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Rakı & Meyhane
Posted 07 April 2004 - 12:19
Rakı, the national alcoholic drink of Turks has a high degree alcohol and should not be consumed quickly. Most people drink it by mixing it with water. Colorless rakı turns milky white when mixed with water. Mindful drinkers fill 1/3 of their glass with rakı then add water and finally ice. Ice is never put in the glass first. If rakı is met with ice before water, it crystallizes and the taste changes. Some people drink rakı straight. In addition the rakı should be cold. One sip rakı, one sip water – it softens this strong drink. Deniz Gürsoy who wrote a very nice book on rakı is among the defenders that believe that for each sip of rakı, one should have 3.5 sips of water. Rakı goes well with and often inspires good conversation. It is customary to eat meze (various foods served in small plates) while drinking rakı.
Here are some guidelines to observe when drinking rakı: First, wait until everyone has been served their rakı, then join in the toast all together. Try not to raise your glass higher than the rest. Never drink rakı with other liquors – it does not mix well and you may indeed find yourself feeling ill or suffering a terrible hangover the next day. Rakı is not a one-shot-liquor as vodka or tequila..
There is a saying in Turkish that goes something like this: “If you want to know a person, either travel with them or go and drink rakı with them”. Use good judgment when choosing whom to drink rakı with as it is quickly intoxicating. When you sit down at a Meyhane, you will first order your drinks and then a waiter will most likely bring a large tray of meze to the table and you can pick and choose which ones you would like. Don’t forget to order some butter with toasted bread as eating them will help you tolerate the alcohol. Usually, main course dishes follow the hot mezes. If you are not sure what to order, look around at the nearby table and point to something you find appealing. If you happen to sit at a table that is already loaded with mezes, send back the ones that you do not want (without touching them of course) so as not to be charged for them on bill.
It is a good idea to finish your meze before ordering any main course as you may very well find that you are full and satisfied with just the meze. If you are ordering fish, go lightly on the meze or you will be too full to enjoy its delicate flavor.
Often there are musical groups performing which will roam throughout the restaurant. If you do not want them to visit your table, tell the owner or manager immediately. If they do come to your table and play for you it is customary to give a tip. You need only tip one of them, but make the tip visible for all to see, so that they don’t keep standing there playing and coercing you into giving even yet another tip.
A list of Meyhanes in Istanbul and Ankara are listed in our Yellow Pages.
Posted 07 June 2005 - 19:08
The first friends I made in Turkey told me that if I really wanted to understand their country, I would have to drink a lot of raki. These were wise people, so I took their advice. Every year the annual level of raki consumption in Turkey rises by slightly more than one million liters. And my contribution to the increase has not been inconsiderable.
In the bottle raki is absolutely clear. But it is rarely consumed that way. Instead it is mixed with water, which turns it translucent. Drinking it has the same effect on one’s perception of Turkey. After a glass or two, what at first seemed clear becomes obscure. By the time the bottle is empty, everything appears murky and confused. Yet through this evocative haze, truths about Turkey may be most profoundly understood.
Many countries have national drinks, but raki is much more than because it embodies the very concept of turkey. The mere fact that a Muslim land would fall under the spell of a powerful distilled drink is enough to suggest this nation’s unexpected and tantalizing appeal. Do not speak to a Turk about ouzo or other anise-based drinks supposed to reflect the characters of other lands. The careful mix of natural ingredients in raki and the loving process by which it is distilled, they believe, make it gloriously unique.
History books say that Mustafa Kemal Ataturk died from the effects of overindulgence in raki. This is only partly true. In fact he died from an overdose of Turkey. His involvement with Turkey, like his involvement with raki, was so passionate and so intense that it ultimately consumed him.
The same almost happened to me. I had admired Turkey from afar, but it was only after long nights of drinking raki with friends that I came to understand the true audacity of the Turkish idea. Its grandeur and beauty filled me with awe. My excitement rose with each glass as I realized how much Turkey has to share with the world, to give the world, to teach the world.
I should have stopped there, but you never do with raki. That is its blessing and its curse. As months and years passed, raki began to work subtly on my mind. Slowly the delight I had found in discovering Turkey became mixed with other, more ambiguous emotions. No longer did my evenings end with the exhilarating sensation that I had found a jewel of a country poised on the brink of greatness. Raki led me to wonder why so much of its potential remains unrealized. Turkey is undoubtedly the country of the future, but will it always be? Can it ever become what it hopes to be, or is it condemned to remain an unfulfilled dream. An exquisite fantasy that contains within it the seeds of its own failure?
