There are many unique sights, smells, and tastes in Bursa for you to try on your adventure here. And while I would like to recommend that you try midye (steamed clams often sold on the street), I’m not always comfortable buying seafood on the street. However, one thing that I can recommend that you do try is kestane şekeri. In fact, kestane şekeri is listed among our top ten Bursa souvenirs to take home and share with your family and friends.
“Kestane şekeri” roughly translates to English as “candied chestnuts.” This special sweet treat originated right here in Bursa. So I recently set out to find out how Kafkas, perhaps the most famous Bursa kestane şekeri company, makes them. After chatting with a manager at one of the local Kafkas shops, I learned that there are two Kafkas kestane şekeri factories in Bursa. I decided to visit the main factory in the Özlüce neighborhood to see what I could learn about the art and science of making kestane şekeri. When I arrived at the factory, I was surprised to see the building surrounded by a high-security fence with barbed wire and no obvious entry. I found the security booth and decided to see how far my charm and The Best of Bursa could get me.
“Hi my name is Matt and I am writing for a website about Bursa and we want to know about how kestane şekeri is made. Is there any way I can come in and maybe take a few photos for the website?” I asked the guards in Turkish.
“Sorry, no. We do not let anyone in,” one of the men replied.
Not to be deterred by company policy I asked, “Definitely no?”
“Oh, thank you. But I’d like to see how it’s all made.”
At that point, one of the guards smiled, picked up a phone, and said, “Ok, we will call someone.”
Moments later the gate opened and I was introduced to the factory manager and an English-speaking colleague of his. (Here’s a tip for your own travels in Turkey—always ask. There is often a way. Turkish people are greatly helpful.)
As I introduced myself to the manager and his colleague, I was warmly welcomed and shown incredible hospitality. It quickly became clear, though, that I would not be able to show you how kestane şekeri is made. The factory manager explained to me that the reason they have so much security is because their kestane şekeri manufacturing processes are tightly-held trade secrets. So instead of touring the factory, we headed to the café and store for tea and samples and to hear what they could tell me about Kafkas and kestane şekeri.
“It is not very interesting in there anyways,” one of the guards said to me. “There are mostly just machines.”
As I sat with the manager and his colleague, I learned that Kafkas started in 1930 when the founder, Ali Sakir Tatveren, began candying chestnuts in Bursa. What started as a small family confectionery has become an industrial-scale international business. And while they are now processing chestnuts in metric tons, it is still a family business. The chestnuts they use still come from local Anatolian chestnut trees that cover the Bursa countryside and especially Mount Uludağ. Turkey is one of the largest chestnut producers in the world and Bursa is the kestane şekeri capital of Turkey.
Sitting in the café, we tried a unique and delicious dessert called karyoka, a chocolate cake stuffed with candied chestnuts. Without hesitation, I can say that The Best of Bursa officially recommends karyoka. Karyoka is tasty proof that Kafkas has innovated and expanded its product lines over the years. And the good news is that the Kafkas product lines continue to expand. They are also working on expanding their export base in Europe and North America.
If you find yourself in Bursa and would like to have a true kestane şekeri experience, I would recommend a visit to the Kafkas factory café in Özlüce or their location in Osmangazi. And if you would like to read more about Kafkas, its history, or kestane şekeri in general, please visit kafkas.com. Let us know your favorite style of kestane şekeri. Or maybe you have gotten to see kestane şekeri made in Bursa—if so, please let me know. Because unless I get a golden ticket, I think they are going to keep their delicious secrets to themselves. And I have no reason to think otherwise; after all, they have kept those secrets for 87 years.