December 14, 2011

Sweet Success in Istanbul

The art of eating baklava is serious business here at Karakoy Gulluoglu, nestled in a street back from the banks of the wind-whipped Bosphorus in the historic Istanbul neighbourhood of Karakoy. This landmark establishment is tipped by many locals to have the finest baklava in town: no small feat in a city renowned for its excellent representation of this time-honoured sweet.

But there's more to appreciating baklava than one may think. My initial attempt to slice a piece then scoff it in two rapid mouthfuls has been thwarted.

Turan, a dapper mustachioed gentleman, and staff member, has materialised from behind the brass-trimmed counter to help me with the finer points of enjoying this famed delicacy.

"We must engage all our senses," he urges, spreading out my selection of triangular, pea-green flecked sobiyet (a type of cream-filled baklava) and rounded squares of the more familiar walnut and pistachio varieties. A bushy eyebrow raises as I move in to help myself; it appears there's still work to be done before these beckoning wedges can be tasted.

The slightly rounded golden dome of the pastry must be admired for its consistency and smooth crust; a deep breath is necessary to properly smell the glorious combination of sheep's butter and freshly ground pistachios. Each baklava log is made by hand; we're talking 40 paper-thin layers of yufka pastry sandwiching a thick ream of nuts and then doused with melted butter and sugar.

Time must be taken to appreciate this feat of kitchen alchemy.

Finally, the baklava may be brought to our lips, but not before twisting the fork so we make contact with the underside first.

"All the juices soak down to the bottom of the baklava," explains Turan, flicking his wrist in one clean motion. "You will taste these first, and it will be followed by the crunch and butter of the pastry. Magnificent!"

Crackly and headily perfumed, it is indeed something very special. I've never tasted baklava so fresh and balanced, and the slightly ritualistic but logical way of eating it adds another dimension to the experience, like discovering a sprinkle of salt on ripe tomatoes for the first time. I realise now why my efforts at slicing provoked such alarm.

Read more on The Australian: Sweet Success in Istanbul


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