While we were dining at this tourist-filled restaurant across Rome’s Colosseum, we had a little chat with the waiter, who happened to be Romanian.
“Do you know what my favorite dessert is?” he asked me.
As he had just brought us plates full of delicious Tiramisu, I looked at him and confidently asked, “Tiramisu?“. He said “No” and surprised my friends and me with his answer.
He said, “My favorite dessert is Baklava. “
Some of us were shocked (especially our Australian friends), and needless to say, the Turks in our group felt a little bit of pride.
“My mother,” said the Romanian waiter, “used to make baklava; dolma; sarma..” and the list went on.
The origins of Baklava
How did baklava become the most favorite dessert of this Romanian man? And possibly of many Greeks, Albanians, Persians or the Lebanese, Syrians or Georgians or Armenians…
Many nations claim baklava to be theirs. The Arabs claim its history to Assyrians, Greeks claim its roots in the Byzantine heritage, and Turks believe it was one of the many recipes their ancestors brought with them from Central Asia.
C. Perry explains in his book “The taste for layered bread among the nomadic Turks and the Central Asian” that the tradition of making desserts by putting crushed nuts and sweets between thin layers of pastry went all the way back to early Turkic tribes living in Central Asia.
Istanbul, the flavour hub of the region
One important common point among all these cultures is the fact that they were all part of the Ottoman Empire at one stage. The kitchens of the Imperial Ottoman Palace in Istanbul had become the ultimate culinary hub of the empire. The various recipes, spices, ingredients were all refined in the palace kitchens. As a result, the modern baklava that we delectably consume today was perfected by the Ottomans in the 15th century.
The most popular Baklava-related event in Ottoman history was the Baklava ceremony of the Ottoman Army, which started around the 17th century. In the middle of Ramadan month, the Ottoman king would have a tray of baklava made for each group of 10 soldiers in the Army, which would be served and consumed at this official ceremony.
Loved by many nations, baklava is called بقلاوة in arabic, باقلواin Persian, baqlawad in Somalian, baqlawa in Kurdish, bakllava in albanian, baclava in Romanian, baklava in Hungarian, баклава in Serbian and Bulgarian, baklava in Bosnian and Croatian, bakława in Polish, baklava in Czech, пахлава in Russian, баклава in Ukrainian, μπακλαβάς in Greek, փախլավա in Armenian, ფახლავა in Georgian, বাক্লাভা, in Bengali.
Baklava, the national treasure
The “baklava” is a national treasure that should be protected, especially as its origin is disputed abroad. Therefore Turkish authorities published a series of criteria for the famous pastries to benefit from the official designation.
To curb the recent proliferation of counterfeits, inevitably ill-suited in this competitive climate, the very serious Turkish Institute of Standards (TSE) has specified the rules that must absolutely be met in order to obtain the “baklava” label.
“It must have a golden color and appearance as tradition dictates; its syrup must not be too thick, it must not cause a burning sensation in the throat and melt in the mouth without having to chew, “explained the TSE.
The last element of these specifications, each baklava must have a minimum thickness of 35 mm.
The Institute regretted that more and more pastry chefs take their ease with the canons of “baklava” by using crushed peas rather than pistachios, or by preferring vegetable oils to butter, or by replacing white sugar syrup with corn syrup.
Baklava from Gaziantep (southern Turkey) is the first Turkish product to achieve the much sought-after protected designation status of the European Union (EU).