Got a sweet tooth? Yeah, us too. Every part of the world has its own beloved local candies, and tasting them is not just a treat, but a cultural experience. And what better way to satisfy your cravings than with a global tour of guilty pleasures.
Here are some of the top places to seek out sugary delights, from curious Kit Kat flavours in Tokyo to marzipan piggies in Germany.
Shop for Turkish Delight (and other Turkish delights) in Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar
More than 400 years old, Istanbul’s labyrinthine Spice Bazaar is an artist’s palate of colours, its stalls heaped with yellow turmeric, red chili, dried pink rose petals, mahogany coffee beans and golden jars of Anatolian honey. Most stunning of all perhaps are the pyramids of jewel-like lokum – better known in English as ‘Turkish Delight’ – the chewy candies beloved in the Western world for centuries.
Chomp your way through diamonds of perfumey rosewater lokum, rolls of pomegranate lokum coated in crushed pistachio, and nougatey milk lokum studded with almonds. Top off your haul with wedges of buttery sesame seed helva (a Turkish dessert made from ground sesame seeds, sugar, tahini and nuts) and a jar or three of akide, a traditional hard candy in flavours like bergamot, mastic, mint and clove.
Take a break from the classic Kit Kat flavours in Tokyo
Kit Kat, the British chocolate-covered wafer bar, is beloved in Japan, where its name sounds similar to the Japanese for ‘you will surely win’ (Kitto Katsu). Japan produces hundreds of different varieties of the treat, many available only for a limited time. For a fix, head to one of Tokyo’s Kit Kat Chocolatory branches – essentially glittering Kit Kat candy counters located within the food halls of stately old department stores like Daimaru and Takashimaya.
Here you’ll find signature Japanese flavours like green tea, red bean, sake and cherry blossom, regional favourites like Okinawan sweet potato and Hokkaido melon, and creative international varieties like raspberry cheesecake, French sea salt and Mediterranean grape. Then there are the undeniably odd combos: pancake, vegetable juice, soy sauce, edamame and cough drop(!). As souvenirs go, these are pretty unbeatable.
Ride the Chocolate Train in Switzerland
No, the train isn’t actually made of chocolate – sorry! This luxury train departs from Montreux and chugs towards Gruyère, home of the most famous of Swiss cheeses, where you’ll tour a cheese factory and visit a medieval castle. Savory turns sweet as the train continues to Broc, where Maison Cailler produces silky-smooth Swiss chocolate in a huge factory overlooking the Alps.
Prepare for a Willy Wonker-esque tour through the world of this sweet treat, where you’ll learn about the history of chocolate-making, touch and smell raw materials like cacao pods and cocoa butter, and sample the goods (we’re especially fond of the milk chocolate hazelnut bars). Post-tour you’ll be under no illusions as to why the Swiss are the world’s biggest chocolate-consumers, downing nearly 20 pounds a year per capita.
Enjoy the sugar rush at Hersheypark and Hershey’s Chocolate World
Sure, candy connoisseurs may deride Hershey bars and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups as inferior treats. But just try and tell us with a straight face you don’t actually enjoy them. Just try! Stop pretending and head to rural Pennsylvania, where Hershey’s Chocolate World will take you on a tram ride through a chocolate factory full of singing animatronic characters before dropping you off at the galaxy’s largest gift shop, where you can purchase pillow-sized bags of Twizzlers and enough Hershey’s Kisses to last you till the end of the world.
Across the street is the 111-year-old Hersheypark, with some 70 candy-themed roller coasters, attractions and kiddie rides. The more sugar you’ve got buzzing through your system, the more fun you’ll have.
Taste traditional dulces in Morelia’s Candy Market
Morelia, in the central Mexican state of Michoacán, is a city out of a fairy tale. Its historic center is a fantasyland of rose-coloured Spanish colonial buildings, built from local pink stone, capped by the soaring twin towers of the baroque Morelia Cathedral. And of course a fairy tale city would have a candy market, wouldn’t it?
The Mercado de Dulces is home to nearly 100 vendors hawking regional sweets. Many of these are fruit centric: rainbow-coloured squares of ate de fruta (sugared fruit gels in flavours like quince and guava), heavy hunks of sugar-crystallised pumpkin, cactus and fig and balls of sweet-tart tamarind paste. Caramels come a close second: nosh on jamoncillo (a kind of milk fudge), pecan-studded caramels in shiny red cellophane wrappers and Morelianas, tortilla-shaped wafers stuffed with gooey cajeta (a thick, sweet syrup made from caramelised goat’s milk).
Tour France’s sweetest village
Brought into being by Benedictine monks some 1300 years ago, France’s iconic Anis de Flavigny candies are recognisable by their pretty little egg-shaped tins. A single aniseed is rolled in a pan of sugar syrup for 15 days until it looks like a tiny round pebble. Visit the ancient Roman town of Flavigny, in the Elysian Hills of the northern Côte-d’Or, to see what’s left of the abbey where the sweets were once made.
Afterwards, stop by the current factory for a quick demo and pick up an armload of highly-giftable tins at the adjacent shop. Spend the rest of your afternoon wandering the medieval lanes of the village, where, appropriately enough, the candy-themed movie Chocolat was filmed.
Get salty at Finland’s Liquorice Festival
Liquorice is a ‘love it or hate it’ candy – and salty, spicy Finnish liquorice even more so. If you’re in the ‘love it’ camp, then book a flight to Helsinki for the annual Liquorice Festival. The festival is a celebration of Finland’s cherished treats: liquorice and salmiakki aka black gold, a liquorice flavoured with ammonium chloride, giving it a characteristic sharp and salty tang.
Sample salmiakki powder (to be scooped out of a tube with your finger and licked off), gummy tar-flavoured liquorice (yes, tar, with its distinctly smoky flavor, is a food ingredient in Finland) and even salmiakki ice cream. You can also enjoy liquorice cooking demonstrations – liquorice-lemon cupcakes, anyone? – and attend seminars on how to pair the ebony edible with wine. Wash it all down with a salty, sinus-clearing liquorice cocktail to earn your honorary Finnish citizenship.
Celebrate Christmas with a mouthful of marzipan in Germany
Germany’s famed Christmas markets are twinkling wonderlands of fir trees and fairy lights amidst the deep northern winter. Vendors set up shop in medieval town squares, selling handmade wooden nutcrackers, blown-glass ornaments, hot roasted chestnuts and tankards of spiced glühwein. And marzipan, marzipan, marzipan – that ancient sugar and almond paste confection, which Germans are crazy for all year round, but especially at Christmas.
Look for one of the country’s most charming yuletide treats, Marzipankartoffeln – balls of marzipan dusted with cocoa powder to resemble tiny potatoes. You’ll also find tiny pink marzipan pigs, traditionally eaten on New Year’s for good luck. And then of course there’s stollen, a rich bread packed with dried fruits and a thick swirl of marzipan.