Photos © Slawomira Kozieniec
During the cold winter months I see all kinds of warm street snacks popping up in Istanbul. Lokma is one of them. The Turkish word lokma means ‘mouthful’ or ‘morsel’.
Just recently a couple of young men started to sell these lokma tatlısı (deep fried dough balls), soaked in sugar syrup in front of a neighborhood bakery in Kadıköy, on the Asian side of Istanbul. “We will continue to make them for a couple of months here on the street, until the winter weather is driven out by Spring”, they say.
The hot dough balls, often with a hole in the middle, are sprinkled with cinnamon before they are eaten, on the street or taken home for desert. You find them as well on the busy square next to the Galata bridge where other vendors sell grilled mackerel in a bun. The guys in the stall over there sprinkle the lokma with a green powder of ground pistachios; mmmmmmmmmmm 🙂
Sometimes you see long lines in front of the sellers of lokma. Because they are popular for sure, but often the reason is that they are given away for free!
Last I saw a small bus where they were frying dough balls and a long line orderly waiting for their turn. Often these free lokma give aways are paid for by religious non governmental organizations. Or by people who do it on behalf of a recently relative who passed away, or on the anniversary of the deceased family member.
This sweet snack, popular in the Ottoman cuisine as well, has been around for centuries in these lands and the wider area. Other names for it are Loukoumades (Greek), luqmat al-qadi (‘judge’s mouthful’ in Arabic countries), and bāmyieh (Iran).
In Greece, loukoumades are commonly spiced with cinnamon in a honey syrup and can be sprinkled lightly with powdered sugar. In the Netherlands you have a variety called ‘oliebollen’, with raisins, and sprinkled with powdered sugar as well.
In ancient Greece, these deep fried dough balls were served to the winners of the Greek Olympics. The Greek poet Callimachus was the first to state that these deep fried dough balls were soaked in honey and then served to the winners as “honey tokens”.
The pastry is called zvingoi by the Greek Jews, who make them as Hanukkah treats. A similar dish is also found in Italy as sfingi di San Giuseppe.
Various other kinds of fried dough with syrup are found in the Mediterranean, Middle East, and South Asia, from the Italian struffoli (the most similar to loukoumades in preparation) and zeppole (more like an American cake doughnut) to the Indian and Pakistani jalebi and gulab jamun.