There is an old legend that speaks of a very unusual Sultan in 17th century Ottoman Istanbul. Murat IV allegedly used to change into civilian clothing at night to be able to walk anonymously through the street of Istanbul and check the city’s alehouses to see if people were drinking forbidden alcoholic beverages. The Sultan was checking for illicit consumption of boza, a traditional drink that contains a very low alcohol level, which made its way to Istanbul from Central Asia.
Boza is beverage also seen in Turkey’s neighbouring countries. Although there are some differences from one country to another, it is sold in Turkey as a malt drink made from fermented wheat.
Boza has a thick consistency and a little alcohol content (usually around 1%), it is slightly acidic and sweet in flavour. Resembling eggnog, boza has a similar flavour although it is egg and dairy free. It is served with cinnamon and roasted chickpeas and is consumed especially in the winter months.
This unique tipple is a disappearing part of Turkish culture. Famous Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk’s latest book, A Strangeness in My Mind, tells the story of a man who lives as a traveling boza seller. This is a profession which these days is almost extinct in modern Istanbul.
Although you won’t find boza sold throughout the city anymore, there is one unique place hidden in the backstreets of Istanbul’s Fatih district which has been selling Boza for 139 years. This is Vefa Bozacisi, a beautiful boza shop looks exactly as it did when it first opened with original blue and white tiles and a dark wooden counter.
Vefa Bozacisi was founded in 1876 by an Albanian immigrant Haci Sadik Bey who perfected the art of making boza after noticing that it was being sold in a form that was watery, brown and relatively sour. This Boza visionary created a method to fermented a yellow, creamy and sweeter drink. In Vefa Bozacisi, boza is served with a dusting of nutmeg. A glass of Boza at Vefa Bozacısı costs only 3 TL, around $1.
Haci Sadık Bey personally produced this unique Turkish beverage to ensure that the thickness and flavour of the boza were always excellent – a standard that is maintained to this day.
You’ll notice the famously worn-down “melted marble” doorstep. The smart marble exterior of Vefa Bozacisi has seen a lot of visitors over the years. The most famous patron being Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the beloved first president of Turkey and the country’s national hero.
Evidence of their most venerable patron sits in Vefa Bozacısı: his boza cup. This precious relic sits in a visible corner encased in glass. This is the boza glass which Atatürk allegedly drank the beverage from when he visited Vefa Bozacısı years ago as president of the country. Indulgence in the heritage while enjoying a traditional treat.
Address: Vefa Cad. 66, Vefa/Fatih. Open at 8 a.m. – 11 p.m. every day. Telephone: 212-519-4922 Web: www.vefa.com.tr
*Edited by Terry Elward