There are neighborhoods in İstanbul whose names are deeply identified with a particular product. The Vefa Bozacısı (boza is a fermented millet drink) in Vefa and the Bebek Badem Ezmecisi (badem ezmesi is a kind of almond paste akin to marzipan) in Bebek are two examples. And then again there are cases where, while the names of the product and the neighborhood are closely related, one’s identity seldom eclipses the other’s. The “Halva House” established in the neighborhood of Koska by a family who had migrated to İstanbul from the province of Denizli did take its name from its location, but then left it far behind. Indeed, the brand Koska Helvacısı evolved gradually, as a natural process. For some time, the sign in the shop’s window read “Adil Dindar ve Oğulları” (Ali Dindar and Sons), but soon the public began to refer to it as “the Halva seller in Koska,” so the family decided to adopt the name. Thus, it first become known as “Koska İmalathanesi” (the Koska manufacturing shop) starting in the 1950s, and then as “Koska Helvacısı” (the Koska halva maker/seller).
Although it derives its name from a neighborhood in İstanbul, the helva-maker’s saga actually began in Denizli. The first link in the family chain that, going from generation to generation, stretches to Koska Helvacısı today was Hacı Emin Bey. The modest halva shop that he established in 1907 in Delikliçınar, province of Denizli, was turned by his son and grandsons into a food industry giant within a century. What is most important is that this brand product was a taste specific to the land of the Ottomans.
Haci Emin Bey’s son Halil İbrahim Adil worked alongside his father and learned the art of making halva from him. During these early years, their shop had elements of a grocery store. Besides halva, they sold Turkish Delight, candy, and dry legumes. Hacı Emin Bey died an untimely death in 1911, and difficult years followed both for the family and for the Ottoman Empire. Successive wars lasted a decade, and among the soldiers who fought in them was Halil İbrahim Adil, whose military service lasted no less than eight years. He was able, however, to turn his service to his country into an advantage for both himself and his family. Stationed in Damascus, a city well known for its confections and confectioners, he spent his free time working in a shop and honing his skills. His mother had passed away during his absence, and this gave him the freedom to be adventurous once the war was over.
Adil Bey first tried his luck in the district of Kula, province of Manisa, whose manufacturing sector was fairly developed at the time. He produced sweets as he had learned both at his father’s shop and in Damascus, but after a while he set his eyes on larger cities —indeed on the largest— and relocated to İstanbul in 1930. During his first year there, he opened shops first in the neighborhood of Sirkeci and then in the lower floor of the commercial building Sırmakeş Hanı at the boundary between the neighborhood of Koska and Bayezid Square. This historical building, which would later be turned into a public library, used to be home to silver- and gold-thread emroiderers who decorated the uniforms of palace officials, bureaucrats, and other prominent Ottomans. Adil Bey thus entered one of İstanbul’s most lively commercial districts and quickly worked his way into the memories, taste buds, and lives of İstanbul dwellers.
Halva was a taste with which İstanbul was familiar: for centuries, halva-makers had sweetened the palates of İstanbul-dwellers, and a traveler to İstanbul during the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid II discusses at length the preparation of pure halva, using egg whites with the addition of soapworts (Saponaria), a plant also known as “halva-maker’s root.” What is special about halva is that it speaks to Turkish tastes and can be manufactured from local ingredients. At the same time, the fact that it can be consumed at breakfast, during meals, and as a snack in sandwich form made it stand out among other sweets. As an inexpensive confection, it was a favorite among both people of modest means and students, particularly those from the countryside who were as yet unfamiliar with İstanbul. Over the years, it came to be recognized as a fitting conclusion to a meal of seafood, and in many works of literature, a fish dinner is inevitably followed by halva for dessert. Ayfer Tunç’s novel Aziz Bey Hadisesi, for instance, includes a melancholy detail: “‘You will eat Lüfer [a fish native to the Bosphorus and much beloved by İstanbul dwellers] in the Fish Market, don’t forget!’ said Toros. ‘And it will be grilled.’ ‘Agreed,’ said Aziz Bey. ‘And I will top it off with halva from Koska, with pistachio nuts.’”
