Turkish National Drinks
When tasting Turkish national drinks, get ready for a surprise. The long list goes well beyond stereotypical beverages like coffee and tea, to include refreshing drinks you have never even heard about. The saying goes “when in Rome, do as the Romans do,” so apply the same principle to Turkey because the cultural diversity enhances your holiday. The national beverages allow you to experience all things Turkish. From non-alcoholic to alcoholic to weird and bizarre, we say try them all at least once.
Turkish Non-Alcoholic Drinks
Turkish Tea: The National Beverage
Contrary to popular belief, tea, and not coffee is the national drink of Turkey. Called Cay in Turkish, Turks across the country consume gallons every day. The national tea company based in Northwest Rize and called Caykur produces thousands of tonnes every month. When out shopping, vendors sometimes offer the touristic apple version, but Turks seldom drink it. Instead, they like black tea served in tulip-shaped glasses and often sweetened with copious amounts of sugar. Local teahouses are men-only environments but gardens open to woman and kids.
Admittedly, not every foreigner likes Turkish coffee. A countrywide proverb says coffee should be “black as hell, strong as death, and sweet as love” and this accurately reflects the thick grainy texture served in small cups. Many foreigners find the strong and earthy taste too much, and admittedly, Turks only drink it occasionally. Specialities include Menengic, made from the terebinth berry, a cousin of the pistachio nut and not at all related to the caffeine-fuelled reputation of regular coffee. Another is Dibek. Specially made from ingredients ground down using a mortar and pestle, Fincandan Pisen is brewed in a cup and not a pot. Likewise, “Osmanli” means using traditional Ottoman methods in the brewing process. Therefore, in some south-east places like Gaziantep, a firm favourite is Fincandan Pisen Osmanli Dibek Kahvesi! What a mouthful!
Ayran: Summer Favourite
Best served chilled, a favourite of kids and adults is traditional Ayran, widely consumed during summer because of its refreshing taste. Made from yoghurt, water, and salt, packaged brands are sold all over Turkey but stumble upon a village café to try the homemade version with a large topping of foam. The history of Ayran stems back to nomadic Turk tribes and other cultures featured in Arab countries. Some foreigners baulk at the thought of drinking it but later enjoy it, especially when eating a delicious donor kebab. Turks also say Ayran cures stomach aches proving the old fashioned medicines are always the best.
Weird Ingredients of Salgam
This drink does not win over many foreigners because of the weird combination of ingredients. Translating into turnip water, pickled carrot is salted and spiced, flavoured with turnip, and fermented with ground bulger; therefore, the taste is moderately hot and sour. Traditionally stemming from the south-eastern cities of Adana and Mersin, health benefits include a high concentration of vitamin C. Some Turks mix it with Raki to dilute the alcohol while others say it cures hangovers. If in Istanbul, the best place to find it, is Galata Bridge. Look for the floating fish boats. Alongside selling the traditional fish sandwiches, they also sell glasses of Salgam so that is your lunch sorted.
Salep: Winter Favourite
Salep, made from the Orchid Genus flower, is a hot, steaming beverage, particularly favoured during winter, especially in Istanbul where street cart vendors sell it. Stemming from the Ottoman days in England during the 18th century, it was widely popular and known as salep before falling out of fashion, in favour of hot chocolate. Made with hot milk, its core ingredient also features in stringy Kahramanmaras ice-cream. If you want to make your own at home, look for recipes about Turkish hot milk with cinnamon. Additionally, another winter warmer is Boza made from fermented grains.
Turkish Alcoholic Drinks
Raki AKA Lion’s Milk
Known as the national alcoholic beverage, Raki is remarkably like the Greek version of Ouzo, which is no surprise since both cultures closely intertwine themselves through history. Where Raki differs, is the addition of water that turns the clear liquid into a milky white colour, hence its nickname of lion’s milk. On the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts, locals prefer to sip Raki slowly while feasting on a hearty meal. This includes kebabs or mezes, but most Turks prefer fresh seafood or fish. Made from raisins and grapes, Yeni Raki, produced since 1944, is the most widely sold brand and others include Tekirdag and Izmir. Sip slowly because the alcohol content is 40%!
White and Red Wine
Many people are surprised to learn Turkey has a wine industry, but across the country, vineyards thrive in winemaking skills. From flavoured fruity versions, sold in Sirince, to the pinot, sparkling Chardonnay, and champagne, you can taste it all, albeit, the variety of grapes evokes flavours never tasted before. Stick with it to find a wine you like. Wines from Bozcaada or the Cappadocia region are a sure-fire win since vineyards have been producing for generations. Brands from these places include Turasan with a prestigious reputation for excellence. If in Istanbul, head to Sensus wine boutique in the Galata area that does wine tasting sessions, so you can find the perfect glass for your palette.
Beers and Ale
Beer drinkers feel right at home in Turkey, and this is clear in research showing it is the most common alcoholic drink. The leading brewery Efes produces various versions including malt, but the most popular Pilsen is widely sold all over the country. They also capture the market because they have the licence to brew Miller, Fosters, and Becks. Beer fans absolutely love Efes for their variety, but Tuborg is a firm favourite in second place. Some people say Tuborg is the best because it is less gassy. Another emerging brand is Bomonti. It has been around for quite a while, but taken off in the last decade as more drinkers seek out unique beers.
Note about liquors, distilled spirits, and flavours: Unfortunately, this is where foreigners might be disappointed. Turkey produces their version of drinks like vodka, malt whiskey, and gin, yet we have met no one that rates them, especially when compared to well known British brands. For alcoholic beverages and booze, anyone looking for a business idea has the perfect opening.
Traditional Turkish Food: There is nothing we like better than spending summer evenings drinking and indulging in a hearty meal at the same time. While here, we suggest delving into their cuisine as well as beverages, and this article talks about the most popular dishes to complement Turkish national drinks. See more articles about Turkey in our blog here.