There is a strange quiet atmosphere on the streets of Istanbul, the night is about to fall, and a mystical air is lingering over the city. Very few of people are wandering around, almost all the shops are closed, and at that time the muezzin starts to call for prayer, but even that sounds different. Istanbul, the city of 15 million, seems like a ghost town from a horror movie. What happened to this chaotic and hectic city? Where are all the people? Am I dreaming? No. No. Everything is real. Nothing serious, just Ramadan!
The holy month of Ramadan, as the Turks call “sultan” of 11 months, is celebrated worldwide by Muslims who fast from dawn to dusk during this month. This is the period in which people learn to control emotions and desires which teaches you to master yourself, not to be a slave of the devil. As Ramadan is very important for Muslims, it is characterized by many different social and cultural events which makes the holy month a unique festive ritual. You may be surprised to hear that the traditions still continue even in Istanbul.
As Ramadan is about fasting and eating, food plays a big role during the month! There are some special dishes that may only be served during Ramadan this in order to replace some dishes that can cause health issues in these conditions of fasting. That’s why it’s during this period that you can experience special Ramadan dishes and drinks that make you want to eat them the whole year round. Among them I discovered a tasty dessert called Güllaç, the most popular Ramadan dessert. This fluffy dish is made of many layers of thin corn-starch pastry soaked in rosewater-infused milk and usually stuffed with walnuts.
During the holy month people fast during the day, when “iftar” arrives, they tend to eat too much too fast. Therefore eating heavily sugared desserts such as lokma, tulumba or baklava can be a health risk. For this reason, light desserts made with fruits and milks usually are a very suitable alternative. Among them güllaç is the most popular one, it was said that more than 80% of güllaç is consumed during Ramadan, which makes sense since there is no way to see this milky dessert on display neither in restaurants nor in dessert shops after Ramadan.
The history of güllaç dates back to the 15th century. Until that time the Turks produced dough from corn starch which they dried during the summer. After softening the dough with milk and sugar they would eat it during winter. In the second half of the 15th century the sultan adopted this food which was refined in the palace kitchens and became the dessert we know today. The dessert may contain rose water or not, it’s always optional, however it was used in palace kitchen due to its refreshing effect and sweet flavour. That’s where the name of güllaç comes from. It is combination of two words Güllü and aş, meaning “rosy dish”, and shortened into “güllaç”, we see a similar construction with sütlü and aş, meaning “milky dish”, and turning into sütlaç. Güllaç was always one of the favourites of the palace during the month of Ramadan and this dessert always showed up on the menu at the circumcision ceremony for the princes.
Güllaç is a completely natural product. It contains no additives. It’s made from corn-starch pastry, milk and sugar. It’s usually garnished with fresh pomegranate seeds, ground nuts for example; walnuts or hazelnuts. Almost everywhere the güllaç is garnished with pistachio as well. On the other hand it is said that either too much pistachio or too many fruits are simply ill-dressing. It’s part of tradition to pour rose water on top. As 200 grams of güllaç is for about 300 calories, it helps the blood sugar levels go up to normal levels during fasting. It also give a feeling of fullness. The thing you should notice is that güllaç has to be eaten on the same day due to the fact that its main ingredient is milk and if you garnish your güllaç with walnuts, you should know that the walnuts will darken the güllaç after a day.
I have eaten güllaç at various restaurants and dessert shops as well as at many homes of my local friends. As expected the güllaç always tastes differently, as there are many recipes. However, there’s one standard recipe and if you follow it, you’ll have a chance to eat a delicious dessert. Here is this recipe for all those who love to cook.
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Clinical psychologist, vocational trainer in psychology and traveller. I’m using my free time thinking, reading, painting, watching and hearing the sound of this world, always learning from different people. Florence is my city, Italy is my country, food is one of my biggest passions. Full of meaning, big pleasure for everybody and one of the main showcase of different culture and traditions.
Photo Credits: Quynh Anh Le Nguyen