a fan of all Mado ice creams, I particularly adore their milk ice cream. Apparently goat’s milk is the closest to mother’s milk in terms of nutritional value. So it comes as no surprise that Mado’s milk ice cream, made with milk from goats that feed on the Ahır Mountains of Kahramanmaraş, is incredible in both flavour and texture.


İstiklal Caddesi 121, Beyoğlu. (0212) 245 46 31


Pınar Dondurma


Ice cream


If I had to make a sweeping statement about ice cream, I think Turkey’s best ice cream maker is Pınar Dondurma. This modest shop in Sahrayıcedid, run by the same family for the past 25 years, isn’t all that famous. Yet I would give them a 10 out of 10 for texture, flavour and the natural ingredients they use. The friendly, warm family atmosphere is another clue as to why they’re the best in their business. Since the ice cream contains no added sweeteners, thickeners or chemical ingredients, you get the natural flavour of fruits here. The melon, banana and lemon ice cream are all white-coloured. We’re surrounded on all sides by fruit-flavoured industrial products that have the consistency of cream. I insist that Pınar Dondurma will be indispensible to everyone who’s bored of these so-called ‘ice cream’ chains and in search of traditional flavour.


İnönü Caddesi 32, Sahrayıcedid, Kadıköy. (0216) 363 94 95


Maria's Cheesecakes




The first address that comes to mind for cheesecakes is Maria’s Cheesecakes. Sure, you can find this dessert in just about every cafe, but if you want to taste the real thing, then it’s worth taking the trip to Beykoz. I think the most important quality is that it’s always fresh. After a certain number of hours, cake tends to lose its texture. At Maria, they would never let this happen. The high-quality cheese lets you know that you’re enjoying a truly special dessert in terms of taste and consistency. Maria’s Cheesecakes has a branch in Ataşehir, and you can also find them at Dilim Pastanesi in Kuzguncuk.


Çiftlik Mahallesi, Cumhuriyet Caddesi 231/D, Çavuşbaşı Beldesi, Beykoz. (0216) 479 67 81.


J'adore Chocolatier & Cafe



Hot chocolate


As someone who’s tried hot chocolate in just about every place in Istanbul, not liked any of them and finally started to make my own hot chocolate at home, I can confidently say that I’ve had the best hot chocolate of my life here. The chocolate, the sugar level and the texture are phenomenal. Each time, I close my eyes after I take that first sip, let the hot chocolate seep into every part of my mouth and then continue on my quest for unadulterated pleasure.


Chocolate cheesecake

You’ll find chocolate in all forms in this tiny, cosy cafe – and their chocolate cheesecake is one of my essential desserts. The secret is in the sauce, made out of chocolates they produce themselves.


Chocolate cake


You can see the intense cocoa in this cake even before you start eating it. I can’t say that this is a ‘light’ cake by any means, but I guarantee that it’ll make for a holiday in your mouth. In fact, not just the chocolate cake but everything at J’adore is incredible – perfect for those who want to get their chocolate fix... Konyalı Lokantası Orange baklava With a 114-year history, Konyalı is an expert in Ottoman and Turkish cuisine; no meal here should end without the obligatory orange baklava. Konyalı uses its own special sherbet in this rare dessert. It’s light and crispy – and, perhaps best of all, doesn’t burn your throat as you enjoy it.


İstiklal Caddesi, Emir Nevruz Sokak 22 (at the entrance of the Panigia Church), Beyoğlu. (0212) 249 03 33.


Diyar Burma


Burma kadayıf


Freshness and crispiness are just as important in kadayıf (oven-baked shredded pastry soaked in syrup) as they are in desserts such as baklava. Diyar keeps to an exacting standard, with the burma kadayıf (kadayıf that’s been twisted into a rope-like shape) ever light and delicious.


Selamiali Mahallesi, Nuhkuyusu Caddesi 397, Üsküdar. (0216) 532 61 25.



Ali Muhiddin Hacı Bekir 




For some reason, lokum (Turkish delight) has always struck me as a dessert that’s not all that hard to make. The flavour that misleads me to think this each time is the lokum at Hacı Bekir, a shop that’s been in business since 1777. The difference between these sweets and other lokum is immediately noticeable. You absolutely must try the double-roasted pistachio kind.


Akide candy


You can try this symbol of devotion at Hacı Bekir or purchase some as a gift for your loved ones. The cinnamon and lemon flavoured ones are my favourite.


Tamarind sherbet


I’ve already mentioned that I’m after unusual flavours. You won’t find this tangy mother of all sherbets made with Indian dates anywhere else – at least not with this flavour.


İstiklal Caddesi 83/6, Beyoğlu. (0212) 245 13 75. 



Hacı Niyazi Efendi


Lokum with almonds and butter cream


Located within Çiçek Pasajı on İstiklal Caddesi, Hacı Niyazi Efendi has grown to be a master of lokum over the past 107 years. The varietyof Turkish delight offered here will no doubt leave you unable to decide. Keep in mind that this is the first place in Turkey to offer almond and kaymak (butter cream) lokum.


İstiklal Caddesi 80/1, Çiçek Pasajı, Beyoğlu. (0212) 243 03 73. 


Saray Muhallebicisi


Kazandibi – tavuk göğsü – saray muhallebisi


Without a doubt, this is the best patisserie to visit for these three desserts. [Kazandibi is milk pudding with a caramel base; tavuk göğsü is pudding made with stringy chicken breast and saray muhallebisi, yet another kind of milk pudding topped with a thick layer of chocolate.] I don’t even attempt to eat these at any other sweets shop because I now what the original should taste like, and I don’t want to get upset when I can’t find that same flavour. Yes, I really do get upset when I eat a crappy dessert. Even if I give other brands a chance from time to time, my adventure comes to a halt as soon as I taste it and have to leave the dessert I’ve ordered half-eaten. I recommend you try all three with one scoop of ice cream on the side – two scoops are just too much!


İstiklal Caddesi 173, Beyoğlu. (0212) 292 34 34.






Istanbul is like a heaven of fake, horrible künefe (a dessert of syrupy kadayıf topped with gooey cheese). The ultimate künefe expert in this country is Petek Pastanesi in İskenderun. But those of us who aren’t able to travel to İskenderun and Antakya can get a taste of what true künefe is like at Künefis. This is undoubtedly the single place in Istanbul whose künefe is closest to the one served in İskenderun.

Türkali Mahallesi, Ihlamurdere Caddesi 62/A, Beşiktaş. (0212) 227 06 03.


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