The Real Raki Experience
photo by skygod

A few years ago, my mother and I decided to try something traditionally Turkish with our dinner.  We ordered raki, a clear hard liquor with the aroma of licorice that turns white when mixed with water.  The waiter obligingly served it before our meals came out, but not having much of a notion about aperitifs, we waited and drank it with our pasta and chicken.  The sharp, prodding taste was fascinating, almost sweet but stinging, but it was just totally counter to the flavors of my dinner.

Later, when I came back more permanently to study, a roommate and I had run out of wine and pulled out a bottle of raki after a frustrating day.  I was ranting about my department while she was babbling about her failed relationship, when another roommate took notice.  She did not, however, mind our loud, self-centered rambling in the living room.  Her problem was that we were drinking our raki without the right food.

I was given a lesson on how to properly drink raki not too long after.  A date had taken me to the Prince’s Islands to enjoy a long dinner with a view, and I was doing just that.  The waiter had brought the meze, appetizer tray and I was given the task of choosing the dishes.  I picked my usual favorites, acili ezme, spicy sauce, a tomato and pepper salsa-like dish, and patlican salatasi, a pureed eggplant sauce that is the perfect blend of creamy and tangy.  Then I spotted a seaweed dish a Black Sea friend had given me once, deniz fasulyesi.  Next, an arugula salad with pomegranate seeds transfixed me.  My date also pulled a plate of beyaz peynir, feta cheese, börek, savory pastry filled with feta and parsley, and yaprak dolmasi, rice stuffed grape leaves, classic dishes.  A little fixated on food to begin with, I now tried all of these tastes that went perfectly the drink I hadn’t been able to pair with anything.  The tanginess or spiciness of the dishes accented sharp taste of the drink, but were strong enough to cover it with a new flavor after a bite.

“Talk!” Scolded the young man, with whom things were not going so well.  “The whole point of having a meal like this is to talk!  You are not saying anything!”

He had told all me about his ex-girlfriend, his problems at work, his ex-girlfriend, the stress from his family, his ex-girlfriend, his trouble choosing a career, and his ex-girlfriend.  While the best conversationalist may have had trouble tearing me from that meal, it was really a struggle to come up with a response for him.  So while we had the right tastes together, and a great view of the sea, a piece was still seriously wanting.

After I graduated, the roommate who had scolded us before for our vulgar consumption of raki, organized a party to celebrate, or more accurately, to show me how it’s done.  The girls from my dorm made the same meze dishes, but also mucver, zucchini-egg pancakes or fritters, haydari, a spiced yogurt sauce, and vegetable and cheese stuffed rice balls, a Thracian friend’s traditional dish that surprised all of us.

My old roommates filled me in on their progress and I told them about working until somehow we ended up discussing music and how to snap with your palms together.  Then someone pointed out that to show me a real raki experience, we needed a sea view.

“It’s dark out!” Another countered.  “Pretend the sea is out the window.”

“The sea is out there!” I protested.  “It’s just really far away.  We could see if it it were light.  And we squinted.”

One of the girls dashed to her room and ran back posing with a poster of the Bebek seaside.  “Here,” she declared triumphantly.  “Now we have everything!”

Meet the author


Originally from the US, Suzanne has lived in many places, but none that have captivated her quite like Istanbul.  She first moved here to earn her master's in 2008, and can't imagine living anywhere else.  An English-teaching, US correspondence-writing, Turkish-learning aspiring diplomat, she enjoys sunflower seeds, Skype, and the surprises each day here brings.