Foodies: have you got a soft spot for Greek delight – loukoumi?
‘Rahat-ul hulqum’ means ‘soothing to the throat’ and in many countries that were part of the Ottoman Empire the name has been simplified to ‘lokum’ or ‘ratluk’, while in Greece it has become ‘loukoumi’ – Greek delight. Even now, when meat is very tender, Greeks compliment the cook by saying that it is ‘loukoumi’; so soft that it melts in your mouth.
If you wonder what’s so special about it, dive into the story behind this magical delight and find out!
Οnce upon a time…
About three centuries ago, Sultan Abdul Hamid needed to keep the ladies in his harem happy and content. He ordered the best confectioners in his empire to come up with a peacekeeping sweet. Hadji Bekir lived in Kastamonu, a Turkish town close to the Black Sea and he was the inventor of the sweet called ‘rahat-ul hulqum’.
Bekir used ingredients that he had at his disposal in Kastamonu. He boiled water, sugar and lemon, added flour and cream of tartar. He then sprinkled rosewater on top and when the mixture had cooled down, he cut it up into chunks and dusted it with powdered sugar. A delightful combination, it proved to be. In those days, sweets were usually very hard and he managed to produce a soft sweet; the secret to success.
Some researchers claim that the roots of this delicious bite go even 500 years further back to Persia, where a similar sweet called ‘no rooz’ was prepared for the New Year celebrations. No matter the origin of loukoumi, there is one uniting conclusion: it is delicious!
Greek delight production in Greece
Loukoumi comes in many flavors; lemon, rose, strawberry, orange, bergamot…. It may contain pistachios, ginger and other ingredients depending on someone’s special request. Usually, loukoumi comes with a Greek coffee as it is the traditional welcome drink.
Even though the ingredients are few, making good loukoumi is quite a craft. Making it very stretchy without using preservatives means that its freshness does not last forever and this is an indicator of quality. We are so happy to have found that one, small, family company in Athens with a really respectable reputation and history.
A sweet family company
Manos Vomvylas is the youngest family member: an energetic man who easily fits 25 hours of work in a day. He is continuing the work of his grandfather Emmanouil who started the company in 1950. Upon entering the workshop, you realise that you enter a place where time seems to have come to a halt. And how pleasant that is! Manos, his shy but ever-smiling father Georgios and uncle Panagiotis daily prepare soft and fresh Greek delight without preservatives. Craftsmanship combined with zeal result in delicious bites, big and small, always covered in heaps of snow-like powdered sugar. Simply looking at it is mouth-watering, tasting it is a heavenly experience!
Manos’ family is an excellent example of how the economic crisis has created a determined generation. They prove that with commitment and persistence (and approximately 300 kilos of sugar per day), despite the crisis, life remains so sweet in Greece!
What are your sweetest memories of Greece? Or are you planning on creating some, anytime soon? Visit Athens and try some Greek delight!