As I start to embrace my second cold season in Turkey, I was eager to finally try boza; a drink I steered away from last season because I thought it was a liquid form of chickpeas. Let me bring some clarity and share my experience for anyone else who read badly translated articles or descriptions.
Boza is known as a winter drink, yet it’s not served warm and the consistency is too thick to drink. It’s served with a spoon in a glass, sprinkled with cinnamon and roasted chickpeas. The taste is indescribable, a bit tart, sweet but strong flavor.
WHAT IS BOZA?
Because I enjoyed it too much, this definition is taken from the sign inside Vefa Bozacısı:
Boza is a fermented bulgur refreshment with addition of water and sugar. It contains vitamin A and four types of vitamin B as well as vitamin C and E. During fermentation, Boza produces lactic acid. This type of acid which is rarely found in food products helps digestion and also recommended for its milk-producing property for pregnant women and for sportsmen as a valuable source of vitamin. It is very effective in the cholera treatment.
After a long day walking outside in the cold, this was our last stop and our way to end the day. I have no idea how to describe the taste other than it’s taste was reminiscent of apple cider or apple sauce (probably due to the fermentation). It’s consistency was almost pudding like, I was quite surprised that this was considered a drink, when you have to eat with a spoon. At first I was hesitant about the roasted chickpeas, but now I understand I wouldn’t want to ‘drink’ it without them. The chickpeas cut the tart and sweet flavour of the boza, making it a perfect combination.
Turks began to make boza in the 10th century. In the 16th century it was banned because of opium used in the mixture. Then in the 17th century, due to the nature of the fermentation process, (containing 1% alcohol) the drink was banned again. However at this time apparently soldiers were exempt from the ban due to its rich carbohydrates and vitamin content along with its warming and strengthening effect. In the 19th century, the sweet and non-alcoholic version became popular at the Ottoman Palace and is the recipe Turks still drink today.
WHERE TO FIND
During the winter months (October – April) you can find this drink sold at supermarkets, cafes and restaurants. Some residential areas still have sellers who walk the streets selling freshly prepared boza. However, if possible visit the oldest and original boza shop in Istanbul, Vefa Bozacısı.
In 1870 Hacı Saık Bey immigrated from Albania and settled in the Vefa district in Istanbul. He reinterpreted the original thin and sour boza into today’s thicker, less tart drink and created Turkey’s most well-known brand of boza. (If you go to the supermarket to purchase, this is the brand you will find – not many competitors). In 1876 he opened the boza shop,
Vefa Bozacısı making it today, the oldest shop in Istanbul.
For the full experience, first walk across the street from Vefa Bozacısı into the bakkal (corner shop) and buy a bag of freshly roasted chickpeas (leblebi) for 5TL. As you enter the shop, it’s as if you’re walking into an early 1900’s ice cream parlour with men wearing the iconic soda jerk hats. Men behind the counter dip their ladles into large pots of boza and pour them into little glass cups. At the counter their sprinkled with cinnamon and served with a spoon. Add the roasted chickpeas and enjoy! (3TL a glass)
If you’re going to try boza in Istanbul, this is the only brand (and place) you should try!
Vefa Bozacısı: Vefa Fatih, Katip Çelebi Cad. No:104/1