Sweet temptation: Istanbul’s beloved “brothel dessert”

Sivrioğlu intends to include a modern, elevated version of the halka tatlisi in the dessert menu of his recently opened Istanbul restaurant, Efendy. “Our goal is to take this common street dessert and bring it to restaurant level,” said Sivrioğlu, who is known for challenging preconceptions about Turkish cuisine.

Also a judge on MasterChef Turkiye, Sivrioğlu gave contestants a halka tatlisi challenge a few years ago when he asked them to recreate the street food favourite.

“Shooting the challenge was a lot of fun because although it looks like a simple dessert, the halka tatlisi is actually quite difficult to pull off. The oil temperature needs to be just right to create the crunch on the outside and the smooth inside – which turned out terrible for the contestants, but great TV for us,” he joked.

The new version of Sivrioğlu, which uses pistachio flour from eastern Turkey in addition to traditional semolina, is soaked in sorbet water (a popular drink from the time of the Ottoman Empire made with fruit, sugar and water) and delicately dressed with dulche de leche. It’s topped with crushed pistachios, a pinch of sea salt from the seaside town of Ayvalik, and a dollop of goat’s milk ice cream.

In the affluent neighborhood of Etiler, amid dim lighting, polished wine glasses and sophisticated guests, this sleek take on Istanbul’s infamous “brothel dessert” was a far cry from the city’s alleyways where I came for the first time looking for the candy. Instructed to eat hot, I brought a delicate morsel to my mouth. As the initial crunch gave way to a creamy, velvety sweetness, an explosion of sweet delight ensued as the sherbet water trickled down my throat. Wickedly good, it was easy to see how this decadent dessert has survived the centuries, pleasing everyone from “sinners” to sultans.

Culinary Roots is a BBC Travel series that connects to rare, local foods woven into the heritage of a place.

Join over three million BBC Travel fans by liking us on Facebookor follow us on Twitter and instagram.

If you liked this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter called “The Essential List”. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Culture, Worklife and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.