Turkish Cuisine



BEVERAGES : BEYOND TURKISH COFFEE AND “AYRAN”

Volumes have been written about Turkish coffee; its history, its significance in social life, and the ambiance of the ubiquitous coffee houses.

Without some understanding of this background, it is easy to be disappointed by the tiny brew with the annoying grounds, which an uninitiated traveller (like Mark Twain) may accidentally end up chewing. A few words of caution will have to suffice for the purposes of this brief primer. First, the grounds are not to be swallowed, so sip the coffee gingerly. Secondly, don’t expect a caffeine surge with one shot of Turkish coffee; it is not strong, just thick. Third, remember that it is the setting and the company that matter; the coffee is just an excuse for the occasion.

Tea, on the other hand, is the main source of caffeine for the turks. It is prepared in a special way, by brewing it over boiling water and served in delicate, small, clear glasses to show the deep red color and to transmit the heat to the hand. Drinking tea is such an essential part of a working day, that any disruption of the constant supply of fresh tea is a sure way to sacrifice productivity. Once upon a time, so the story goes, a lion escaped from Ankara Zoo and took up residence in the basement of an office building. It began devouring public servants and executives. It even ate up a few ministers of state and nobody took notice. It is said, however, that a posse was immediately formed when the lion caught and ate the “tea-man”, the person responsible for the supply of fresh tea!

A park without tea and coffee is inconceivable in Turkey. Thus, every spot with a view has a tea-house or a tea-garden. These places may be under a plain tree overlooking the village or town square, on top of a hill with majestic view of a valley or the sea, by a harbour, in a market, on a roadside with a scenic view, by a waterfall, or in the woods. Among the typical tea-gardens in Istanbul are the Emirgan on the European side, Çamlýca on the Anatolian side of the Bosphorus, the famous Pierre Loti cafe, and the tea-garden in Üsküdar. But the traditional tea-houses are beginning to disappear from the more tourist-oriented seaside locations, in favour of pubs and “Biergartens”.

Among the beverages worth mentioning are excellent fruit juices. But, perhaps the most interesting drink is “boza”, traditionally sold in neighbourhood streets by wandering vendors on a winter’s night. This is a thick, fermented drink made of wheat berries, to be enjoyed with a dash of cinnamon and a handful of roasted chick peas. Boza can also be found year-round at certain cafes or dessert shops. Finally, “sahlep” is a hot drink made with milk and sahlep powder sprinkled with cinnamon. It is a good remedy for sore throats and colds, in addition to being delicious.