Just trying these 5 traditional Turkish drinks is a cultural journey in and of itself. All of them are native to Turkey and/or the Ottoman Empire and they provide an insight into modern Turkish culture as well as a journey into its past. Not to mention, they all are full of their own vibrant, unique flavors that will guarantee some sort of reaction – be it either a smile of pleasant fulfillment or a cringe of slight discomfort.
RAKI: The King of Turkish drinks
Raki is the answer… I don’t remember the question
A noted favorite of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (who, be warned, died early do to problems associated with heavy drinking), this white, cloudy substance looks the result of some sort of chemistry experiment gone bad. It is Turkey’s national drink and is affectionately, and rightfully, referred to as “the milk of the strong”. Taken by itself is nothing short of a dragon breathing fire straight down your throat. However, lucky for you, Raki is traditionally mixed with water and ice in a tall, collins-like glass. Raki itself is a hard, strong, unsweetened alcoholic beverage produced by twice distilling grape pomace and flavoring it with aniseed. It is traditionally consumed alongside a mezze (appetizers) near dinnertime. Proceed with caution: Raki goes down smoother and smoother with each passing glass!
A little sip of paradise
A traditional beverage that predates coffee and tea, Salep is a drink that is made with salep flour – a flour made from grinding the dried tubers of orchid. The flour, hot milk and cinnamon are combined to create a sweet, rich, savory, almost custard-like beverage. It was one of the most famous traditional turkish drinks in the Ottoman Empire and made its way westward in the 17th and 18th centuries. And, as fortune would have it, it is one of those rare products that isn’t just delicious, but also nutritious. In addition to treating sore throats, it has historically been used as a remedy for chronic diarrhea, digesting problems and gum disease.
I mean, at least 5 times a day
Turkish tea is by and far one of the most popular drinks in the country. Pronounced “chai” in Turkish, please don’t expect to receive anything similar to the chai tea you are probably thinking of – or at least the chai that I thought of upon first hearing the name. This is black tea that comes served in small, tulip-shaped glasses. You will find it challenging to hold the glass without burning your fingers, it is as if your finger tips were walking a tight-rope, but the ultimate flavor is well worth the deft manoeuvring of the glass to your mouth. The tea can be served lighter or darker depending on preferences because it is made by pouring very strong tea into a glass, and then cutting it with water to the desired strength. A few of you (you’re tourists for the most part, so its bound to happen) will choose apple tea over traditional chai. Just be aware that apple tea was introduced a few years ago for children and tourists. So you will be judged. Just sayin’..
The father of all Turkish Drinks
For all the details you could ever crave regarding Turkish coffee, please refer to this recent post. Here is the shorter version: Turkish coffee was a trademark beverage of the Ottoman Empire and, in particular, palace cuisine. Each Sultan had his own personal coffeemaker (a person, not a machine, they weren’t that advanced) who was the most trusted member of the Sultan’s staff – I thought that was interesting and worth sharing with you. Turkish coffee is special not for the beans themselves, but for how it is prepared. The fine grinds are brought to a boil 3 separate times and then poured, little bit by little bit, into each of the glasses. Turkish coffee is an essential part of social life in Istanbul and the rest of the country – the way that it is served (hot and in tiny little cups) forces you to sit down, relax and, hopefully, engage in conversation.
If you regularly drink beer, then you won’t even have a choice
I don’t know whether or not it is official, but Efes is most definitely the national beer of Turkey and one of the most popular Turkish drinks. It is in every cafe, every restaurant, every bar, every club, every disco, every, well, you get the point. And quite often it is the only option around. Named after the ancient Greek city of Ephesus, the beer has won its fair share of international accolades – though all of the awards are from the 70’s. I don’t know why. In English the beer is called Efes Pilsner. For me, to be honest, beer is beer. So I recommend trying this one just because it is special to Turkey. If you want more details than that, maybe you will appreciate the description given by this critic: “tangy malt and hops aroma, rich malt in the mouth, and a bitter-sweet finish that becomes dry and hoppy”. Malty and hoppy. Whatever that means. I hope you’re into it!
Here are some cool additions to our list:
Boza — Another local drink to sample is boza, made from fermented bulgur with water and sugar. It supposedly builds up strength and virility, but I still need to find the first scientific report to back this up.
Fruit and vegetable juices — Why buy and consume bottled juices when every corner shop (büfe) will be happy to make you a fresh one on the spot. Popular juices are orange juice (portakal suyu), cherry juice (vişne suyu) and trunip juice (şalgam suyu). If you happen to be in Istanbul in winter, check out the strange but delicious taste of salep, a hot drink made from crushed tapioca root extracts.
Wine — Local wine choices are plentiful thanks to the flourishing Turkish wine industry. And a handful of wineries produce excellent wine, comparable with those created in France. Our current top choices for both red and white wines are Corvus, Kayra Vintage, and Sarafin.
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. –Read more