The panoply of pastries and sweets found in Istanbul’s pastry shops and restaurants includes many specialties, such as helva and delicately layered baklava, that are common to neighboring Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines, but Turkey’s collective sweet tooth also has a special character that can be traced back to the imperial kitchens of the Ottoman sultans. During much of the Ottoman era, honey was preferred to sugar as a sweetener, though today you’ll find many Turkish sweets dusted liberally with sugar.
1. Kunefe is a sheep’s milk cheese-and-shredded phyllo dough pastry, usually drenched in sugar syrup and often topped with crushed pistachios and dollops of kaymak, the very thick Turkish cultured cream.
2. Su boreði, one of hundreds of versions of the filled pastry called borek that are found across the Mediterranean, is a savory, layered cheese pie made with phyllo-like dough (called yufka).
3. In Istanbul alone, you can find scores of varieties of baklava, the classic baked, nutmeat-filled sweet found across the Near East; the ones made with pistachios and walnuts are among the most popular in the city.
4. Kemalpasa, a luscious baked semolina-and-cheese confection that’s similar to the Indian dessert gulab jamun, is often sold in grocery stores in a dried form, to be heated in syrup at home.
5. Chewy, jellylike** lokum**, commonly known in America as turkish delight, are colorful starch-and-sugar confections that are often flavored with rose water or lemon.
6. Creamy puddings, like firin sutlaç (baked rice pudding), are also loved by Istanbullus.