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A 500-year old dining tradition

Article - October 8, 2014
Rakı became an inseparable part of Turkish culture in the times of the Ottoman Empire and has since embarked on an international journey.
Mey Içki is Turkey’s top producer of the country’s most famous beverage: rakı. Considered an integral part of a traditional dining ritual, the anise flavored grape based liquor demands special attention to detail in how, where and with whom it’s served. World Report sits down with Galip Yorgancıoglu, CEO of Mey Içki, to learn about the rakı experience.

How would you describe the rakı experience to someone who has never been to Turkey?

First of all, you have to consider rakı as a presence in your table – one that you need to respect. You need to respect the drink and the rituals of the drink. Unlike wine, the rakı bottle never stays at the center of the table. It has to be at the end of the table. You have to treat the rakı bottle like a person sitting on the table. When you drink rakı, you do not do it in haste. You consume it sip by sip. Appetisers (mezze) are important. You do not drink rakı without mezze.

Rakı is a social drink. You do not drink rakı alone. It has to be done with good company (for example, friends, colleagues, family members, etc.). It does not have to be a big gathering, but you need to be with at least one person to drink rakı. It is important to note that when drinking rakı, you should not be loud. Enjoy the drink and the meal that goes with it.

Not only do you drink the rakı slowly, you eat the meals that go with it slowly. A good rakı table should go for at least three hours or more.

To be clear, rakı is not just about happy occasions; it encompasses a range of events. You can drink it during weddings, birthdays and the like. You can also consume it during moments of sorrow, when you are confiding in a friend.

Rakı can be drunk as an aperitif (like what you can see in places like Bodrum, a vacation paradise on the Turkish riviera which is already very well known among most British people.) Rakı used to be consumed with a meal, but a beautiful bar in Bodrum started serving it as an aperitif taken with small nuts and so on. This has caught on.

Music is important, but it is not required and it should not be loud. Finally, you should never get drunk on rakı. It should be drunk in moderation.

Rakı is becoming increasingly popular. In 2004, our export numbers were around 800,000 liters. Now, we are close to 5 million liters. We hope to double this figure to 10 million liters in four years' time. It is completely attainable, as long as we follow our set strategies.

What kind of mezze goes with rakı?

Good mezze to go with rakı include white cheese, melon, tomatoes, aubergine pâté, smoked fish, all Mediterranean herb dishes, seafood, and vegetables – nothing heavy. No dish should overpower the taste of rakı. The taste of rakı should fill your palette. This means that you should not have it with something too oily or fried.