Guide to SKOPJE

Macun: More than just candy



Visiting the historical center of Istanbul you are bound to find yourself at the crowded way towards the entrance of the Top Kapi Palace. Among the incredible jam-packed situation, you may miss the street-sellers at these tiny stands here and there. Some are selling something that looks like a lollipop, rolled in spiral shapes on a stick. In front of them the sellers have vessels that look like circular ice cream boxes, filled with a thick liquid in various colors. In fact it is soft candy that becomes solid after the crafty seller prepares it, rolling it up on demand. But this is not your regular candy.

Its name is macun and as the story goes it was invented in 1527 by order of (none other than) Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent for the recuperation of his mother, Ayşe Hafsa (known by her title, Valide Sultan). The emperor was so pleased by the curing result that he appointed that a festive day of spring (Nowruz, the Spring Equinox) would also be the day to distribute macun to the faithful in Istanbul. Turkey is actually campaigning to include the macun in UNESCO’s list of tacit heritage of humanity. It is tacit in regards to history and custom, but the taste of the product is also very, very implicit! To be precise, it is super-potent and quite different than any other candy you’ve tried before. It has a startling effect because you are never prepared for anything so fragrant and honey-sweet and spicy.


According to legend, this magical concoction is comprised by forty-one ingredients, aiming to heal forty-one ailments. Franco-Levantines once called it “Baume de Sultan” (Sultan’s Balm), rather stressing its aphrodisiac qualities. Strangely enough, etymological dictionaries have the name connected to Hindi (majoon), bearing quite the opposite meaning in India: a muscle-relaxant, mild sedative medicinal mix. In Turkish the word simply means “paste”. Older Turkish books on pharmacology and Greek books on Palace food recipes mention an extraordinary array of ingredients, some from really distant lands. Picking from a very long list, we have amber, musk, crimson, turmeric, ginger, clover, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, coconut…

Apart from the old Saray as a symbolic spot to find the macun, another location to get some ready-packed is the Egyptian Bazaar, amongst tons of spices and herbs that appear like its natural surroundings. Last but not least (but for reasons unknown to me) the town of Manisa (Magnesia) near Izmir is connected with the same springtime celebration and the distribution of the macun to this day, branded as “Manisa Mesir Macun”. Under this name it is not hard to find in large “kuruyemiş” (nuts and candy) shops all over Turkey.

manisa mesir macun_balkon3

I can bet there is a good reason why in the Greek language the word “matzouni” means “practical medicine used as a tonic” or any sort of herbal infusions, even soft candy. But more and more in our days the meaning implies “old-wives remedies”.

Back to the original macun. I think the best way to test its effect is really after you’ve visited the Top Kapi. You will inevitably be too exhausted and also too dazzled. My suggestion is to accompany it with a cup of strong Turkish tea. And after all, macun that helped Valide Sultan herself to recuperate can never be too little for us, simple visitors to the City of Cities!

Afiyet olsun! Enjoy!

Sophia Nikolaou