Turkish delight: A sweet tour of Istanbul
Danielle Tumminio, Special to CNN
Rows of candied fruit and baklava line a display case at a Turkish confectionary in Istanbul
(CNN) -- Grandeur defines Istanbul: From architectural icons such as Hagia Sophia to the city's indomitable traffic, Istanbul pulsates with intensity and splendor.
Including sweet splendor.
Istanbul's passion for pastries and its history of inventing some of the world's most delightful desserts tempts visitors and residents to skip dinner and head straight for the meal's concluding course.
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Here's a taste of the most inventive, decadent and eccentric sweets from this culinary crossroads:
Sahlep: This mild beverage is Istanbul's answer to hot chocolate. Originating during the Ottoman Empire, sahlep's key ingredient is crushed orchid, which is used to thicken warm milk before being sweetened with sugar and cinnamon.
Common during the winter, but also available at other times, sahlep is great for warming one's insides during a brisk walk along the Bosphorus. It can be found in many of the stands near Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. If you want to sit down to enjoy it, Saray Muhallebicisi, which has locations throughout the city, prepares a particularly delicious mug.
Nut pastes (marzipan) and dragees: Istanbul loves nuts. Travelers can buy crisp almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts by the pound at the Spice Bazaar, but they can also find these nuts at the center of some of Istanbul's finest desserts.
Nut pastes -- literally made from a combination of crushed nuts and sugar -- are common in Istanbul confections, from the traditional almond-based marzipan to hazelnut and pistachio varieties. These pastes are available for purchase as bite-sized ovals, as well as in longer tube shapes or molded and colored to look like fruits.
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