Every family business has a story, and that of Şekerci (confectioner) Cafer Erol starts in the Turkish province of Kastamonu. During the Ottoman times, the the sons of the sultans were sent to regions such as Kastamonu to receive their education. Of course, their palates had to be satisfied in a princely manner. Şekerci Mehmet Dede, the original confectioner of the company, created a delicious mix of unique sweets by combining tastes and techniques from local Ottoman sweets, Armenian helva, and Greek jam.
The recipes were passed down in the family, which eventually opened a shop in Eminönü in 1807. In the years since, the family’s created candies, helva, and pastes for a working population at the heart of the city’s commercial district. Though the times changed drastically since the shop was opened, Şekerci Cafer Erol’s commitment to Ottoman-style sweets never faltered.
In 1945, one of Mehmet Usta’s grandchildren, Cafer Erol, moved the company from Eminönü to Kadıköy. Today a thriving, trendy district in Istanbul, just decades ago Kadıköy was a village. The family members who currently run the company, Nurtekin Erol and his son Hakan Erol, blend the former’s more traditionalist and the latter’s more contemporary visions to sustain a family business that not only holds onto its Ottoman past but also has adapted its tastes for the present.
The seemingly infinite assortment of Şekerci Cafer Erol’s products is a true representation of all of Turkey’s delights. From the local regions where the ingredients are gathered to the meticulous ways in which they are prepared in the confectioner’s kitchen, the immense variety of sweets one can find is a direct reflection of this company’s aim to encourage Ottoman extravagance for each customer.
Şekerci Cafer Erol has five different chefs for each of their specialized departments: candy, Turkish delights, Ottoman desserts, marzipan, and pastries. For the more traditional desserts, the head chef, Naim Uruk, boils and stirs the sugar syrup in copper cauldrons used by confectioners during the Ottoman times over a wood fire. He then adds the flavors to the mixture, stirs diligently, and after some time, transfers it to marble benches to cool. The sugar products are then shaped and cut by hand, giving them the perfect form to be accompanied with tea or Turkish coffee. Unlike the preparation process of traditional desserts, the more modern pastries, cakes, and tarts are prepared in a standard oven.
Challenging cafe standards
Though many present-day cafe-goers have their fixed favorite coffee and dessert combination, it is difficult to adhere to this standard at Şekerci Cafer Erol’s cafe. Its double-sided menu has all the cafe classics such as cakes, cups, and coffee, but also offers traditional tastes such as Hatay kabak tatlısı, a sweet pumpkin dessert, and zerde, a saffron and rice dessert, that can be eaten alongside sips of boza, a subtly sweet drink made from fermented grains.
The next time you are shopping for Turkish sweets, whether in Kadıköy or in various malls around the city, take a shopping break in their cafe. Just as the original Şekerci Mehmet Usta made the trek from Kastamonu to Eminönü to the delight of his future customers, you can make a trek to a Şekerci Cafer Erol shop or cafe and be rewarded with a mix of traditional and contemporary surprises.
Note: This article was originally published in the January/February 2018 print issue of the magazine.