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, this part of Istanbul is a gem for foodies as well 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 fluffy, 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.
The only option I choose was the cardamon spiced coffee, leaving Anas to choose the range of desserts. Hailing from Damascus, I trusted him to be an expert. It was him that brought me here – reiterating again and again that I hadn’t lived until I tried one of the many desserts that Syria was famous for but he never really specified which one. I assumed all of them.
Together we sat silently outside at one of the two tables available, a tray of desserts between us. The madlouka looked especially tempting with its thick layer of cream sprinkled with of 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 Anas’ favourite.
Mouthful after mouthful of these desserts proved that Anas was right. I hadn’t lived and I had no words to describe just how good each piece was. For me, the mix of nuts, cream and floral flavours was completely tantalising new. For most of those who came here, it was a taste of childhood. It brought them back to a place that no longer existed anywhere else but their 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,’ Anas said while we sipped our second cup of coffee. ‘We celebrated everything with food and it was the way my grandmother expressed her love.’ Both his mother and grandmother passed away as a result of the war.
In late 2013, over 50 Salloura employees and their families were smuggled out of Syria and brought to Istanbul to open shop. Without there knowhow, it wouldn’t have been possible. Some employees 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 bakers 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. Anas 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. Closest Tram Stop: Haseki