Recently there was a little stir on Turkish social media, after people noticed that an enterprising American company has developed and brought to market the “the perfect whiskey glass”. Cardinal Spirits tell us that the glass is the one to “best express the nose and taste of a fine whiskey” and is “logical, comfortable, and reasonably priced” at a mere $25 for a pair. The discovery of this glass is the result of years of research carried out in Scotland, and the conclusion is backed up by several hundred words of scientific analysis… most of which is errant nonsense. For example, it’s apparently impossible to accurately nose a spirit with an alcohol content of over 43%, which is simply not true based on my own personal experience of sampling cask-strength spirits, and there is also a claim that serious tasters use two glasses, one for nosing and one for tasting. Again, this is simply not true and actually a bit ridiculous.
Cardinal Spirits make the final point that the glass feels good in the hand, which is actually fair enough, and this is where 70 million Turks would also be hard pressed to disagree. Turkish-based readers of this blog, and people who have visited Turkey, will immediately recognise the glass as being the slender-waisted traditional Turkish tea glass which is ubiquitous in the homes, cafes, restaurants and workplaces of this tea-guzzling nation. You will generally find yourself with one of these nestled in your fingers several times a day, and they are certainly comfortable enough. The main reason that this offering has attracted attention here though is the fact that you can buy one of these glasses from a reputable shop for less than a dollar, and the entrepreneurial spirits at Cardinal are selling them for $25 for a pair. Now that is a great mark-up!
Kazandibi is a type of traditional Turkish milk pudding, a bit like a stickier crème brulee. The name means ‘bottom of the pan’ and the dish is typified by a caramelised layer where the pudding has been left to overcook against the saucepan. The recipe for the base pudding also involves chicken breast as well as the milk, which is further proof that the Turks really love their meat. Flavour-wise, it’s sweet and vanilla-y and is often served dusted with cinnamon. The accompaniment should, if you’re a Turk, be either a glass of tea or a small cup of intense Turkish coffee, but if you’re a reckless yabancı like me you could also experiment and serve a dessert wine along with it, and I did exactly that at the weekend. From my diminishing collection I was able to dig out a Tuscan Vin Santo or ‘straw wine’, the Vin Santo Della Signora 2009 Montellori. It’s quite boozy at 15%, sweet and redolent of apricots.
This was an enjoyable dessert course, but perhaps not perfect in terms of food and wine matching, as I thought that the wine was too robust. However, I suspect that the Vin Santo would go well with aşure, another traditional Turkish pudding, so there is a potential experiment for another day. Diligent internet research has also revealed that there is a domestic dessert wine here called Safir, made from Misket grapes (a Muscat relative I presume), although I have not yet seen it here in Istanbul. Yes, there is definitely scope for further experimentation.
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.