Alcohol has been drunk in Turkey for thousands of years, which perhaps explains why the Turks have a more relaxed attitude to it’s consumption than people in some other Moslem countries. By the 17th century there were 100 distilleries in Istanbul alone. Rakı is the national drink of Turkey, where today more than 61 million liters are consumed annually – more than all of the other alcoholic drinks put together. Rakı is an anise flavored drink with close relatives in Palestine (arak) and Greece (ouzo). It is made from raisins which are distilled in the normal way then the product is re- distilled with aniseed.
Rakı turns white when water is added (hence it’s nickname – lions milk!). It is served in tall slim glasses and is mixed at about one part of rakı to two parts of water. Rakı is often served with a separate glass of water, alternate sips are taken and some maintain that the level in the two glasses should stay the same. The idea is not to get drunk but to relax, enjoy the company, and maintain a glow. To aid this process rakı is usually taken with food and in company leading to rakı muhabbet (rakı with affectionate and friendly conversation). Even when the main purpose is a drinking session food is often served on the side. As a minimum cubes of white cheese and honeydew melon will be supplied or a full range of hot and cold meze (hors d’oeuvre) might be served.
Rakı muhabbet does not have to be as milky as the rakı looks, each participant should feel free to speak his mind, but there is an expectation that the discussion will be conducted with respect and fellow feeling. Traditionally rakı muhabbet is a male bonding activity but more women are now drinking rakı and opening up the bars and restaurants, as well as the conversation, to their different perspective on life.