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Two Turkish Delights: Rakı and Boza

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Perhaps my favorite part of visiting new countries is discovering new sorts of drinking. Whether it’s soju in Korea or arrack in Sri Lanka, the existence of a new kind of alcohol provides a wonderful reason to imbibe. It’s work! Research, I tell you! So let’s have a toast to the miracle of convenient excuses!


We’ll start the evening slow… very slow. Although it does contain alcohol and was once banned in Turkey under anti-drinking ordinances, Boza is safe enough to give a child. The thick, sweet drink made primarily of fermented wheat has an alcohol content of about 1%.

We first tried this popular winter treat in Istanbul’s oldest boza shop: the Vefa Bozacısı. Established in 1876, entering this bar is like stepping back in time. The floors and walls are tiled, the bartenders look straight out of the 19th century, and ancient bottles of vinegar and syrup line the wall. Atatürk was a fan of the shop, and his favorite drinking glass is proudly displayed in a shrine. The boza is served with a sprinkling of cinnamon, and is so thick and viscous that it’s best consumed with a spoon. Boza is said to be quite healthy, both effective against cholera and helpful in the production of breast milk.

Yeni Rakı

Turkey’s national drink, rakı, ups the alcohol ante significantly. Made from twice-distilled grape residue, this beverage is normally served with cold water and ice. A shot of rakı is poured into a small, narrow glass. Then, when water is added, the clear liquid instantly changes into a cloudy milky color. It has the flavor of anise, like black licorice. Sweet and cold. The innocent flavor belies rakı’s strong alcoholic content, around 45%.

We’ve had rakı a number of times, always with food. It’s usually drunk with meze and fish dishes, and goes down with frightening ease. A popular t-shirt slogan we’ve seen around Istanbul honors the drink’s potency: “Rakı is the answer. What was the question?” We never got quite that catatonic off it, but came close. Regardless of how we’d spent the day, the idea of long drinking sessions on the terrace of our local meyhane was always an appealing one…

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April 21, 2013 at 7:39 am Comments (6)

A Southern Turkish Feast at the Akdeniz Hatay Sofrası

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Serving up traditional food from Hatay, Turkey’s southernmost province, the Akdeniz Hatay Sofrası is a family-owned and operated restaurant which has won a lot of press and gained a loyal following since opening in 2007. We were invited to sample some of their best dishes one early Monday evening… and that’s not the kind of invitation we’re ever going to turn down.


Hatay, squished between the Mediterranean and Syria, has always been an object of contention. Syria argues that Turkey stole the province by rigging the 1939 referendum in which Hatay’s citizens voted to join Turkey. Today, the matter is mostly settled, but Syria has never officially withdrawn its claim to the province. Hatay’s climate is warmer than the rest of Turkey’s, and their cuisine more Middle Eastern.

We met Mehmet at the doors to the Akdeniz Hatay Sofrası, in the neighborhood of Askaray. The son of the restaurant’s founder, Mehmet spent the afternoon with us, introducing us to the food of Hatay and even allowing us into the restaurant’s kitchen to take photos. The Akdeniz is consistently crowded and employs a huge staff, but despite the congestion, the chefs didn’t seem to mind our presence, and it was a lot of fun to watch them work.

The restaurant’s claim to fame is the Tuzda Tavuk — a chicken stuffed with rice, packed in rock salt and then shoved into a huge wood-fired oven to bake for two hours. When ready, it’s wheeled out to the table and set on fire. After the flames are extinguished, the waiter chisels at the rock-hard salt shell until the chicken emerges golden brown and perfectly cooked from its igloo-like prison… and not all that salty. But the highlight is the rice, which is mixed with allspice, currants, crushed almonds and pine nuts. You can also order the same thing with lamb instead of chicken.

We were also able to try the Cerra Kebab, which is a leg of lamb baked inside a clay pot, with garlic, onion and spices. At the table, the pot is smacked open and the steaming contents poured out into a bowl. Just as delicious as the chicken, and more succulent. I could have eaten two pots full.


Before the main dishes appeared, Mehmet had selected a few of his favorite meze, including humus, muhamarra (a spicy red chili paste with walnuts), tebbuli (white thyme salad), mütebbel (yogurt eggplant sauce) and kısır (a reddish salad of wheat, parsley and tomato paste). I had assumed humus would be a normal part of Turkish cuisine, but it’s actually more Middle Eastern; this was the first time I’d seen it in Istanbul. The mütebbel was possibly my favorite of the bunch, or perhaps the white thyme salad. Or the perfectly spicy muhamarra. It’s hard to say.

We had polished off enough food to sustain a camel for months, and our stomachs were bursting. So when dessert arrived, I suspected that Mehmet was deriving some sadistic joy out of torturing us. But if the torture is being “forced” to eat künefe, you can’t complain too much. You just sit there, endure your punishment, and enjoy every last bite of it. Künefe is Hatay’s most famous dessert: layers of flour and goat cheese, caramelized on top and served with a big glass of milk.

Considering how long the main dishes need to bake, you should call ahead well in advance to both order and reserve a table. But don’t miss out on the best place in Istanbul to try some of Turkey’s most distinctive cuisine.

Akdeniz Hatay Sofrası – Website
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March 20, 2013 at 6:05 pm Comments (4)
Two Turkish Delights: Rak? and Boza Perhaps my favorite part of visiting new countries is discovering new sorts of drinking. Whether it's soju in Korea or arrack in Sri Lanka, the existence of a new kind of alcohol provides a wonderful reason to imbibe. It's work! Research, I tell you! So let's have a toast to the miracle of convenient excuses!
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