Rakı is Turkey’s signature and national alcoholic beverage made of distilled grapes and aniseed. It is also called Aslan Sütü in Turkey’s social life which means Lion’s Milk in English. Rakı is the go-to alcoholic beverage for us to celebrate a new business or a birthday or to mute the pain of losing a loved one. On the other hand, you can’t just drink Rakı with anyone anywhere and at any time. It is a special drink that carries a how-to-drink ritual in it.
The History of Rakı
No one knows where or when this alcoholic beverage was first invented. The only certain thing is that the history of Rakı does not go as far back as beer or wine. In middle east countries, this alcoholic beverage is known by various names like Arak, Araki, Ariki which obviously shows that they all come from the same region.
There are different stories about the etymology of the term Rakı. Some say, the term Rakı comes from the Razaki type of grape that has large, long, and thick-shelled grains. Some say, the term comes from the Turkmen region of Iraq and it’s called Iraqi which means coming from Iraq.
Even though there is no certain evidence of where and how this Raki term was first produced, it is accepted by almost every country in the world that it was first produced on Ottoman soil and then spread worldwide.
How to drink Rakı?
The ritual of drinking Rakı realizes around a table and we call it Rakı Sofrası, in English Rakı Table. The table itself is not the special one but the people with whom we are sitting around that table, are. We drink Rakı with our loved ones like close friends, and/or with our family members. We consider it as the gathering drink, not the lone man’s drink. In general, if you see a person who drinks Rakı alone, it is either because there is a big sadness inside him/her, or that person is tired of waiting for his/her friends and starts early. There is no third option to see a person who drinks Raki alone.
Also, Rakı has a very interesting and mysterious power that it opens up even the most reserved people. For this reason, Rakı Sofrası also called Çilingir Sofrası, in English Locksmith’s Table. This may sound funny, but it is true that this drink has such power.
When it comes to the menu of the Rakı Table, it varies. You can drink it with only white cheese and melon or with endless delicious Turkish cuisine’s mezes and dishes. My personal preference is to drink it with white cheese and melon; however, most of my friends like to drink it with fish and/or kebab. When you are drinking it with your friends, the conversation usually starts with the gentle subjects of daily life. After a glass or two, the subject comes to matters of the heart. And then the politics follow. Keeping it at two glasses or three glasses would be the best if you are not a pro drinker because it contains 45% alcohol in it.
How to prepare Rakı?
As I mention above, Rakı is a special drink that even has its own style of glasses. First of all, the Rakı glass must be thin and when you are toasting you need to hear the glass clinking echo sound. This is only possible with thin glasses. When drinking it, usually each person has two glasses in front of him/her. The first one is for Rakı and the second one is for the water.
When it comes to how to prepare it, the best is to put a little water first, then Raki, and then water is poured into the glass. This is the drinking method of Aydın Boysan who was a well know Turkish architect, academic, author, essayist, and pro-Rakı drinker. He was one of the great characters in Turkey’s recent history that passed away in January 2018 at the age of 96. He has countless sayings about Rakı.
One of them, which I like most was; I have been married to Rakı for 70 years and I have been married to my wife for 60 years. So I need to drink for 10 years to give the decision to marry. Another one is; The ones, who are not drinking it because it is a sin, are doing wrong. Sane drunkenness is the rehearsal of heaven.
If you are a first-timer, just put Rakı first and then add the water. The ratio of the Rakı depends on the drinker. Some love to drink Sek/Sec (a French word to express dry or without water) with ice, but the best and the most common ratio is 50% Rakı and 50% water and leaving a finger thickness space at the top of the glass for adding the ice. One small tip; always drink it cold with or without ice but cold.
Where to drink Rakı?
You can drink Rakı in any restaurant or bar which serves alcoholic beverages in Turkey. Most people prefer to go fish restaurants, kebab restaurants, or Meyhane to drink it. When I want to drink Rakı, I prefer to go to Meyhane which is a restaurant type in Turkey that mainly serves alcoholic beverages such as wine, beer, vodka, and rakı with special mezes and traditional foods. You can consider Meyhane as the Turkish version of taverns.
If you visit Turkey for business or vacation, do not leave the country without trying this magnificent alcoholic beverage. It is a must-have drink among foreigners once they come to Turkey. If you try and like it, it will be very easy for you to source it in your country because Turkey is exporting Rakı to the seven continents of the world.
It is impossible to write everything about this special alcoholic drink in one blog post but I tried my best to explain the basics and the importance of drinking Rakı in Turkish culture.
ŞEREFE. (Cheers in English).