THE ORIGINS OF TURKISH DELIGHT
in 1776 Bekir Effendi left his home town of Kastamonu in the mountains of Anatolia and went to Istanbul to set up his confectionery shop
I have been writing recently about Turkish Delight and the Sweety shops in Girne, Bellapais and Lefkoşa and how they make Turkish Delight at their factory. This prompted me to find out a bit more about this lovely confectionery and on speaking to the Editor in Chief of this newspaper I was amazed to discover that his wife’s late maternal uncle was Ali Muhiddin Hacibekir so she is a descendant of the original inventor of Turkish Delight – Haci Bekir.
The history of Turkish Delight (or Lokum) dates back 230 years so it is probably one of the oldest surviving sweets in the world and it was in 1776 that Bekir Effendi, a fully apprenticed confectioner, left his home town of Kastamonu in the mountains of Anatolia and went to Istanbul to set up his confectionery shop. The Turkish people are renowned for their “sweet tooth” so Bekir Effendi’s shop was soon very popular, especially his Turkish Delight. It is said that this happened during the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid I, who was eager to please his mistresses with exotic dishes and he was so impressed with Bekir Effendi’s Turkish Delight that it became something of a cult and everyone was soon flocking to the shop.
Bekir Effendi made a pilgrimage to the Muslim holy city of Mecca and so became known as Haci Bekir, a title granted to those who have completed the hac, or pilgrimage.
Another claim to fame for Haci Bekir was his creation of various almond pastes, using almonds, sugar and other ingredients and forming this into different shapes of sweets. With his many successes Haci Bekir was awarded the Niban-y Ali Osman, a first degree honour awarded by the Sultan who also decided that he should be made Chief Confectioner to the Palace. This honorary title was carried on through the family and Haci Bekir’s son, Mehmet Muhiddin Effendi and his grandson, Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir, took over the business and have continued to maintain the renowned name of Haci Bekir.
In the 19th century it is said a British traveller discovered and was very fond of this Turkish confectionery and arranged for cases of the delicacy to be shipped to Britain under the name “Turkish Delight”. It became an immediate success amongst the high class society of Britain and Continental Europe and it became the practice to wrap pieces of Turkish Delight in silk handkerchiefs to give to close friends and loved-ones.
Haci Bekir Confectioners is reputed to be the oldest company in Turkey operating from its original premises. The original shop still remains today on Hamidiye Caddesi near the New Mosque and of course there have been many more shops opened in the course of time. Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir expanded the company considerably and many more branches were opened in Turkey as well as in Cairo and Alexandria which resulted in an award of the title Chief Confectioner by the Egyptian Khedive. There are also representative companies in America, Japan, South Africa, Egypt, England and France.
Haci Bekir has been mentioned in numerous novels and art circles about the past life and times in Istanbul. There is a watercolour painting by the Maltese artist, Amedes Preziosi, depicting Haci Bekir working in his shop which now hangs in the Louvre in Paris and a lithographic print of this can also be seen at the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul.
There have been many awards made at International Fairs where Haci Bekir represented Turkey:-
1888 Cologne Fair Silver Medal
1897 Brussels Fair Gold Medal
1906 French Fair Gold Medal
1930 Nice Fair Medal of Honour
1930 Paris Fair Gold Medal
1930 Brussels Fair Gold Medal
1939 New York Fair Merit Award
The Haci Bekir family is now in its fifth generation and continue to provide their customers with the wonderful confectionery that is Turkish Delight. Long may they continue this tradition.
By Margaret Sheard