There are as yet no answers to those questions, and therein lies the Turkish conundrum. This nation is still very much a work in progress, a dazzling kaleidoscope of competing images and ideas. Born of trauma and upheaval, it remains deeply insecure, shrouded in old fears and uncertain which direction it should take.
This identity crisis led to a near-collapse of the raki tradition in the 1960s and 1970s. Turkey was opening itself to the world, and a class of educated and sophisticated Turks was emerging. These people considered raki anathema because it symbolized the primitive mentality of rural peasants. If illiterate hillbillies wanted to drink it in their broken-down shacks, that was one thing, but no modern Turk would do so; much better to sip wine, cognac or some other drink with a European pedigree.
Fortunately, those days are past. Turks no longer feel embarrassed to embrace their heritage and identity. Drinking raki is an ideal way to do so while at the same time enjoying sublime pleasure.
Raki is the key to Turkey, not because of the drink itself but because of the circumstances in which one consumes it. This is not a drink like whiskey, useful for solitary reflection; not like beer, good for drinking in a noisy bare while munching on pretzels; and not like gin or vodka, lubricants for cocktail-party chatter. Bars and cocktail parties are, in fact, mortal enemies of the Turkish drinking tradition. Resistance to these pernicious influences is centered round the meyhane, a sort of bistro created especially for raki drinking. The meyhane is a temple of Turkish cuisine, but it is also a place where people meet, talk, debate, embrace and lament. Turkey’s diversity is most tangible at the meyhane because it is spread out on tables for all to see.
An evening at the meyhane is centered around raki, but raki never stands alone. It is only one component, albeit the essential one, of a highly stylized ritual. With raki always come meze, small plates of food that appear stealthily, a few at a time. Theoretically, meze are appetizers leading to a main course, but often the main course, like Turkey’s supposedly great destiny, never materializes. No one complains about that because eating meze while sipping raki is such a supreme pleasure in itself. The path is so blissful that the idea of a destination seems somehow sacrilegious.
Meze usually come in waves. The first will include salad, thick slabs of white cheese, smoked eggplant puree and honeydew melon. What comes next depends on the chef’s whim. There might be a selection of cooked, cooled vegetables in olive oil, each presented in its own miniature platter; or small dolma, which are peppers stuffed with rice, currants and pine nuts, and their close cousins, sarma, made from grape or cabbage leaves. After the next pause might come spicy red lentil balls, mussels on the half shell, mashed beans with lemon sauce, pureed fish roe, yogurt seasoned with garlic and dill, raw tuna fillets, poached mackerel with hazelnut paste or an explosively flavorful dish made of baby eggplants stuffed with garlic cloves, tomatoes, sliced onion and parsley. This last is called Imam Bayildi, meaning “The Imam Fainted.”
After these come piping-hot borek, delicate pastries filled with feta cheese and sometimes also spinach, diced chicken, ground lamb or veal, pistachios, walnuts or whatever else is lying around the kitchen. Some are layered, others triangular and still others cylindrical or crescent-shaped. Often they are served with squid rings fried in a light batter, which are to be dipped in a white sauce made from wine vinegar, olive oil and garlic.
Turkey’s ethnic vitality shines through has the evening proceeds. Kebabs and other meze made from meat recall the Central Asian steppes from which nomadic Turkic tribes migrated to Asia Minor, now called Anatolia, a thousand years ago. With them come hummus from Arabia, shredded chicken with walnuts from the Caucasus, diced liver from Albania and cooked cheese thickened with corn flour from coastal villages along the Black Sea. Then comes the crowning glory, the seafood, a gift from the Greeks, who for a millennia did all the cooking along what is now Turkey’s Aegean coast. Raki sharpens the taste of all food, but its magic works best with fish. An old proverb calls raki the pimp that brings fish and men together for acts of love.
The variety of fish in Turkey seems endless. It changes according to what body of water is nearest and also according to the season. Always the fish is very fresh, and always it is prepared very simply, grilled or pan-fried and served with no sauce, only a lemon wedge and perhaps a slice of onion or sprig of parsley.
