Not to be confused with narcotics and belly-dancers, a circular wooden boxful of this jelly-like sweet is as quintessential as a jar of pickled-walnuts and tartan-boxed shortbread in any self-respecting Christmas hamper. Certainly in Western society, it is associated with Christmas (thus snow) and in CS Lewis' Narnia stories, the Snow Queen uses Turkish delight to bewitch Edmund and thence to control him.
In Turkey, Turkish delight continues to be sold as Rahat lokhoum, and indeed the adopted English word 'lokum' meaning Turkish delight is derived therefrom, and thence from a corruption of the Arabic rahat ul hulkum (literally translated as 'soothing to the throat').
What Is It Then?
Fundamentally, Turkish delight (or lokum) is a confectionery concoction of sugar-syrup and gum-arabic, flavoured with nuts, fruits and flowers, which, after due and diligent preparation, is served in pastel-coloured (pink, white and yellow are standard) cubic bite-sized morsels for consumption with cups of strong Turkish coffee.
Traditional flavourings are rose, lemon and vanilla, (evidently to match the standard colours), although 'modern' flavours like crème de menthe, almond and pistachio now exist.
Each morsel is typically coated in a dusting of fine white icing sugar (or at least a blend of sugar and cornstarch), which can give one the impression of eating a lump of stiff glue covered in talcum powder.
Commercial 'western' Turkish delight is typically softer and less chewy than the authentic Turkish confectionery product. Even further from the truth are those slippery condomically-pink 'Turkish delights' that masquerade under a charade of chocolate.
Is It Really Turkish?
Absolutely. In 1776, Anatolian sweetmaker, Hadji Bekir, travelled to Constantinople bringing with him a recipe for rahat lokhoum, in which the traditional sweetening ingredients of honey-syrup and grape-molasses were replaced with the newly available refined sugar. Evidently Hadji Bekir was something of a contemporary Turkish Willy Wonka because soon after establishing himself in Constantinople, rahat lokhoum became wildly popular and Bekir was appointed as chief confectioner to the Sultan himself.
Legend has it that adventurer, explorer, writer, scholar, womanising philanderer, and all round man's man, Sir Richard Burton, was responsible for introducing Turkish delight to Europe, supposedly returning with a parcel of rahat lokhoum from an expedition to Constantinople. Somewhat disappointingly however, this is probably more myth than legend ... it reportedly first showed up in Europe at the Vienna Fair in 1837 when Burton would have been only 16 years old. The traveller responsible for taking Turkish delight to Europe remains unknown.
'Lumps of delight' as it became known to the English (Charles Dickens' The Mystery of Edwin Drood (published 1870) refers to a Lumps of delight shop) was renamed 'Turkish delight' during the 19th Century, and commercial manufacture began in earnest in the UK in 1872. Perhaps most famously, Fry's started selling Turkish delight in 1914.