Story and photography by Manos Angelakis and Barbara Penny Angelakis
Istanbul’s Confectionary Delights
Hamidiye Caddesi 83
One of the most delightful confections produced since the times of the Ottoman Empire is lokum or as it is now known in the English-speaking world “Turkish Delight”.
And the best lokum in my humble opinion is still made and sold at Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir in Istanbul, a legendary sweet emporium located just a few blocks from the Egyptian (Spice) Bazaar, near the Galata Bridge. It is the original store where Bekir Efendi started creating his confections in 1777. There are also stores at 129 Istiklal Street near Taksim Square in Beyoğlu, and in Kadiköy, as well as one in Ankara.
Bekir is the surname of the family, and Haci (or Hajji, as more commonly spelled) means that the person referred to with that honorific has made the hajj (pilgrimage) to prey in Mecca that every Moslem has to perform at least once in a lifetime. For Christians, the same honorific can be applied to persons that have visited and preyed in Jerusalem.
My first encounter with Haci Bekir’s Turkish Delights was in the summer of 1949 while visiting with my mother’s brother, who lived in Istanbul at Taksim Square. My mother and her friends would take the tram down Istiklal Street to the Tünel – a 19th century funicular that still operates connecting the wealthy uptown Pera residential area with the business center at the harbor near the Galata Bridge. We would then cross the Bosporus over the bridge to visit the Spice Bazaar and, as a reward if I was well behaved, would stop at the Haci Bekir shop for a ź oka – a Turkish weight measure no longer in use – of pistachio lokums, walnut lokums, hazelnut lokums or any other of the delightful soft candy with nuts that I desired. There were also lokums without nuts; plain, rosewater-flavored, mastic-flavored, fruit-flavored (sour cherry, orange, apricot, lemon) and numerous other flavors. Haci Bekir also made hard candy with cinnamon, rose, mastic and ginger flavors; but to be honest my heart was always set on the delicious lokums.
The shop seems to have little changed through the years, though a restoration in 1989 of the entire building including the counters, shelving and the flower-decorated grille work on the ceiling was faithfully executed to return to the original look of the shop at the turn of the 20th century. There are still rows of copper-topped glass jars with hard candy, licorice, and sugar almonds on top of the front counters and the lokum and marzipan confections are displayed on plates and boxes at the bottom, while cellophane covered boxes of halvah, and coconut logs and honeyed sesame logs are prominent on the front of the countertop. The back-wall display shelves feature different sized boxes of lokum and fruit-leathers and other confectionary products, all waiting for buyers to snap them up. It was for the high quality and originality of his confections that the Sultan in Istanbul and later on the Khedive of Egypt, appointed Haci Bekir and his descendants Chief Palace Confectioners.
On our recent trip to Istanbul, I went back to revisit the Haci Bekir shop and introduce Barbara to the best lokum; and Barbara and I talked with Hande Celalyan, the fifth-generation Deputy Chairman of the Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir company. Hande, like a growing number of well educated modern women, is the current family representative, and is continuing the traditions set by her male ancestors hundreds of years ago. Hande is hands-on – no pun intended - expanding her product base to meet the changing tastes of the times, but always with the standards for quality sweets established by her great, great, grandfather. And soon to be joining her at the helm is the sixth generation, her son, insuring that Haci Bekir delights will be with us for a long time to come.
And talking about a continuing tradition; every year in July, the family travels to Araç, their ancestral village where for five generations all of the Haci Bekir workers have come from. They set-up production in the village’s central square to make lokum with retired, current, and future lokum makers, to celebrate the continuing success of the Haci Bekir enterprise.
© June 2011 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.