For Turkish people, raki is a drink unlike any other. It first seems interesting to many foreigners as Turkey is majorly Muslim, but Raki does have a place. In fact, Raki has been around longer than the country itself. Even so, Raki alone means nothing for an ordinary Turk because it is only one component of the routine that has existed for centuries. In other words, it is just like the Japanese tea ceremony, and, similarly, there is also a special etiquette to drinking Raki.
The ritual of drinking raki actualises around the raki table. Therefore, the first requirement to drink raki is a simple table. After it is found, do not think of opening a Raki bottle and sitting at the table alone, because, frankly, the key to drink Raki is people.
Raki is consumed with appetisers called “meze”, and locals say the best meze for Raki is conversation… That is to say you need at least one person to sit at a raki table. A bunch of people would be better, but that changes if anyone in the group talks too much, boasts about himself/herself, or is humourless.
Raki never goes down well if a pleasant talk is lacking. However, pleasant talk doesn’t mean that you should be unnecessarily adorable or try too hard. Instead, you are always expected to be natural and modest at the raki table.
Raki is all about sharing and enjoying the moment together. During the first glass of raki people usually listen to subjects of daily life, but two glasses later, the talk moves on to matters of the heart, and inevitably turns to politics. Everyone saves the world in his/her own way at the raki table hence never and ever break a heart at a raki table.
Other important rules of the conversation on the raki table:
– whatever is told and said stays at the table,
– nobody should try and console the person that cries through a subject. Instead, the topic should be changed,
– speaking slang at a raki table is fine but swearing is never well received,
– even you know how to do so graciously, never interrupt anybody talking,
– talking on the phone? Do not even think of it.
Well, you have a table, you have a bottle of Raki, you have your friends around, and you know the basic rules on conversation at the raki table. If you think you are ready, you don’t fit at the raki table. That is because you are selfish person who hasn’t invited the best friends of Raki yet. They are the appetisers that we call “meze” in Turkish. Pleasant talk may make the raki table feast but for a perfected raki table, mezes are definitely a necessity. The size of each meze should be small, but there can be a lot of varieties. Most popular mezes are hot spicy tomato dip, haydari, şakşuka, red beans, humus, rolled grape leaves with rice, eggplant salad as well as fruits. If no chance for a rich table then cold melon and white cheese would be enough.
You have your friends, Raki has its friends. It is now time to drink Raki as long as if you know how to prepare the ideal glass of it. The best is to put a little water first, than raki and then water is poured into the glass. Ratio in the glass depends on the drinker, 50% Raki – 50% Water is always safe, but the real best is 65% Raki and 35% Water.
Raki is absolutely clear in the glass but when mixed with water it turns into milky white color which is why people call it “lion’s milk”. Only one person serves the “lion’s milk” and he/she is always the youngest person sitting on the table. By the way nobody can drink Raki until the oldest person at the table drinks first. Do not be disrespectful, wait.
Raki and water should always stay cold. Master Aydın Boysan says to add ice into the glass of Raki would only be acting like a fool. You can put ice into the water glass that always stays near the Raki glass. No problem with that! If you want to feel more taste of raki, try Şalgam instead of water. It is traditional drink that is spicy red carrot juice. Your burning throat after sipping your raki will turn to great feeling!
Only few seconds left to have the first sip of Raki but there’re still things you should definitely know. When you clink glasses with each other the younger person’s glass should be lower than the older person’s glass as they hit. Other important rule is that after everybody says “Şerefe” (cheers), you certainly cannot put your glass down without first having a sip. This is the best part of raki drinking as it goes down your throat. Master Aydın Boysan says “A giraffe – that’s an animal ideally made to appreciate Raki.”
Never ever chug Raki glass! Raki is said to be drunk slowly, sip by sip, so conversation takes longer.
Even if there’s emergency, do not leave the table without asking permission from the oldest person.
As soon as the raki glass is empty, it should be replenished.
If you want to muck the raki table up, play popular music. It doesn’t matter if it is rock, hip-hop, reggae or techno. If you do so, of course, no Turkish people come down on you, but there is a certain type of music which goes well with Raki; slow styles like Alaturka or Fasıl music. Zeki Müren, Müzeyyen Senar, Muazzez Abacı are the first names to come to mind. Do not play music at a high volume. You know the reason: Raki is all about conversation.
Ilker Yaman is a story teller, story writer, and a relentless researcher, with great interest to be a turnsole test for booksy pimps
Photo Credits: Berge Gazen