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Turkish delight carried into the future

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Ebru Erke

We’re at the innovative concept store of Ali Muhiddin Hacı Bekir on İstiklal Avenue in Beyoğlu. But don’t be alarmed—the traditional shops remain intact. With this fresh concept, the brand aims to open up to the world.

In the central section, amidst a variety of Turkish delights and desserts, there’s a continuous flurry of activity as packages are being prepared non-stop. While visitors unsure of which variety to choose are treated to small samples, showcasing traditional hospitality, the queue of appetent customers at the back stretches endlessly. The moment you step inside, you immediately notice a change in atmosphere.

However, the real surprise awaits downstairs. To the right, it feels as if you’re in an elegant gourmet shop in Paris, while a turn to the left reveals an arrangement akin to a Japanese conveyor-belt sushi restaurant, but instead, mouthwatering traditional Turkish desserts are being rotated. The surprises don’t end there. In a glassed area at the back of the dessert bar, a master craftsman can be seen skillfully rolling Turkish delight with clotted cream or expertly shaping hard candy on the counter after pouring out the hot dough.

Where do you think we are? We’re at the innovative concept store, Ali Muhiddin Hacı Bekir, on İstiklal Avenue in Beyoğlu. But don’t be alarmed—the traditional shops remain intact. With this fresh concept, the brand aims to open up to the world. Modifying the deep-rooted characteristics of such a well-established, iconic and traditional brand must be exceedingly tough. Yet, with Serdar Gülgün leading the initiative, there’s no reason for concern. On the contrary, it actually piques your curiosity and makes you eager to check it out immediately. This is the oldest registered brand in Türkiye that we’re talking about.

Yes, you heard correctly—this brand is even highlighted in trademark law textbooks. Bekir Efendi, originally from Kastamonu, moved to Istanbul to practice his craft and established his first store in Bahçekapı, Eminönü in 1777, a shop that remains operational at the same spot to this day. He didn’t just open a shop; he also discovered the current form of Turkish delight by making a groundbreaking innovation in the history of Turkish desserts. Leyla Celalyan, the sixth-generation representative who is currently at the helm of the brand, notes that the Turkish delight in those days was markedly different from the version we know today. It’s widely recognized that one of the reasons for making Turkish delight was to preserve seasonal flavors, allowing them to be enjoyed throughout the year, given the storage limitations of the past.

Originally known as “rahatü’l-hulkum,” which translates to “relaxing the larynx, passing easily through the throat,” the term gradually morphed into “rahat lokum” and “lati lokum” before being commonly abbreviated to “lokum.” Historical records from the 17th century onwards mention “rahatü’l-hulkum.” Initially, Turkish delights were crafted by fermenting roses or other fruits, sweetened with molasses or honey and bound with flour, leading to a product vastly different in appearance, taste and texture from what is familiar today. The beginning of industrial production of refined sugar and starch in the early 19th century introduced new possibilities, encouraging Hacı Bekir to innovate. By substituting sugar for honey and starch for flour, he developed the Turkish delight as we recognize it now. Hacı Bekir’s Turkish delight and hard candies gained such fame that Sultan Mahmud II appointed him as the chief confectioner of the palace. Though such positions were not typically hereditary, upon Hacı Bekir Efendi’s death, his son Mehmet Muhiddin Bey was appointed to succeed him as the chief confectioner.

Another flagship product of the brand is its hard candies, known as “akide şekeri” in Türkiye. The term “akide” derives from “akit,” meaning an agreement, reflecting the hard candy’s symbolic role in Ottoman confectionery as a symbol of peace, loyalty and agreement. For centuries, it has been a staple at significant events like weddings, holidays and holy nights, as a part of religious and social celebrations. Traditionally, hard candies were made by crushing sugar blocks, called sugarloaves, in a mortar, then melting and cooking them in copper cauldrons over wood fires. Flavoring such as musk, rosewater, bergamot, lemon and spices like cinnamon, cloves and mint were mixed into the cooling sugar mixture. By the mid-19th century, this sugar mixture was rolled out on marble counters and cut into angular and round shapes, creating what is known as the “Hacıbekir cut” of hard candy.

Revisiting the new store, Serdar Gülgün describes the starting point of the new concept as follows: Initially, he reflected on what Hacı Bekir might have done if he were still alive today. He was inspired by two main sources: The vibrant colors of hard candies and the enduring traditions of Beyoğlu. As a person who likes to incorporate vivid colors into his designs—green, Bordeaux red, orange, pink—Gülgün combined these hues with the vibe of İstiklal Avenue to create what can now be described as a modern Turkish delight and hard candy shop, or a contemporary Istanbul confectionery. Additionally, invaluable documents that his family had collected over the years greatly influenced him. These historical documents are displayed on the walls of the staircase.

It is a great success for the brand to have remained within the same family for so many years, an impressive feat considering the small size of the family. The brand is set to enter a new era with the introduction of porcelain sets featuring the brand’s logo, specially designed colorful boxes that are irresistibly collectible, and various complementary decorative items. In my view, Ali Muhiddin Hacı Bekir stands as the most significant example in Türkiye which successfully carries tradition into the future. Kudos to the vision of all those involved…

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