Do you want your drink sweet or bitter, sour or spicy, hot or cold, salty or alcoholic.. Before your arrival to Turkey, you might have heard only of Turkish coffee, but Turkish cuisine has no shortage, when it comes to authentic drinks. Most of them taste nothing similar to any drink you tried before. We do the list and give an overview of the most exciting drinks easy to find in Istanbul, it is up to you to decide which ones to try:
Cay – Tea:
Well, the list should of course start with tea. In case you don’t already know Turks are serious teaholics. There is no country in the world where more tea will drunk per person per day. You’ve also probably noticed by now that the way tea is prepared is quite different in Turkey: We use the double pot, where the upper pot is used for brewing tea, while the boiling water in the lower part serve to dilute the strong brew in the upper pot in a desired level when pouring tea to the tulip shaped Turkish tea glasses.
Turks are usually quite proud about their tea and “tea tradition”, which we personally have difficulty to understand. First of all Turkish tea, which is produced in the Black Sea region of Turkey is taste and aroma-wise nothing special(wow, I feel like a traitor confessing that!) The other thing is, the funny fact that Turks didn’t drink tea at all just for some hundred years ago. And what exactly did happen at that time? The first wild tea species are discovered in the Black Sea region. Upon this discovery the newly found republic starts promoting tea instead of coffee which is an expensive export item now. This promotion is so successful that a coffeeholic nation turns into the nation consuming most tea per person in just about a century!
Serbet – Sherbet:
I think it is now time to move to a really traditional taste: Sherbet. Sherbet sellers were one of the most among picturesque elements of Istanbul streets in the beginning of the last century. Dressed in traditional costumes, they carried at their back large brass containers. The long nozzle of this container ending over their shoulder allowed them to fill the glasses with the chili sherbet with a slight forward bend. Unfortunately sherbet sellers much appreciated in the hot summer months disappeared with time in the streets of Istanbul, dramatically reducing its popularity in the modern times. Today the Ottoman sherbet can be drunk only in a few confectionary shops which have been running for generations and in the good quality Ottoman restaurants, which are also quite few. If you want to drink court style Ottoman sherbet that is even more difficult, as the way Sherbet is prepared in the Ottoman court is almost completely lost since most of the recipes were kept as secret. The Ottoman sherbet tradition differentiates itself from the other sherbet traditions in India and Middle East, by the large variety of herbs used in it. It is, however one type of fruit or flower, which is the main ingredient naming the sherbet. Some of the best: Rose, tamarind, hibiscus, basil..
Boza has the thick consistency and sour flavor typical for the fermented cereal drinks consumed also some other parts of the world. This 19th century Istanbul invention, however, has also an attractive sweet note separating it from the other fermented drinks of its type. The nutritious boza, which used to be also a staple of the Ottoman army, was some twenty to thirty years ago exclusively a winter drink. Today Boza is sold across the year by all the nuts sellers of Istanbul. If you see something thick and yellowish in a plastic bottle with a small bag of cinnamon attached near its cap, that is probably boza. Most of these are made from fermented bulgur or barley, but we recommend boza made from fermented millet according to the traditional recipe by the great-grandchildren of its inventor in the neighbourhood of Vefa. A must try if you are around Suleymaniye mosque complex..
Sahlep is definitely one of the culinary wonders in the Turkish cuisine. Unfortunately finding genuine sahlep is even harder than finding genuine sherbet or boza, although the “false” sahlep is sold everywhere. The “false” sahlep still tastes good and is a must try. It is called false, since a very low percentage of the pulver the drink is prepared from is from actual sahlep or in other words from the tubers of a rare mountain orchid indigenous to Turkey. Since it is such a rarity, its export to abroad is also forbidden. This makes it the most authentic Turkish drink you can try while in Turkey. Probably also the best tasting. If you aim for the words “gercek sahlep” or “real sahlep” on a dedicated signboard of a good-looking coffee, you will probably get a few grams more of this rarity in your cup. A few grams are more than enough to turn it into a dream drink with a hint of cinnamon topping.
Ayran, which is nothing more than diluted salty yogurt, is one of the original Turkish drinks. You can truly appreciate the refreshing quality of diluted salty yogurt during the hot summer months, when it is hard to inhibit your thirst for ayran. It is also the perfect company for some of the meat dishes.
Although the name salgam translates to turnip, turnip is just the flavoring of the drink which actually is made of red carrot pickles. After the addition of a variety of spices and ground bulgur salgam becomes a flavor rich drink, which is, however, not for everyone! But if you like your drink pungent, salgam is the right choice for you. It is a good company to kebab and is offered in most of the kebab eateries.
Tursu suyu – pickle juice:
Should you like salgam, you can go one step further and try the extra spicy, vinegar-rich pickle juice. Even smelling of this pungent drink can sometimes be a challenge. It is not an everyday drink as you can imagine but can be drunk to spice things up every now and then.
Here comes the only alcoholic drink in our list. Raki, which Turks consider as their national drink is a quite strong one with 45 to 50% alcohol content. Therefore it is usually diluted with water before consuming. Raki was traditionally produced by distilling the grape pomace twice and adding anise flavoring. Today there is a thriving raki culture in Turkey where various ingredients and methods are used to produce raki. The “yas uzum rakisi” or “fresh grape raki” is worth to try. Try it with some meze(Turkish appetizers) or simply with melon and white cheese as it is customary in Turkey.
Turk kahvesi – Turkish coffee
Turkish coffee is probably the most iconic Turkish drink. As you might have known, it is the Ottoman Empire introducing coffee to the west, but the unique preparation method of Turkish coffee remained Turkish and didn’t propagate to the west, where other coffee brewing techniques were adopted. Under the pressure of western style coffee chains Turkish coffee tradition is now loosing ground at home, but it is still a valued treat reserved for special occasions and guests…
Elma cayı Apple tea
Before we finish the list with the most authentic Turkish drinks, here is the bonus, or bogus to be exact, the apple tea. What is apple tea: An artificial powder with apple aroma. Is it traditional: Well, I have seen a few times in my life locals drinking apple tea, but it has somehow an equal fame to those of Turkish coffee among tourists visiting Turkey, who often remark how good it is tasting! Well, we can’t put the blame on the poor tourists who get offered it in every corner. And if you wonder how it did manage to become an indusrty-wide practice in the entire tourism establishment. Well, looks like that it has the right combination of food chemicals: cheap, tasty, and traditional looking… Those, in touristic places, it replaced the tradition of offering the rather bitter Turkish tea to the guests. But remember, it is the biggest bogus in the food & drink scene in the country.