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December 9, 2005

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Turkish De-lame

I may never have empathized with an article more than this one. I had the exact same motivation for trying Turkish Delight, and the exact same reaction. How many of us poor youths did C.S. Lewis scar with that “candy”?

Posted December 9, 2005 at 3:03 | Comments (9) | Permasnark
File under: Briefly Noted, Gleeful Miscellany


I like it. Not as much as Edmund though.


I'm not 100% what I remember liking was TD, but first I give you this
and then I give you the irate blogpost I decided not to publish:

If you're going to review sweets from an unfamiliar culture, you should be familiar with some of the territory. It apparently never occurs to Lisa Schillinger that perhaps the box of Turkish Delight she was given was a bad box, or perhaps Turkish delight doesn't preserve well, or perhaps she just doesn't have the taste for it. Instead she blithely assumes that it's all really foul, and that this is objective. Even when she encounters a tasty version in Turkey, but finds that her friends in New York don't like it, she blames the lack of exotic context, and not, you know, the fact that by the time she's taken the sweet to New York it's been traveling for several days. This line, "'Oh! It's just the rose kind that's revolting, maybe this is actually good,'" made me wonder if Schillinger even has a taste for rose-water. I mean, not everyone does. That doesn't make it revolting. That makes it an acquired taste. I happen to think it's lovely.

The fact is, candy is very subjective. I have had delicious dark chocolate from Switzerland, Iceland, Belgium, Italy---you name it. That doesn't mean I'll like chocolate that's lost its temper or bloomed. But I have friends who are revolted by the good dark chocolate as much as by bad dark chocolate. I've had some of the best Bengali milk sweets imaginable, but I even know of Indians who can't stand excess sugar or milk-fat, and for some people it's a very acquired taste. (And I know non-South Asians of every stripe and color who can down buckets of Bengali milksweets at a single sitting.) If you just don't like panner, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between one of my mother's delicately cooked, perfectly textured sandesh, and a soggy, grainy, flavorless sandesh that's been sitting in a grocery store for three days. I loooove sour tart candies. There are dark chocolate connoisseurs who've looked at me like I was insane when I offered them some. If it's sour, they just don't like it. It doesn't matter if its flavored with real peach essence and made from fragrant raw sugar. I've had some baklava with floral honey and perfectly roasted nuts, and I've had baklava that tastes like sawdust and rocks. If you don't like filo dough, it won't make any difference to you. But it would be entirely unfair to novices in all of these categories to present the haters' opinions as representative.

So if you're going to review candy, give me confidence that you have an open and experienced palate. It's no shame if you don't, just review something else.

The reason why this matters of course is b/c for most readers this will be their first interaction with Turkish Delight outside of Narnia. There's just something rather annoying about calling such a popular foreign sweet foul in such an off hand way, as if just any writer from New York is necessarily the best sampler of taste on behalf of all potential Slate readers.

Saheli, thanks for providing some balance. Your response touches off memories of decades of food disagreements between me and my family. Tamarind balls were a particular sticking point. My Guyanese parents, aunts, and uncles all insisted they were an unparalleled taste treat; elder siblings and cousins sympathized with my disappointment. Our rejection of our parents' delicacies was always taken as a full-on betrayal of our cultures, and met with sad diatribes about how Americanized we'd become. Whenever we disdained one of her many Guyanese or British comfort foods, my mom would launch into wonderful stories about her childhood, how she loved tamarind balls, how she used to cry when her mother told her she couldn't have any more of the sticky, spicy, sweet, sour snacks. And here we were, fêted with tamarind balls to our hearts' content, and we refuse?! What could be wrong with us?

My aunts always took it a step further. If we crinkled our noses at being served black pudding, they chided us for turning our backs on our heritage, for muddying the legacies of our slave ancestors who'd improvised these marvelous dishes out of the unwanted parts of their masters' pigs and cows. And now we were too good to eat some delicious pickled tongue? Thank God our ancestors weren't here to see this.

We ate the black pudding. And the souse. Over time, we even grew to like (some of) them.

But my mom's and aunt's complaints were the same -- we shouldn't pooh-pooh these foods, because they're part of our culture. On the face of it, yours is the opposite -- we shouldn't pooh-pooh these foods, because they're not part of our culture. That "our culture" in each of those two sentences means something slightly different doesn't change the noble sentiment they share: We should strive to appreciate the things others love that we may not understand.

I still have to defend the Slate article for capturing very well what I felt the first time I tried Turkish Delight. I had fantasized about the candy since the first time I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in fourth grade (I had probably read it at least six times between then and the Turkish Delight tasting). One time, when I was re-reading the Chronicles during middle school, I became obsessed with finding Turkish Delight, scouring our local libraries for a recipe. The only one I could find was beyond my skills to make. I gave up the quest.

One day, during a family visit my sophomore year at college, we went to Cardullo's to stock up on British treats like Lion bars and Ribena. There, in the checkout line, was Turkish Delight.

I was so happy. I couldn't even wait to get back to my dorm room to pry open the tin and grab my first morsel of the stuff...

... And so, with anticipation, I took a bite of the Turkish Delight. And a second later, spat it into my hand.

Yep. And deposited the handful into a trash can at the intersection of Massachusetts Ave. and JFK St.

I don't remember what I did with the rest of the tin. I may have eventually found someone to take it off my hands. Maybe even Peter ended up getting it?

