”The best accompaniment to Raki is good conversation.”
-Mustafa Kemal Ataturk
Raki, the unofficial national drink of Turkey is more than a glass of alcohol, it’s an experience in itself. There is an entire culture around this strong, anise-flavored liqueur that is very popular throughout Turkey. Visitors to Turkey often wonder what that milky stuff in narrow glasses is and leave without a taste.
If you’re heading to Turkey any time soon, savor the food, conversation, and drink raki like a Turk.
Ordering a ‘Kadeh’
Raki is served in a small narrow glass that is specifically used for the drink. The glass is half filled with raki and ice or water completes the rest. At restaurants you can let the waiter know how much for a stronger or weaker drink. The addition of water turns the drink a cloudy white, which is where the nickname “lion’s milk” comes from.
Melon and Feta Cheese
Raki is traditionally served as an aperitif, to be slowly enjoyed with several appetizers. The traditional raki meal varies and can include anything from kebabs to salads. The two essentials however are yellow melon and feta cheese.
Ice and Water
Don’t be surprised to see a bowl of ice on the table. You can plop a fresh one into your drink as needed and the water will help take the edge off of your stomach. It’s also common to see a raki glass filled with water sitting next to everyone’s raki – also to be sipped on.
Sip, Don’t Chug
Raki is a drink that is best savored and you want to sip and drink it slowly. Be prepared to eat for hours, if you’re eating out you’ll be served food and drink all night until you’re done. Don’t worry, you’ll still get drunk in time (it’s 90 proof) but you won’t get the most important thing out of the drink.
A Good Conversation
That’s what drinking raki is all about – not so much the drink but the ambiance that is created around it. Have some raki with friends and spend hours of talking, laughing, reminiscing, and of course eating.
Raki is a has a strong anise flavor (much like Greek ouzo or French pastis) and you might be put off on your first taste, which will be easily forgotten as you finish up your first glass and get to a second.
Turkey Travel Planner has a good guide to ordering raki and more about the traditional ‘raki sofrasi‘. So, if you’ve got 48 hours in Istanbul spend an evening out and have a kadeh, some melon, more food, and of course, good conversation.