The Turkish actor Gazanfer Özcan remembered Koska in the 1930s by its distinctive signboard. Many whose student years were spent during the shortages of World War II, such as the future well-known architect and writer Aydın Boysan, survived on Koska halva sandwiches. As a child, the journalist and sports reporter Halit Kıvanç knew that he would be rewarded for good behavior with Koska halva. For the author and journalist Doğan Hızlan, fish was always followed by Koska halva. The shop actually carried many kinds of sweets. There were different types of halva, of course, including tahin (sesame paste), koz (nougat), and irmik (semolina), but also candy, tulumba (fluted fritters in syrup), fifteen or twenty trays of baklava, the Damascene dessert baqlawa bayda’ (white baklava), hurma tatlısı (date-shaped semolina cookies), hanım göbeği (“lady’s navel,” doughnut-shaped pastries in syrup), vezir parmağı (“vezir’s finger,” finger-shaped pastries in syrup)… Though it must have been difficult to choose from among so many delicious confections, most people had a distinct preference. Thus, the well-known surgeon and author Prof. Dr. Tarık Minkari described a childhood memory as follows: “Towards the evening, I would go to the Koska store as if I had a subscription to it. I would always look at their window before going in. Then, for some reason, I would always choose the same flavor, nougat, which always appealed to me.”
In those years, there was still a considerable number of non-Muslims in Turkey, and they were active in many commercial areas including the confection business; Adil Bey and his sons tried to create a place for themselves in this environment. They chose the surname Dindar (“religious”) upon the promulgation of the Surnames Act in 1934. They also suffered a fire during the 1930s.
Catastrophe was averted during the severe sugar shortage of World War II by Adil Bey’s ingenuity. He developed a new product, fındık helva, with raisins and hazelnut paste: the popularity of this new flavor saved Koska Helvacısı from dire straits. There were a number of products specific to the firm, such as sakızlı kürek helvası (a somewhat firmer and crumbly version of tahin helvası, here flavored with mastic), which were identified with the manufacturer.
Together with a few helpers, Halil İbrahim Adil Bey produced approximately 300 kilograms of halva daily. Roasted in batches several times a day, in fifty-kilogram cauldrons, the sweet smell of halva would pervade the neighborhood. Lines up to twenty meters long would form outside the shop, and the merchandise would sell out as soon as it was prepared. With the establishment of Migros in the mid-1950s and the development of a supermarket culture, Koska products began to make their appearance on market shelves as well as traveling stands.
In 1958-1959, Prime Minister Adnan Menderes’s efforts at urban restructuring led to the demolition of the historical Simkeşhane building. As a result, Koska Helvacısı was forced to move out of the location to which İstanbul dwellers had become accustomed; Hacı Ali Dindar and sons purchased a plot near a row of shops sold by the Municipality. A new building designed and built by Aydın Boysan became the new home of Koska Helvacısı. When that building was in turn torn down during the 1980s, the family did not wish to sever its ties to the neighborhood of Koska, and so they sought and found, with great difficulty, four adjacent stores that they took over and combined into one. This became their new store in the fabled Türk Hava Kurumu (Turkish Aviation Association) building. This new location was deeply meaningful to those who both valued the Association and had a sweet tooth. At the same time, it is useful to bear in mind that by the mid-1970s, Koska products were available at many venues both in İstanbul and nation-wide. Then, as now, one could run into Koska halva at a grocery store, or a supermarket, or, as in a novel by Vedat Türkali, at the firm’s store itself: “Finally, he was free. He did not wait for the tram. He bought halva with nuts, cheese, crackers, and tea from Koska and began to walk slowly towards Laleli.”
When Halil İbrahim Adil Bey died in 1971, three of his five children took over the family legacy. Until 1974, they continued to produce their wares in an artisanal fashion, but in 1974 Koska Helvacısı built a factory in İstanbul’s district of Topkapı to produce Turkish Delight, jams, tahini, and nougat. Priscilla Mary Işın, an expert on Turkish traditional sweets and desserts, notes that while production has been automated at Koska, the most sensitive step in the process, final mixing, is still performed manually by well-trained masters.
In 1983, the brothers Mümtaz and Nevzat Dindar moved to new modern facilities in the district of Merter, operating under the name “Koska Helvacısı Merter.” After Mümtaz Bey’s death in 1992, Nevzat Dindar, along with his children, nieces, and nephews, moved to their new installation in Avcılar, at the Ambarlı crossing —a site disposing of 22,000 square meters of indoors space. From there, they ship their products to all supermarket chains across the country, as well as to agencies in seventy-eight countries. By agreement among family members, the name Koska is being used by both companies. Their youngest brother Mahir Dindar also decided to branch out on his own: in an effort to sell Koska products internationally, he began marketing them under the brand Mahir Gıda, realizing exports to Russia, the Middle East, Europe, and the United States, and thus seeking to turn a century-old legacy into a universal flavor. He moved to a new, fully automated factory in 1990.
Both firms proudly carrying the brand Koska have endeavored to raise their quality standards to the highest possible level, and to supplement their classical products with new ones. Koska gives life to many industries, from agriculture to transportation, through the economic opportunities it creates. It continues along its journey, from tradition into the future, through two companies bearing the same name and privy to the same secret.
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