Although it is unknown how the creamy cheesecake (Tarta de Queso), which originated in a tiny bakery in Spain’s Basque area, rose to prominence on Istanbul cafe menus, its popularity grows by the day. Given the options available in Valencia, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for someone to replicate this recipe here.
Tarta de queso (cheesecake) from San Sebastian, known as the burnt Basque cake as well, is one of the popular desserts consumed in Istanbul these days. Customers line up for minutes to buy a slice, and when they get it, they share it on social media on their triumph in eating one.
This San Sebastian frenzy got onto the radar of the Spanish press, El Pais, one of the country’s leading newspapers took the issue to its agenda in its news as the tarta de queso adorns the menus of most bakeries and coffee shops.
“Tarta de Queso from Pais Vasco is taking Turkey by storm,” El Pais’ title called. This delicacy is a replica of the well-known cheesecake that a small bakery, “La Vina de la Parte Vieja,” in San Sebastian has been preparing for more than three decades. The creator of the original cake, Santiago Rivera, surprised by the international success that his gastronomic jewel achieved told El Pais: “We are very grateful. We have never done anything to make our cake so successful. Fame has grown worldwide.”
On “the busiest and most touristic streets of Istanbul,” those that lead to the Galata Tower, signs advertising the San Sebastian Tarta de Queso can be seen everywhere. But the people from the establishments where they serve it have a very vague idea about the origin of the recipe, and even have a hard time locating San Sebastian on the map.
“They don’t know when or how this cheesecake craze came about, or that it’s a copy of an original recipe from Spain,” Rivera said.
As Rivera defines it as “a small wonder that has given me a lot of joy,” there are dozens of photos on social media of the San Sebastian Tarta de Queso with the Galata Tower in the background. For that reason, most chefs think that the sudden popularity of the Basque cheesecake is a result of sharing this photo on the Interenet which become viral quickly.
“La Vina cheesecake created a style and later variants have been made all over the world. The one in Turkey is a social phenomenon. In Japan, it is also very well-known. It works fine in the U.S. too. Also, I hear that it has reached Australia and that the French are enjoying it too,” 62-year-old Santiago Rivera said, emphasizing that it took three years to find the formula.
Chef Rivera said that he started trying the recipe in 1987 and added it to the menu three years later. “Our customers have made the dessert famous over time,” he also added. Starting with two cakes a day, the number has grown rapidly, as 20 cakes are already prepared by 7 in the morning.
Istanbul’s travel guides also include the addresses of the establishments where the San Sebastian Tarta de Queso can be bought. In most of the menu descriptions, it is dubbed as a “special” cake that “melts on the palate with its unique texture.”
Rivera stated that he has not tried any cake from abroad, but he is convinced that it does not taste the same, saying “they all coincide in 85%, but there is 15% that depends on small details.” In Turkey, for example, customers prefer to eat it with a melted chocolate, as well as dried fruit jams.
The Basque region in Northern Spain refers to a community with a special cultural, and linguistic identity with 7,000 years of history. It is also one of the world’s top culinary destinations, with key gourmet centers like San Sebastian, Hondarribia and Bilbao.