I'm glad to know TD really does have such a thrall for some. But I think Liesl Schillinger's point of view is also needed, to provide some contrast with C.S. Lewis' rapturous descriptions of the stuff. After all, she and I are certainly not the only ones to have this same experience with the candy. I gave the Chronicles to my nephew as a gift a few years ago, and I hope he does his Internet research before going out and trying the White Witch's evil snack.

By the way, Saheli, my mother, reached on the phone this morning, absolutely agrees with you. But I still don't like tamarind balls, either. :)

Dude, if you get tamarind balls, and you don't want them, send them to me. Seriously. I love tamarind.

Actually, I know exactly what you mean about "what! you don't like --- ? What kind of ---- are you?!" It's happened to me with just a few dishes, and I've certainly seen it happen to others with more. The fact is, except for my vegetarian dietary restrictions, I now have an extremely open palate. There's very little cuisine I don't find something to enjoy in. That's just the way my mouth is. Lucky me. If someone has a narrower palate, I'd hope not to hold it against them--indeed, I try to bend over backwards to satisfy friends who can't stand everything from cilantro to sour food to any fruit that's not a peach to yoghurt to cheese to bell peppers to olives to pickles. I'm reorganizing my addressbook right now, and actually thinking of somehow hacking in a field for "won't eat ---". And if Schillinger had stuck to a first-person narrative of her particular experience--the line you quote--I'd have been ecstatic. It's a great piece to go with the Narnia reporting, a nice origianl take. It was the tone of--"wow, this stuff really is just foul to anyone who doesn't have the misfortune of either being a starving WWII waif or a Turk"---that struck me condescending and overreaching. There was no point when she acknowledged that her palate might just not like the stuff, or when she talked to an actual Turkish person about it. With you talking about Tamarind balls and your parents, there's no question of my thinking, "gosh anyone who likes tamarind balls must have problems" b/c clearly, you don't think your parents have problems. It's very obvious that the problem is one of differing palates, not necessarily objectively bad food. It just reminds me too much of schoolchildren pointing and going, "eww, smelly Indian food." It's one thing if you don't like the taste of cumin---you aren't going to like Indian food. It's another thing if you insist that it's foul and anyone who likes it has issues. It's not the idea that "Wow I really didn't like this," that I object to. It's the implication that, therefore, neither will you, dear reader.

There is such a thing as objectively bad food. Every cuisine has its ideal, and within that you can really screw up. My ideal reviewer of anything, movies or food, is Ebert-like in his or her devotion to artistic unity. First say, "is this kind of thing my cup of tea? Do I have the chops to review it?" and then, having answered that question, judge the execution.

I'm also a big fan on trying to acquire tastes very slowly. I hated fried bitter melon when I was a child, for instance, and now it's one of my favorite foods. But I'd be insane to just dump a bowlful on your plate, you'd probably gag. I ate one at time, very slowly, over the course of many years until I liked it. And it's a bad idea to force things on small children, b/c their sense of smell isn't that well developed and is much more geared to wards rejecting things. (Makes sense--keeps them from eating random stuff they don't yet have the knowledge to reject.)

I actually was not remotely tempted to find TD by tLtWatW b/c clearly, Edmund was gorging himself on magical TD, and where was anyone going to find that? ;-)

Ahhhh yes. There were plenty of foods that I only ate because it made me a "good Chinese boy" and I knew that made Dad and Grandma happy. Luckily, all those childhood struggles with stinky bean curds, red bean porridge, etc. helped me come to like a lot of really great but weird food. This went on to save me a lot of grief throughout college and into my life here in SF; roommates are always happy to liberate my beer, cookies, soup, noodles, etc., but my Chinese foods are always safe.

Stocking up on fruits, veggies, tofu, and fake meat products provides another optimal form of non-violent resistance.

Good Turkish Delight is ethereal: all almonds, roses and chew. Hadji was one good brand awhile back.
Badly done however, TD is a bit like Applets and Cottlets and a nightmare of pasty mouth glue. I also don't think it keeps very long, or very well.
I think I'm going to finally have to head into the kitchen and concoct a batch of TD which is truely edible.

I love Turkish Delight. I also bought it because of Narnia but I was not dissapointed. Rose is my favorite flavor.

The thing with TD is that it's more of an acquired taste. Well, either you already have a taste for it or you acquire it through the years (like beer, wine, cigarettes etc). For the most part, an American diet doesn't prepare the palate at all for the sort of flavours that are enjoyed in the Middle-east and the rest of Asia. Not meaning to offend anyone but Asian tastes are much more delicate than western tastes. No, I'm not Asian. I'm French. It takes getting used to different, more subtle and unfamiliar tastes.

I consider myself lucky in that I lived in India for five years during which time I came in contact with a lot of different food that the mostly meat-and-potatoes diet most of my friends here in Canada grew up with. Most of them can't stand TD.

There's nothing wrong with not liking the stuff, just don't call it foul because it is not. It's just something you personally did not enjoy.

Posted by: Chanty on September 13, 2006 at 11:15 AM

I love Turkish Delight. There are many non-Turkish brands claiming to make real Turkish Delight. But to be honest you need to try real famous Turkish Delight brands to enjoy the real taste. I live in the US and frequently order Turkish Delight online.

Haci Bekir is my favorite brand, but Gulluoglu is also very good.

If you are a big fan of sweets, you need to try real Turkish Delight, it's an addiction.

Enjoy :)

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