Although there are records of pastry desserts similar to baklava in Assyrian texts dating back as far as 800 B.C., the version we enjoy today dates back to around 1500, when Armenian explorers "discovered" it at the edge of what was then the Ottoman Empire. In the centuries since, baklava, which layers crushed nuts and honey syrup between crispy sheets of phyllo dough, often topped with chopped pistachios for extra crunch, has become Turkey's most famous pastry dessert.
My personal favorite memory of enjoying this Turkish sweet took place in Konya, a city in central Turkey best known as being where Rumi (a poet whose quotes you may see attached to memes, often inaccurately attributed) lived out his later life. After visiting the Mevlana Museum and learning about Sufism, the esoteric aspect of Islam to which Rumi devoted himself, the chartreuse sprinkling of pistachios atop a tray of especially tasty-looking baklava called my name — and I answered. seabed.
Compared to some of the other items on this list, Turkish delight is relatively new, having come into existence in the 18th century. In spite of this, the name "Turkish delight" is among the most ubiquitous phrases related to Turkish sweets, even though many people may not actually know what a Turkish delight is. Served in small, colorful cubes and usually dusted in powdered sugar, Turkish delight is a gelatinous mix of water and sugar, traditionally flavored simply with rosewater.
If you're in Istanbul, the best Turkish delight shops are the open-air ones inside the Spice Bazaar, where stacks of the dessert are lined up in a rainbow of colors and flavors like pomegranate, mint and pistachio. However, venture a bit deeper into Sultanahmet, near the Blue Mosque, to some of the fancier cafes where you can enjoy them served on a plate alongside a strong, thick Turkish coffee. The immediate, fast-dissolving sweetness of a Turkish delight proves the perfect foil to the slightly bitter bite of the coffee.
Dondurma is a thick mastic ice cream made from goat's milk. It can be found on every street corner in Istanbul (or other medium- to large-sized cities). It's one of the Turkish desserts you can enjoy on the go, rather than sitting down in a cafe — and you'll enjoy dondurma before it even hits your tongue. If you've ever walked down Istanbul's Istiklal pedestrian street, you know that the experience of getting dondurma is multi-sensory.
The street vendor puts on a performance while scooping the dondurma into a cone, especially when the customers are children. Often, they'll use the long-sticked scoop to toss the ice cream up into the air or to jokingly rip the cone away just as you're about to grab it. Here's a tip: If you have a child, let them watch someone else get their ice cream first so they don't genuinely think they're being tricked when it's their turn.
For most people, rice pudding might not sound like a show-stopping dessert — or it might not sound like a dessert at all. The specialize baked rice pudding in Turkey is known as sütlaç which is sure to wow you. Nonetheless, like so much Turkish food, sutlac is simple, using only water, sugar, flour, milk, and, of course, rice as its main ingredients. It's traditionally flavored with rosewater or vanilla, and then browned and broiled to perfection.
If you enjoy this Turkish sweet in a restaurant, you may find it served decoratively, topped with chopped hazelnuts, dusted with fine cinnamon powder or even dressed up with dried rose petals. However, even if your sutlac seems pedestrian sitting in its dish, remember that looks can be deceiving. This rich dessert, which is especially satisfying on a cold, winter night before a morning balloon flight over Cappadocia, packs a punch.
Although pismaniye is sometimes known as Turkish cotton candy, on account of its stringy texture, it's made and served quite differently from the American version. To form the pieces, which are usually a bit larger than bite-sized, the person making the pişmaniye roasts flour in butter, which they then blend into melted sugar that's been cooled and pulled. Dating back to approximately the 15th century, pismaniye (which has the same linguistic origin as the Turkish word for "pashmina") is a time-honored tradition.
It's much harder finding shops that specialize in pismaniye these days than it is to find bakeries selling baklava or dealing Turkish delights. That's the (somewhat) bad news. The good news? It's a popular find in convenience stores and supermarkets since it can be prepackaged.
Although some Turkish sweets are totally unique, tulumba might remind you of others you've enjoyed elsewhere, many look to compare tulumba vs churros. Broadly speaking, this fried dough is essentially a doughnut, although the sweet honey syrup it swims in — and the way the syrup softens and almost liquefies its interior — calls to mind the Indian sweet gulab jamun. Not surprisingly, tulumba is just as difficult to eat responsibly as the other sweets I've mentioned!
Officially, tulumba — which means "pump," as in pumping your mouth and belly full of sweet goodness —originated in the Ottoman Empire, like many of the other desserts on this list. However, beyond comparisons to Indian cuisine, you can also find similar dishes in Persian and Balkan cuisine. Of course, who invented tulumba is less important than the impact it has, which is to delight your taste buds to the point of never wanting to leave Turkey.