Drinking rakı in Turkey involves a ceremony, some traditions, and a good amount of pleasure. It's almost always done with friends and lots of good food.
Here's how to drink rakı: a clear, straight, narrow glass called a kadeh is filled 1/3 or 1/2 with raki, then diluted with water and/or ice to suit the drinker's taste. (Say Tamam!,tah-MAHM, "okay," when the waiter has poured enough water and/or ice.)
A traditional rakı sofrası ("rakı table") bears dozens of meze(MEH-zeh, Turkish hot and cold hors d'oeuvres, salads, cheeses, etc.) but the two essentials are salty white sheeps'-milk cheese (beyaz peynir) and sweet yellow melon(kavun).
While sipping rakı and nibbling meze, there's good conversation, much humor, and many toasts to your companions' health (Afiyet olsun!) and prosperity (Şerefinize!).
After you've eaten far too much, the main course of kebap or fish arrives, to be followed by a dessert/sweet, fruit and Turkish coffee.
Rakı is sold by the drink (kadeh), in small 17-cl glass pitchers, in half-bottles (35 cl) and full bottles (70 cl).
If you want just one drink, ask for bir kadeh rakı (BEER kah-DEH rah-KUH).
If you're drinking lightly with one or two friends, ask forbir otuzbeşlik rakı (BEER OH-tooz-BESH-leek, a 35-cl half-bottle).
If you really want to "milk the lion" or you're with lots of friends, order bir şişe rakı (BEER SHEE-sheh rah-KUH, a full bottle, sometimes called a yetmişlik, yeht-MEESH-leek, a 70 cl bottle).
Thirsty Turks sip 60 million liters of rakı each year, mostly with meals. (Where a European or North American will sip wine with a meal, most Turks will sip rakı.)
Rakı (rah-KUH) is clear brandy made from grapes and raisins, flavored with pungent anise. Most is quite potent (80- to 100-proof/40% to 50% alcohol) and thus usually diluted with water and sipped with snacks or meals.
It's similar to Greek ouzo and French pastis.
When mixed with ice and/or water for drinking, it turns milky white. Because of its color and hefty alcoholic punch, Turks call it lion's milk (aslan sütü).
If you like licorice and anise, you may like rakı. If you don't, for sure you won't.
Some rakı factories are located near İzmir to take advantage of its abundant, high-quality grapes, raisins, anise and sakız(mastic, pine gum), which is added to some brands.
Until a few years ago, Turkish rakı was made exclusively by Tekel, the former Turkish government tobacco and spirits monopoly which produced the Yeni Rakı, Kulüp Rakı, Tekirdağ and Altınbaş brands.
In 2004 the monopoly ended with the opening of the commercial Elda company distillery, producing the premium Efe Rakı brand. This started the trend to more brands.
The major rakı-producing companies now include Burgaz, Tarış and Mey as well as Elda. The former Tekel brands of Yeni Rakı, Kulüp Rakı, Tekirdağ and Altınbaş are now produced by Mey.
If you want to try some Turkish customs and traditions, an easy induction is to drink a glass of Raki, the unofficial national alcoholic drink of Turkey. It tastes like the Greek equivalent of Ouzo and is widely consumed in Turkey despite high price increases over the last few years.
There is certain etiquette to drinking it though. Just like the French respect their wines and the English love their beer; Turks have an age-old tradition for drinking Raki the right way!
The nickname for Raki is lion’s milk because it is traditionally drunk with water and ice. The water clouds it to a milky white appearance hence the nickname.
Consume Raki over enjoyable conversation with good friends during the course of a long evening. Fish is the best meal to eat with it however if your appetite is not that big, a plate of mezes on the table to share between everyone is the next best choice.
If there is a group of friends sitting down, it is impolite to order your own glass, instead a bottle for the whole table should be ordered.
back glass after glass, be aware that the alcohol content is 40%.
I have heard locals say that if you are suffering the next morning, drink one more glass of Raki and you will feel on top of the world; the equivalent of the western saying “hair of the dog”
As much as Raki should be drunk with water, some clever Turkish executives hit upon the idea of Raki cocktails so they could cash in on the popularity.
You will see menu for Raki cocktails in most sophisticated bars and a few nightclubs. At least try one glass of the national drink while you are in Turkey. You never know, it might become your favourite tipple.
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