Pretty much every health expert and study points to the fact that nuts are an excellent source of healthy fats and protein and therefore are one of the best choices to make for a satisfying snack. Luckily, in Turkey, there are shops solely devoted to nuts, and I’m here to tell you what the choices are within them.
We have all seen them, as they are plastered around many towns and cities all over the country and are usually small but decked out with shiny displays with drawers filled with warm seeds and nuts, which is befitting since they are Turkey’s nut shops that go by the name “kuruyemiş.” A shop devoted solely to nuts, “well that’s just nuts” you might say, however, that couldn’t be farther from the truth as these vendors actually offer the healthiest products you could ever consume. Nut shops in Turkey not only sell a vast variety of roasted and raw nuts in bulk, served in small paper bags from which to pick, crack and crunch, but they also have a wide selection of dried fruits and vegetables, a variety of sweets including Turkish delight and will also regularly have preserves such as jams, tomato and pepper pastes, breakfast dips and natural ointments, Turkish coffee and even flavored teas. Thankfully, these beloved shops are considered indispensable in Turkey and thus have remained open during lockdowns.
What nuts and seeds to buy in Turkey?
Interestingly enough, the most popular items sold at nut shops in Turkey are actually seeds. Turks love to crack open sunflower seeds in the shell to nibble on the kernel in a sort of meditative fashion for what could be hours on end and shared among friends. It is a popular pastime while sitting on benches in parks or along the coast, at football games, social events, tea gardens and even at home while watching television and movies with families and friends. The shell remnants do admittedly create a mess and in recent years, there are even certain areas where consuming these seeds have been prohibited due to the mess created. The Üsküdar shoreline in Istanbul is one such area that has had to take such measures to keep the area clean. Nonetheless, roasted sunflower seeds, followed by pumpkin seeds, both sold in the shell, are hands down the most popular items sold in kuruyemiş shops. To be honest, you would actually be hard-pressed to find the shelled varieties in such shops.
Turkey, especially the country's Gaziantep region, after which the nut is named, is famous for producing the highest quality pistachios in the world – and they are also one of the priciest and most desirable varieties. They are sold in the shell for snacking on, as well as either shelled or ground to be used in a variety of dishes, including the country’s signature dessert baklava. Luckily, the other nuts available, namely hazelnuts, cashews, almonds, walnuts and peanuts, are mostly sold shelled and roasted. However, almonds, walnuts and peanuts are also purchasable in their shells.
Turks' legacy with 'leblebi'
Yet another unique quirk of the Turks is their affinity for roasted chickpeas. Referred to as “leblebi” and popular throughout the Middle East and North Africa, to where the Turks introduced them, roasted chickpeas are prepared in a few variations here in Turkey. The most prominent varieties are “beyaz leblebi,” which are plain, white on the outside, quite dry and almost powdery while crunched; “sarı leblebi" is a roasted golden variation that generally has the telltale black char marks; “çıtır leblebi” are roasted chickpeas covered in a salty crunchy coating made from starch, sugar and occasionally soy and then “şekerli leblebi,” are covered in a crunchy sweet coating and dyed white or in a variety of bright colors.
Cezerye: The original energy ball
In addition to nuts and seeds, kuruyemiş shops in Turkey also sell a variety of dried fruits with apricots, figs and mulberries the predominant options. In recent years, however, more exotic fruits such as mango, pineapple, papaya and even strawberries have also been added to the mix. There are also a number of interesting dried fruit and even vegetable products that are popular in Turkey and serve as healthy snacks, similar to the newly trending “energy balls” that combine nuts and dried fruits. "Cezerye,” is one such treat that is made from caramelized carrots and roasted nuts and shaped in a solid gelatinous cube, slice or ball that is covered in shredded coconut.
Walnut sucuk far from a sausage
“Cevizli sucuk” is another interesting treat that can be purchased from kuruyemiş shops and while it resembles a sausage in its shape and name, which translates to “walnut sausage,” it is certainly not a meat-based or savory item. The main ingredient of this delicacy is, as you may guess, walnuts, which are threaded on a string and dipped in a thickened grape molasses and hung to dry in the shape of a sausage. There are also variations of “cevizli sucuk” prepared from pomegranate molasses.
Pining for pestil
One of my favorite childhood treats when visiting Turkey was “pestil,” which are thick fruit leathers, that unfortunately have become less regularly available in recent years. It used to be that you could purchase apricot, plum, mulberry and grape pestil, which came in thick sheets, from any kuruyemiş shop in bulk. These days there is less of a variety available and many have walnuts incorporated into the pulp. There are also the “muska pestil” variations, in which the fruit leather is filled with ground walnuts or pistachios and shaped into a small triangle, which resembles the prayer amulets referred to as “muska” in Turkish. Pestil can still be found occasionally in kuruyemiş shops and is widely available online.
Malatya Pazarı: The mother ship of nut shops
Founded in 1870 by the Palancı family in Malatya, Malatya Pazarı is one of the most well-known kuruyemiş chains in Turkey with branches all over the country, including their landmark shop in Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar. These are some of the rare shops where you can source harder to find nuts such as Brazil and Macadamia nuts as well as pecans, which are all orderable online.
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