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.
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…