Halva: The Witness To Joys And Sorrows

Almost in every culture, especially in Turkish cuisine, it’s a kind of a gastronomical ritual to eat dessert after lunch and dinner. Guests invited to dinner usually bring desserts to the host as a present.  During the religious holidays, especially during the preparations for the Ramadan, in many households dough are rolled out for baklava, candies and chocolates are bought, so to speak desserts are stored.

In a nutshell, dessert has great importance in Turkish cuisine. This being the case, dieticians, nutritionists, and doctors lay stress on that processed refined sugar is dangerous for our health.

The new generation of cooks can make many kinds of dessert from natural sugars so that people can eat healthily. Among them, which come to mind immediately, are pies, cookies, biscuits, pastries, ice cream, pudding, milk pudding, rice pudding, sweets and halva which is a product of historical and cultural richness. Let’s take a look at halva together, one of the musts of the tables and one of the most important values of our dessert culture.

The Dessert Ritual Of Anatolia
Halva has an important place in Turkish culture regarding the taste. It is derived from the Arabic language and it means “sweet.” Its etymological root is derived from the word “hulviyyat” which implies all desserts. Basically, it’s made from flour, sugar, and oil. After the acceptance of Islam by the Turks, during the Seljuq Empire period, it took its place on the tables, reached the present day and its present form by being influenced by the Ottoman cuisine for a long time and earned itself an indispensible  a place in our dessert tradition which is a very important branch of our eating and drinking culture. Halva has a very important place in birth and death rituals as well as being a food representing socialization by being roasted and dished out to neighbours and relatives during wedding dinners, religious festivals, soldier’s farewells, after returning from haj, after buying a house, during holy nights, death anniversaries of the late relatives. In short, halva is the only food that bears witness to our joys and sorrows. It is one of the dominant tastes of human relations in cultural and social levels.

The Past Of Halva
Halva, which was deeply rooted in the Ottoman cuisine, was served to the attendants at almost all important days, during joys and sorrows, births, victory celebrations, meetings attended by the Sultans. Also, people from certain social strata would organize “halva conversations” in their mansions and they would have conversations over halva in the assemblies to which rich and respected people were invited. In short, halva became a dessert consumed in our traditional cuisine at all times. In the Ottoman Empire, in addition to being a traditional dessert, halva is a flavour that gave its name to the place it’s been made. In the Ottoman cuisine culture, the architectural section called “halva house” takes its name from this dessert.  It is known that in the halva houses, which are also known as Matbah-ı Amir, not only halva but also jams, compotes, pastes, and syrups and other desserts were made.

The Present Of The Helva
Halva is still popular today being a nutritious delicious and an economical dessert. During holy nights, a neighbour knocks on your door and offers you halva she made. It’s the joy of the family assemblies, it’s what brings the families together. People who support each other during rough times, get their enjoyment back with halva. In other words, halva is an integral part of the longing, conversation, and good deeds.

An Ancient Flavour, A Historical Place “Helvaci Ali”
A centuries-old halva shop that carries on the traditional halva flavour with the same flavour for generations in the same cultural context.… Like a calm, honourable and serious host of  Inegol, which is an Ottoman town famous for its meatballs. Helvacı Ali is tickling the taste buds of the gourmets for centuries. A tradition memory that is carried out by the same family in the same place, handing down an ancient taste from generation to generation… A modest flavour bridge that has seen the guild tradition and resisted the rapid production of modern times.

Helvacı Ali, who tickles the taste buds with different halva kinds during summer and winter times, combined traditional flavors with innovations by serving semolina halva with ice cream.

The Same Shop And Tastes For Four Generations
The fourth-generation owners are now responsible for the flavours that Ali’s customers have been accustomed to for years. The managers who carry this burden willingly, are in pursuit of making the young people love halva which is consumed by the elderly in all cases. The only thing they won’t give up is their “traditional standards.”  They have never been after producing fast and selling a lot. The fact that they regard this as a kind of disrespect to their father’s legacy made Helvacı Ali a traditional taste shop.

They continue to apply what they have learned from their grandfathers, their fathers, who were some kind of masters, with the same quality and elegance. They also put the effort into research, development and listening to customer demands to keep up with modern times. They proudly state they have now become a halva shop with more than twenty varieties of this traditional flavour, of which they used to sell only three or four varieties.

Halva Types By Helvaci Ali
Halva varieties such as red halva, summer halva, yellow summer halva, cocoa halva, plain tahini halva, pistachio tahini halva, coffee tahini halva, chocolate-covered tahini halva, as well as milk halva, plain and ice cream semolina halva are served.


From Hulv To Helva
When the studies on the Ottoman kitchen culture and the “Travelogue” by Evliya Çelebi are examined, we see that the historical origin of the name “halva” appears to be a name given to a general dessert type. By observing the traditional sources, we know that “halva”, which is derived from the word “hulv”, is used for desserts made from flour or starch, oil, honey or sugar.

Types Of Halva
When we look at Ottoman culinary culture, we see that desserts are very important. The fact that there are many types of halva in this variety reveals that halva has a special place in the kitchen culture. Some of the varieties according to the type, ingredients and making are as follows: Veteran’s halva, almond halva, ladle halva, White halva, molasses halva, helva-yı sabuni, red sabuni, helva-i halkaçini yellow sabuni, gök sabuni, ak sabuni, helva-yı hakani, parmak sabuni, temur hindi sabuni, halva made of rice flour, helva-yı levzine, helva-yı pişmeni, helva-yı kâfi, honey halva, halva with nuts, helva-yı müşkife, asude halva, yengen duymasın halva, reşidiyye halva, helva-yı güllabiye, Uzbek helva, semolina helva, cotton candy, helva-yı ıshâkiye, sugar halva.

The Origin Of Helva
Halva which is defined as a simple, easy and nutritious dessert made with sugar, oil, flour or semolina is known to be of the Middle East and Balkan origin in the world gastronomy literature.  It’s predicted that it became an essential tradition of Turkish cuisine after the acceptance of Islam.

Get Your Enjoyment Back
One of the sagas transferred from language to language on the halva is about the halva made by His Holiness Hasan-ı Basrî. It’s rumoured that His Holiness made halva and sent it to those who had gossiped about him. It has become such a widespread narration that the tradition and flavour of halva are associated with Hasan Basri (Hz.).

By: S. Bahar Alban

*This article was  published in the  November-December issue of Marmara Life. 

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