Istanbul / Saniora Tatlıları

A short walk from Aksaray metro is one of Istanbul’s most vibrant neighbourhoods known to locals as ‘Little Syria’. From street vendors selling freshly made falafel, hummus and shawarma to restaurants serving classic Allepian dishes, Istanbul’s Little Syria is a gem for foodies as well as for Syrians looking for a taste of home.

One establishment, in particular, sparks a mixture of patriotism and childhood nostalgia for those who flock to it to satisfy their sweet tooth. Uprooted from Aleppo and brought to Istanbul in 2014, Salloura pastry shop is a dessert institution. The recipes used here have been passed down from and adapted by the Salloura family since 1870.

Their repertoire of sweets now extends beyond their signature soft, sweet cheese rolls – halawat al jibn – rolled like a cigar, served drizzled with rosewater syrup and sprinkled with a crush of pistachios and rose petals. Here you can also find pistachio ice cream made from a type of sweet cream called ishta, künefe and a range of baklava to go with either freshly brewed cardamon spiced coffee or tea.

My Damascene boyfriend, now husband, insisted that I hadn’t lived until I had tried authentic Syrian desserts and Salloura pastry shop was one of his favourites.

As soon as we arrived he disappeared inside while I sat down at one of only two tables available, waiting. My husband returned with a selection of desserts on a tray, two cups of cardamon coffee and a big smile on his face. One by one, he explained to me what each dessert was.

The madlouka looked especially tempting with its thick layer of cream sprinkled with pistachio and rose petals. Then there were the tiny jewel-like pieces of nut baklava, flaky and not too sweet and of course the halawat al jibn which is A’s favourite.

Mouthful after mouthful, proved that my husband was right. I had no words to describe just how good each piece was. The mix of nuts, cream and floral flavours was completely new to me. For him, it was a taste of childhood. It brought them back to a place that no longer existed outside his memories.

‘I come here to taste the things my grandmother once made me and to remember the times we spent in our garden in Damascus when life was normal,’ my husband said while sipping his second cup of coffee. ‘We celebrated everything with food. It was the way my grandmother expressed her love.’

In late 2013, over 50 Salloura employees and their families were smuggled out of Syria and brought to Istanbul to open shop. Some had been working at Salloura since they were 12 years old. In Syria, it was common to send children to learn a particular skill along with sending them to school. They were now master pastry makers and this was clear in the quality of desserts that were being sold. Although the quality of the ingredients was not the same as they were used to back home, they were close enough to be able to continue the culinary tradition.

As one of the employees clears our plates, I gush when he asks in perfect English how I liked it. I am sure that he is used to it. I left feeling a little embarrassed but deeply satisfied. My husband was right. You haven’t lived unless you’ve tasted Syrian desserts – especially the Madlouka with a cup of freshly brewed cardamon coffee.

Location: Saniora Tatlıları, Turgut Ozal Millet Cd. No. 58 – Open from 9:30 -1:30 am, 7 days a week

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