‘Pişmaniye’ Is Turkey’s Cotton Candy

Photo &copy: Christian-Hacker_Getty-Images

‘Pişmaniye’ (peesh-MAHN-ee-yay)’ sometimes called ‘fairy floss,’ is an ancient Turkish sweet that dates back to the 15th century. It is also called ‘fairy floss,’ ‘string havla,’ ‘stretched halva’ or ‘flax havla.’

‘Pişmaniye’ most resembles cotton candy but with a different texture and deeper flavor. Unlike cotton candy, this specialty candy contains flour and butter as well as a lot of sugar that is pulled into thousands of fine, crumbly strands. These strands are gathered into bite-sized balls and boxed like candy.

‘Pişmaniye’ comes in several varieties. It is sold plain or coated with chocolate, topped with ground pistachios or walnuts and flavored with vanilla or cocoa powder.

History Of ‘Pişmaniye’

The birthplace of ‘pişmaniye’ is the Kandira district in the city of Kocaeli in Northwestern Turkey, not far from Istanbul. Today, the fluffy floss is produced all around the country but the best still comes from this region.

Unlike most Turkish sweets like baklava, you won’t find ‘pişmaniye’ in your local market or pastry shop. It’s much harder to find and is usually sold in touristic gift and souvenir shops and in some upscale charcuterie shops.

Since ‘pişmaniye’ can be stored for a long time without refrigeration, buying it as a gift for family and friends is a common tradition throughout Turkey. Many wait until they travel through the Izmit area and stock up for future gifts.

How ‘Pişmaniye’ Is Made

Making authentic ‘pişmaniye’ takes a lot of skill. First, large amounts of flour are roasted in butter until lightly browned. Next, large amounts of sugar are melted and shaped into a ring by hand as they cool down. While the sugar is still pliable, it’s placed on top of the flour mixture and pulled, then shaped back into a ring. This process is repeated until the sugar and flour combine and form fine floss.

The Story Behind ‘Pişmaniye’

There are a lot of stories and local lore about ‘pişmaniye.’ In the Turkish language, ‘pişman’ means ‘regret.’ As the Turkish saying goes, ‘Try it once and regret it once. Don’t try it and you’ll regret it a thousand times.’

Another popular legend about this fluffy sweet goes like this. A confectioner who lived in Kocaeli was famous for his sweet creations. People lined up for miles outside his shop just to try some of his famous specialties. Even traders detoured off the Silk Road to try his delicious sweets.

The confectioner, despite his success, had a different kind of problem. He had fallen in love with a lovely but hefty young lady. He tried everything to win her heart, but his love remained unrequited.

In despair, he decided to create a brand new sweet and dedicate it to his beloved, hoping to gain her love in return. He worked hard with his helpers and created beautiful, snow-white balls of pulled halva.

In honor of his love, he called the sweet ‘şismaniye,’ which means “my fat lady” in Turkish. He carefully labeled it and sent a few boxes to his beloved girl. This time it worked and he managed to attract her attention.

Before long they got married and lived happily ever after, for a while at least. Then, his new bride’s jealousy and trickery turned his life into hell. He was heartbroken but he had to leave her. Thus, he changed the name of the sweet from ‘şismaniye’ to ‘pişmaniye’ which means ‘regret.’