Your first clue that there’s something unique about this milky medieval dessert is right in the name: tavuk göğsü, which is Turkish for “chicken breast.”
Poultry is indeed the signature ingredient in this sweet white pudding, which was a delicacy in the palaces of the Ottoman Empire. If you believe the legend, it originated when a sultan asked for something sweet in the middle of the night, and the palace cooks, not wanting to disappoint, used the only thing they had in the kitchen: chicken.
In Middle Ages–era Europe, it was not uncommon to eat poultry for dessert. Tavuk göğsü is very similar to early versions of blancmange, a creamy chicken-based pudding enjoyed by the upper crust of France and its neighbors. By the 17th century, the meat mostly disappeared from the ingredient list of blancmange, but it remained an integral part of the dish in Turkish cuisine to this day.
Tavuk göğsü is made by boiling white chicken breast—preferably fresh from the butcher—until it shreds into fine threads. Chefs then mix it with milk, sugar, and a thickener, and cook the ingredients in a saucepan. When it’s ready to serve, they cut the mixture into a rectangle or roll it into a log, dusted with cinnamon.
The taste is sweet and rich, with a creamy yet uniquely stringy texture thanks to the boiled bird. It’s sort of like a thicker version of rice pudding, if the rice were poultry shredded into tiny strands. Notably, tavuk göğsü does not taste of chicken; the clue is in the consistency of the fibrous custard, which is cut with a fork rather than spooned.
Need to Know
You can find tavuk göğsü at cafes throughout Istanbul. Look for restaurants that call themselves "muhallebicis" (pudding shops). Many shops that make tavuk göğsü will also make a caramelized version known as kazandibi.
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Where to Try It
This restaurant specializes in puddings and has been selling one of the city's most popular versions of tavuk göğsü for decades.