Such a meal is a microcosm of Turkey. It is an astonishingly rich experience but yields its secrets slowly. Patrons at a meyhane, like all Turks, confront an ever-changing mosaic, endless variations on a theme. Each meze tastes different, has its own color, aroma, texture and character. The full effect is comparable to that of a symphony, complete with melodies, different rhythms, pacing and flashes of virtuosity, all contained within an overarching structure.
Meze makes a feast, but drinking raki with them raises the experience to a truly transcendent level. “All the senses are involve,” my friend Aydin Boysan, an architect and bon vivant who had been drinking raki for more than sixty years when I met him, told me during a long night we spent at a meyhane overlooking the Bosphorus. “First you watch the water being poured into the glass and mixing with the raki. Then you pick up the glass and inhale the aroma. When you drink it, you take a small sip, feel the pleasure of it flowing down your throat, take another small sip, then put the glass down.”
Aydin demonstrated this ritual to me, seeming to enjoy it every bit as much as he might have half a century earlier, and then closed his eyes for a moment. “The best part is feeling it go down your throat,” he said lovingly. “A giraffe – that’s an animal ideally made to appreciate raki.”
The meyhane culture tells a great deal about Turkey. Like the country, it offers almost infinite possibilities because it blends the heritage of so many different peoples. It encourages discourse and deepens friendship, but because the food is brought unbidden by a waiter instead of ordered from the menu, it does not require any action, any decision, any act of choice other than turning away dishes that do not strike one’s fancy. Raki can either evoke determination or resignation, a desire to rebel or an acceptance of the inevitability of submission.
At a meyhane, the world can either be invited in or shut out. Turks have not yet decided which is the wisest path. By the time they drain their final glasses and step out into the darkness, they have often concluded that their country is either the “golden nation” destined to shape world history or a hopeless mess certain to remain mired in wretched mediocrity.
Reference: Stephen Kinzer, “Crescent and Star: Turkey between two Worlds", Farrar, Strauss and Girous, 2001.
Posted 07 June 2005 - 19:10
When one thinks of Turkey or Turks, one is reminded of Raki, the traditional Turkish drink. Raki can be made from different fruits in different regions, but raisin is the most common. The drink made in Anatolia and known as Turkish raki has a history going back 300 years. The art of distillation which started in the Arab world and spread to the neighboring countries was implemented when people thought of making use of the sugar in the residue of wine processing. With the addition of aniseed, raki took on its Turkish characteristic. The famous Turkish traveler Evliya Çelebi listed the artisans of Istanbul in the first volume of his book on his voyages which he wrote in 1630. Among the artisans he also mentioned the arakmakers. While writing that arak was made from all kinds of plants, he also mentioned the word raki and said that drinking even one drop of this intoxicating drink was sinful. It is known that at that time in Istanbul 300 people in 100 workshop were occupied in the production and sale of this drink. Evliya Çelebi spoke of tavern-keepers as "accursed, ill omened, blame worthy" and said there were taverns all over Istanbul but especially in Samatya, Kumkapi, Balikpazari, Unkapani, Fener, Balat and the two shores of the Bosphorous and added "Galata means Taverns". Evliya Çelebi recorded the small wine shops and the kinds of wine they sold and also mentioned the taverns that sold raki, all kinds of raki, like raki wine, banana raki, mustard raki, linden raki, cinnomon raki, clove raki, pomegranate raki, hay raki, aniseed raki.
Today, drinking raki has its own traditional rituals. Most important is what it is to be partaken with. White cheese is the main and unchangeable "meze" of raki. Raki is usually drunk with cold dishes like tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce and seafood. Fish is also a favorite, especially mullet and mackerel. Due to the aniseed it contains, raki changes color and becomes a milky white when water is added and a glass of pure water to go with it gives a distinct pleasant taste. Istanbul used to have many tiny taverns but nowadays if you want to drink raki and eat dishes that go well with it the best places are Kumkapi, the Bosporous and the flower market in Galatasaray. The favorite mezes of raki drinkers, roasted chickpeas and freshly salted almonds, can be found in almost all taverns.
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Posted 07 June 2005 - 19:13
When one thinks of Turkey or Turks, one is reminded of Raki. Although it is not known where or when this drink was invented, it is certain that the history of raki does not go as far back as wine or beer. There are many proverbs on raki which is the traditional Turkish drink. Raki is made from different fruits in different regions, but grapes, figs and plums are the main ones.
