Fine Food and Drinks of Greece
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Loukoumi, the Greek version of Turkish Delight, is a confection consisting mainly of water, sugar and starch. The most important ingredients, however, are flavorings, the occasional nut and a little bit of magic.

“Loukoumia are a Cubist’s dream: bright, vivid chunks of color diffused by a light coating of powdered sugar”

Picasso was a big fan and it is easy to see, literally, why. Loukoumia are a Cubist’s dream: bright, vivid chunks of color diffused by a light coating of powdered sugar (ostensibly to prevent sticking, but interesting visually as well). Still, while they exude a modern aesthetic, they are the first sweets my grandmother remembers as a child.

The preparation process has been updated over the past centuries, but the basic technique remains still the same: bring the ingredients to boil in a large brass cauldron while stirring constantly until the experienced confectioner decides that the sweet substance can be removed from the heat. Then spread the mixture on iron sheets or on large wooden surfaces; once the mixture cools and firms, cut it into small squares and coat with sugar, sesame or even chocolate.

The etymology of the name remains still a linguistic puzzle. It is assumed that it derives from the Arabic word “rahat-al hulkum” which means “to the contentment of the throat”. This phrase somehow became the Turkish word “lokum”, entering the Greek language as Loukoumi (plural: Loukoumia). In certain regions of Greece, though, it is still known as rahat, belying its Arabic roots.

Legend credits its invention to Bekir Effendi, a confectioner working in the Turkish Sultan’s palace in Constantinople during the late 18th century. The Sultan apparently had trouble keeping his wives and concubines happy. He grew tired of their whining and sought a way to change their dispositions. This new, soft and chewy candy was the answer. The designer of this delicacy knew it was virtually impossible to speak (much less whine) when eating Loukoumi because it requires constant chewing and often adheres to the roof of a mouth. Whether or not this story is true one will never know, however, we do know that Loukoumia have sweetened the mouths and hearts of myriads of palates (female and male) all over the world.

Due to Greece’s occupation by the Ottoman Empire and its close proximity to Turkey it didn’t take long before the art of making the Loukoumi reached the shores of Greece. The technique was acquired by Greek residents in Constantinople and then introduced to several Greek regions in the early 19th century.

Over the years, Greece embraced and integrated the luscious Loukoumia into its own culinary culture, adding new elements to the classic recipe. Flavored with rosewater or clove, mastic, lemon or even ouzo, to this day Loukoumia are the preferred sweet served in the kafenia (traditional coffeehouses), in orthodox monasteries and in every Greek household that receives improptu visitors. One of the reasons for their popularity is that Loukoumia can be stored for a long time without compromising their taste, freshness or flavor. These sugary cubes are also present at weddings and memorial services alike, to enhance the joy of a happy occasion or to soothe the sorrow of a sad one.

banana ñ bergamot ñ chocolate ñ coconut lemon ñ mandarine ñ mastic ñ mint ñ orange pineapple ñ pistachio ñ rose ñ strawberry saffron ñ vanilla

Saffron may, of course, be simply crumbled and added to a dish. It will provide some flavoring, but not enough to justify the cost of the spice.

The Saffron Producers' Cooperative of Kozani

Today, Loukoumia are produced all over Greece. The ones that truly stand out though, are the traditional Loukoumia made on the island of Syros, the soutzouk loukoum made in Komotini, a region in Thrace, and another variation called akanedes produced in Serres, a region in Central Macedonia.

Syros – Loukoumi’s Ambassador Syros is renowned for its Loukoumia. Some say this is due to one of their special ingredients: the brackish water found on this island. Although the ingredients are simple and few, the magic is all in the technique. The producing companies, as a rule family-businesses that have been passed from one generation to the next, safeguard their traditional recipes to preserve the perfect taste and aroma. Exact dosages, constant attentiveness, love and pride go into the right mixture of raw ingredients.

When you travel by boat to the Cycladic Islands and you stop in Syros, keep an eye open for the salesmen with big baskets filled with boxes of Loukoumia. Remember, you must seize the opportunity to purchase these delights before the ship sets sale for the next harbor.

Komotini – Soutzouk Loukoum
In Komotini, a city in northern Greece, one can find an interesting variation of Loukoumi called soutzouk loukoum, or, literally, Loukoumi sausage. to make this sweet, walnuts are string together and then dipped in moustalevria – sweet
grape must mixed with a little semolina flour. This results in a sweet which resembles a sausage. It is then cut into bitesize pieces.

Serres – Akanes
Akanes is yet another Loukoumi variation and the traditional sweet of Serres. Smaller in size than the average cube, this delicacy also includes one major addition: fresh, aromatic butter – usually made from goat’s milk – and the mandatory inclusion of crunchy almonds.

The production of Akanes once coincided with the return of the summering Ottoman beys to the mountains of Lailia on Serres. The preparation is similar to the Loukoumi technique. The fresh water from the spring of Lailia and the addition of fresh butter (before the mixture hardens) definitely distinguishes this regional delicacy from others.

It is speculated that the origin of the word “akanes” derives either from the Greek verb “anakatevo” (to stir), or the Turkish imperative “aka” (stir!) because the mix requires long and patient stirring. The obedient answer “ne” (Greek, yes), from the servants who prepared the sweet dessert, is supposed to be the second syllabus of the term. Loukoumia have been around for centuries and people are still enamored with them. There is something magical about them which inspired artists, politicians and legends: Picasso, Churchill and Napoleon savored them frequently.

Try them with a freshly brewed Greek coffee, or with an ice-cold glass of water. Or, give a nice box to a friend. It will take you a while to discover your favorite taste, filling and coating, but once you find it, there will never be a sweeter delight!

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