14 February 2012

Happy Valentine's Day!

Valentine's Day wasn't a holiday we'd expected to celebrate while abroad. I mean, sure, we may celebrate it on our own, but we hardly thought we'd be stricken with mid-day anxiety about getting a table at dinner tonight. As it turns out, just like Halloween in Spain, St. Valentine's Day is starting to take this part of the world by storm - even Muslim Turkey. Luckily, they happen to have one of the key Cupid Day components down pat - sweets.
A variety box of Turkish delights and some pressed fig balls covered in coconut, nuts and chocolate nibs felt like the right candy choice for our purposes. But, man, was there a lot to choose from. We're currently in Edirne, a great little city west of Istanbul, right near the country's borders with Bulgaria and Greece. The main pedestrian drag has a dizzying array of sweets options, including more than one "baklava salonu."
Triangular, square, circular, cigar shaped, pistachio, walnut, hazelnut, with and without green flakes sprinkled on top - so many different baklavas! The end result is pretty much the same, a puff pastry crunch that leads to a sweet, dense, honey-soaked heaven. The baklava from these specialty bakeries are a far cry from the New Jersey Greek diner variety I grew up with - they're fresh, which adds this teensy bit of breathing room between the layers, allowing the different elements to mix and really explode in your mouth. This is not hyperbole.
Of course, there's also Turkish Delight or lokum, as it is known here. The finer varieties are cubes of chopped dates or nuts held together with gel and flavored with something lovely like rose water. The cheap-o ones are bright colored cubes with lemon, mint and other "flavoring." (See first photo in this post). These classy ones were displayed in a store window like jewelry, in boxes that you could snap closed oh-so-playfully on Julia Roberts' gloved hand. (It's Valentine's Day - you've gotta let me have a rom-com reference).
There's a stage being set up in the main street right now and posters around town advertise Valentine's music shows. The flower shops have wrapped carnations in heart patterned paper and clothing stores have moved all their red sweaters to the front window. We wanted to buy some marzipan, which many people believe was actually invented right here in Edirne when it was the capital of the Ottoman empire. But, since the city is also known for its fruit-shaped soaps, we were too afraid of mixing up the two. Happy Valentine's Day from Turkey!

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