In the near and middle east countries the drink is known by different names such as Araka, Araki, Ariki which obviously come from the same origin. Some claim that it is called Iraqi (from Iraq) because it was first made in this country and spread to other regions. Others say it got its name from the razaki grapes used in producing it. Both theories are acceptable. Another theory is that arak in Arabic means "sweat" and araki " that which makes one sweat." If one drinks too much raki one does sweat and when raki is being distilled it falls drop by drop like sweat, so the name could have come from Arabic. In neighboring countries different kinds of raki have different names. In Greece gum is added to it and the drink is called "Mastika". Duziko which comes from the slavic word "Duz" means raki with aniseed. In Turkey, raki made from grape residue used to be called Düz Raki or Hay Raki. Zahle raki has taken this name because it is made in the city of Zahle in Lebanon. Raki is not a fermentation drink like wine and beer but a distillation drink, so more technical knowledge and equipment are necessary for its production. Encyclopedias write that in "Eastern India a drink produced by distilling fermented sugar cane juice is called "arak" and the same name is given Ceylon and Maleysia to an alcoholic drink made by the distillation of the juice of the palm tree. It is also noted that in Iran the drink made in the same way from grapes and dates is also called arak.
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The drink made in Anatolia and known as Turkish raki has a history going back 300 years. The art of distillation which started in the Arab world and spread to the neighboring countries was implemented when people thought of making use of the sugar in the residue of wine processing. With the addition of aniseed, raki took on its Turkish characteristic. The famous Turkish traveler Evliya Çelebi listed the artisans of Istanbul in the first volume of his book on his voyages which he wrote in 1630. Among the artisans he also mentioned the arakmakers. While writing that arak was made from all kinds of plants, he also mentioned the word raki and said that drinking even one drop of this intoxicating drink was sinful. It is known that at that time in Istanbul 300 people in 100 workshop were occupied in the production and sale of this drink. Evliya Çelebi spoke of tavern-keepers as "accursed, ill omened, blame worthy" and said there were taverns all over Istanbul but especially in Samatya, Kumkapi, Balikpazari, Unkapani, Fener, Balat and the two shores of the Bosphorous and added "Galata means Taverns". Evliya Çelebi recorded the small wine shops and the kinds of wine they sold and also mentioned the taverns that sold raki, all kinds of raki, like raki wine, banana raki, mustard raki, linden raki, cinnomon raki, clove raki, pomegranate raki, hay raki aniseed raki.
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Raki was first produced from the residue of grapes left over from wine making. When a shortage of residue started, spirits from abroad were imported and processed with aniseed. This went on till the First World War when, for want of raw materials raisins were used in the production of raki and sometimes even dried figs and mulberries. For good quality raki, seedless raisins and aniseed in Çesme were preferred. As the raki industry developed, aniseed agriculture grew and developed with it. When alcoholic beverages were prohibited at one time, underhand producers lost no time in taking steps. The administrative authorities, especially in small towns, turned a blind eye to the illegal production of raki so long as it was made in accordance with the technical rules. In many houses meat grinders were used for mincing the raising's, large basins formerly used for daily washing were now used for fermenting the grapes and oil cans were converted into distilling apparatus. The raki which was usually without aniseed and which often contained materials harmful to health were distributed to by children, in the evenings, when the streets were no longer crowded.
Today in Istanbul, drinking raki has its own traditional rituals. Most important is what it is to be partaken with. White cheese is the main and unchangeable "meze" of raki. Raki is usually drunk with cold dishes like tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce and seafood. Fish is also a favorite, especially mullet and mackerel. Due to the aniseed it contains, raki changes color and becomes a milky white when water is added and a glass of pure water to go with it gives a distinct pleasant taste.
Istanbul used to have many tiny taverns but nowadays if you want to drink raki and eat dishes that go well with it the best places are Kumkapi, the Bosporous and the flower market in Galatasaray. The favorite mezes of raki drinkers, roasted chickpeas and freshly salted almonds, can be found in almost all taverns.
Those who have been drinkers of raki for years and years, point out that this drink affects one according to one's mood. Sometimes one is tipsy after a glass or two; while sometimes even a huge bottle gives only a feeling of well being and enjoyment. Cheers!
Source : Focus on Tourism 1985/2