My kid was getting his usual buzz cut at the barbershop down the street – barber pole out front, dog-eared man-magazines, the whole nine yards, run by a chain-smoking Greek guy named Greg who had recently returned from a trip to the old country to visit his family. He’s a sweet man and he wanted to share the bounty, and before I’d really registered what he was doing, he’d reached into a box on the counter and promptly stuffed a small square of something pink and powdered in my mouth.
“It’s good, yes?” he said beaming. “Turkish delight.” I think his mama made it.
Turkish delight, also known as rahat loukoum, for the uninitiated, is an age-old dessert traditionally made from rose-water (although you can use other flavors, like orange or green), chopped nuts like pistachios, and camel phlegm, mixed and boiled on the stove until it congeals and then dusted with talcum powder.
For those of us with textural issues, Turkish delight ranks right up there on the Do Not Want list alongside such classics as raw oysters, Jell-o, fish in aspic, anything in aspic, aspic itself, or ambrosia; and slightly less ghastly than shad roe or other offal or organs, including brains. Let’s get drunk one night and I’ll tell you all about the time the Big Cheese’s mother cooked me some nice shad roe, in a clever but unsuccessful effort to drive me away.
I did with the Turkish delight what I did with the mouthful of spongy shad roe, which turned out to be every bit as delish as you’d think a sautéed, plump, fist-sized fish ovary would be. I stared at a point in the middle distance, a smile pasted on my (closed) mouth, and searched for a way in which I might be able to spit the thing out without being caught. No dice – Greg was watching me like a hawk. Plan B entails using a beverage like beer, milk or water to help the swallowing process without actually chewing; this works well with things like squid and meatloaf. Instead I had to go with the risky Plan C, which is a quick chew chew chew followed by a painful dry swallow and a fervent prayer that I wasn’t about to dry-heave this precious gift back up, right down the front of Greg’s hair-covered smock.
Anyhow, for those of you who haven’t tried Turkish delight, if you can’t get it locally, here’s a whole website, and it doesn’t look that hard to make from scratch, either – rather like fudge-making, you cook it using a candy thermometer and then pour. When it stops quivering, you’re all set.
I got to thinking about Turkish delight after my unscheduled, shocking love affair with L’Artisan Traversee du Bosphore, which is sweet, but light and airy and delicious — more meringue, less aspic. I should interrupt my ignorant, insulting dessert-diss here and state the obvious — Turkish delight of the rose-water variety is rose-scented (and flavored?) – but somehow, the few times I’ve smelled or tasted it, it registers as cherry, as in: jars of red Maraschinos, or cherry extract. (Cherry pie – also on the no-thanks list. If you’re out of cherries for your pie, use sheeps’ eyeballs in your cornstarch; who could possibly tell the difference? Throw in some red dye and some cherry extract and… voila.)
I decided to re-sniff and review some Turkish delight scents, in increasing order of toxic Death-by-Cherry (DBC) magnitude.
Traversee du Bosphore is the gentle, ear-nibbling, slow-talking, tobacco-enhanced, white-lie-telling intro to Turkish delight. It’s a 1 on the DBC scale.
Keiko Mecheri Loukhoum – hawthorn blossom, Bulgarian rose absolute, precious woods, vanilla, Comores flowers, white almond, and musk. This one gets compared back and forth to the Lutens Rahat Loukoum all the time. I think overall I agree with sentiments on MUA – the KM Loukhoum is more powdery and less sweet, and it lasts longer. Since powdery doesn’t make me moan with pleasure either, I can’t say I cared for it, but I can see why others do. To my nose it’s closer to POTL*; more Death-by-Play-Doh than Death By Cherry. Let’s give it a 3 on the DBC scale.
Serge Lutens Rahat Loukoum – white almond, crushed cherry pips, white honey, musk and vanilla. This is part of the non-export line and I’m always surprised how many of the US reps don’t even know it exists. I remember finding Rahat baffling and repulsive, simultaneously, when I had a sample awhile ago. I lost it or gave it away, so I ordered another sample. My new fondness for this frightens me a little. On me it’s much less powdery (perhaps more bready?) than the Keiko Mecheri, and much sweeter, with that actual macerated-cherry note rather than the cherry-almond of heliotrope. I can well imagine this driving people, Miel de Bois-style, screaming into the street. This is a 5.5 or 6 on the DBC scale.
Serge Lutens Louve – almond, rose petals, jasmine petals, musk and vanilla powder. Let’s quote Luca Turin from The Guide – “neither very good nor very bad, but completely baffling” and (like Rousse) “another Lutens from the periode bizarre.” You know what? If you want to go all the way, this is the way to do it. Having compared them over and over, I now think of Louve as the gum-cracking, reality-show-watching USA version of Rahat – younger, cloying, infinitely trashier. It’s so resolutely déclassé I give myself fits of giggles imagining Lutens and Sheldrake huddled over the paper strips during its development, sniffing away, wearing their Hedi Slimane lab coats, and Lutens frowns and says to Sheldrake in impeccable French: “I don’t know … not enough hairspray? Some more of that canned-pie-filling note?” All the Lutens SAs in New York I talk to hate Louve, in marked contrast to the customer base. You look at the bottles on display and Louve is a quarter-full or less; it must sell. Wearing Louve is like sitting at the bar, flirting with the bartender, while you drink a rum and Diet Coke and eat the whole tray of maraschino cherries from the bar mixers. It’s probably not good for you, and you might regret it later, but who am I to spoil your fun? An 8 on the DBC scale.
Christian Dior Poison – sweet orange, bergamot, Sicilian mandarin, orange flower, jasmine sambac, gardenia, sandalwood, white amber and musk. Technically not a true Death By Cherry, in the way that Godzilla is not a black widow spider. If you’re going to walk this walk, though, your footsteps are going to have to head here eventually. Dior Poison is Turkish delight re-writ monster-size and with an angrier hand. It is a more complex idea – a fruity, plummy, musky amber-jasmine, an oriental with the wide shoulders of Joan Collins on Dallas in the 1980s – but boiled down it’s cough syrup, maybe one of those generic ones that’s grape and cherry at the same time. Try to find an older bottle and spray it on two or three times. Then hop in your closet, shut the door, and visualize yourself in an elevator at 8:45 a.m., on the way to work. A 9.5 on the DBC scale.
Undoubtedly I’ve overlooked some of these death-by-cherry scents – how about that Montale Sweet Oriental Dream, anyone tried that? Also, I’ve arbitrarily drawn a line separating death-by-cherry from the cherry-almond heliotrope ones like POTL and Hypnotic Poison and Etro Heliotrope, which I view as a whole different kind of death, more a death-by-powder. Would you draw the same distinction?
*POTL = The People of the Labyrinths (POTL) Luctor et Emergo, an older cult-perfumista scent that smells, depending, like Barbara Bui, heliotrope, vanilla-powdery comfort, or Play-Doh.
samples: mine, all mine; manufacturers sprays of KM Loukhoum and SL Louve; Rahat from TPC, my own vintage bottle of Poison.
Image: from a UK Daily Mail article about a West Yorkshire man angry about “pornographic” Haribo candy wrappers in which cherries, lemons and … that mysterious green thing (a pickle? A melon?) are doin’ the wild thang. The Japanese and Germans are apparently fine with it.