It’s October and there is beginning to be a coolness and a dampness in the air. I stopped wearing shorts several weeks ago and today I even took a jacket with me when I stepped out of the house. It’s the time of year when your appetites change and you no longer chase the light, fruity tastes of summer and you instead have a hankering for something a bit more substantial, as you build up your reserves for the coming winter months. In Turkey, that means you have an excuse for drinking boza, a drink made from fermented millet. For a Westerner, it’s an alien experience. It’s a thick, gloopy drink, sweet and acid like sherbert, and with a low alcohol content (somewhere around 1% or 2%). You sprinkle it with cinnamon, top it with roasted chickpeas (leblebi) and slowly consume it with a spoon: it really is like a little meal in a glass.
Founded in 1876, visited by Ataturk way back in the early days of the Turkish Republic, and still run by the same family, Vefa Bozacısı in the Fatih district is the iconic place to go and try boza. It’s also the only place that I know of that sells it. It’s located just a few (albeit not particularly salubrious) streets away from the Suleymaniye mosque, and is well worth a visit. The bar itself doesn’t appear to have changed much since Ataturk’s day. It’s old-fashioned, with marble-topped tables and white smock-wearing staff. You can buy some still-warm leblebi from the specialist seller across the street, before picking up a glass of boza at the bar and sitting down at a table to enjoy it, surrounded by families of Turks. It always seems quite busy. Each spoonful of boza seems to slightly tingle on the tongue, and underneath the sweetness and the warmth of the cinnamon there is a taste that reminds me of horses and barns. This, I presume, is the millet.
You will see that the chickpeas are resting on top of the boza, which should give you an idea of the consistency of this drink.
Price: 3TL for 1 glass.
Getting there: Katip Celebi Cad. No:104/1, Vefa, Istanbul 34470. It’s close to the Laleli-Üniversitesi stop on the T1 tram line, and the Vezneciler metro station.