Boza is a fermented drink made from grains such as corn, barley, rye, oats, wheat or millet. It has been produced and consumed for over 8000 years, therefore it is one of the most historical drinks known in Turkish culinary culture.“Boza” comes from the word “buze” which means millet in Farsi language.
It has been a very popular drink throughout history in all regions governed by Turkish communities. It is high in calories and known to give warmth and a feel of nourishment to the human body. Boza is a winter drink and has been consumed widely in parts of the world where the climate is relatively colder. In times of famine throughout history, boza was the most important source of nourishment, due to its rich nature and also the ease of production with the grains readily available almost everywhere.
Boza can be made from any grain, millet however, is the most widely used grain and it yields the most delicious boza. During production of boza, millet is crushed into semolina size pieces and boiled. Next is the addition of water, sugar and a portion of the previous boza used as a starter yeast. Boza is then left for fermentation for 24 hours at 30 C (86 F). During the fermentation process, digestive features are formed. When fermentation ends, boza is cooled to refrigerator temperature settled at about 4-5 C (40 F) and is ready to be served. Fresh-made boza needs to be consumed within the next five days.
Boza contains proteins, carbohydrates, fat and various vitamins - for this reason it is considered to be a very nutritious drink. It is also high in lactic acid which has positive effects on digestion and to the intestinal flora.
It is written in many sources that the Turks have been consuming boza for centuries, and this tradition has made its way into Ottoman food culture. This is especially clear from the fact that there were many shops selling boza all over the city of Istanbul during Ottoman period.
In modern day Turkey the health benefits of boza is emphasized. Especially pregnant and nursing woman and athletes are encouraged to drink boza. It has high levels of protein, carbohydrates and vitamin B. It also helps clear the mind and calm the nerves. Even though the famous street vendors are scarce, nowadays it is easy to purchase boza from small retail shops and supermarkets.
Muhammet Arıcı, Orhan Dağlıoğlu Turan,”Boza: Laktik Asit Fermantasyonu ile Üretilen Tahıl Kaynaklı Geleneksel Bir Türk Gıdası” , Acısıyla Tatlısıyla Boza, T.C. Kültür ve Turizm Bakanlığı, Ankara 2007, p.76-87
Koç, Ümit, “Klasik Dönem Osmanlı Ülkesinde Boza”, Acısıyla Tatlısıyla Boza, T.C. Kültür ve Turizm Bakanlığı, Ankara 2007, p.59-60
Dünden Bugüne İstanbul Ansiklopedisi (Istanbul Encyclopedia from past to present)
Boza is a popular winter drink that becomes available in the first days of autumn and continues until the early cold days of spring. İstanbul residents are familiar with the cry of the boza sellers that starts their rounds in the streets after the evening prayers during cold and snowy winter days. Boza is the ultimate sign that shows the beginning of winter; with the first cries of the boza seller, folks realize that winter has arrived.
In the old days most of the boza sellers were of Albanian descent, however this has changed over the years, leaving the scene to immigrants from Anatolia. As we look at the pictures and engravings from the early 19th century, we see the sellers portrayed as carrying copper jugs in their hands, a special belt that holds glasses and “simit” (a ring-like savoury pastry) stacked on a rope hanging around their shoulder. This tradition has been long gone; in it’s place now we see ugly plastic cups. The only thing that is still familiar is the mournful cries of the boza sellers.
Although it is difficult to know exactly since when boza was made in the Ottoman lands, there are recordings from the 16th century that shows the existence of boza shops. In this period of time there were two types of boza: the first one was the sour boza, which was the alcoholic type that could make people drunk. Drinking it was forbidden by the Islamic religious law, and to visit the bozashops that sell this sour boza was equivalent to visiting a tavern. The other type of boza, the sweet one, was not against the Islamic law, and going to such shops were considered the same as going to coffeehouses.
In old Istanbul boza shops were considered to be places with the same caliber as taverns, where alcohol was served. As the old Turkish proverb states: “They asked the tavern keeper ‘who is your witness?’ and he showed the boza shopkeeper” or “Boza shopkeeper is the witness of tavern keeper”, boza shops and taverns were always considered equivalent.
Travellers from the west have also mentioned boza and boza shops in their notes. In fact, some of them also included information on the quality of the boza and whether it contained alcohol or not. The famous Ottoman traveler Evliya Çelebi has also mentioned the boza shops in his travel journals. According to his notes, he recorded 300 boza shops and 1005 workers. Boza makers within the Ottoman army were considered an important class, a sufficient amount of boza drank by the soliders were known to give them more power, a sense of full stomach and warmth for the body. Army bozamakers were usually of Tatarian origin and would distribute boza to participants during army parades.
Evliya Çelebi also mentions another type of boza that was made in 40 shops by 105 workers. This kind of boza was made from a type of millet brought from Tekirdağ and yielded a very nutritious, milky white and thick boza that was drunk by elder people, and pregnant woman.
The most popular boza was made in various parts of the town such as Ayasofya Market, Kadırga Port, Okçularbaşı and Aksaray, based on Evliya Çelebi’s travel journals. Boza was served with grape molasses from Kuşadası, powdered cinnamon, cloves, ginger and grated coconut. Today boza is only served with cinnamon and also with roasted chickpeas. Based on the sources of Rıfat Osman, boza was sold in shops owned by non-Muslims and these shops had two sections. In the front section they would sell wine and alcoholic boza.
In Ottoman history there were certain sultans who banned the consumption of alcohol, tobacco products and coffee from time to time. Boza was also one of these items and boza shops were either closed down or destroyed. Turkish trade yearbook records show us that there were three big boza producers: “Bayram Usta” in Cağaoğlu district, “Hacı İbrahim ve Sadık Biraderler” (Vefa Bozacısı) on Vefa Koğacılar street and “Ali Sinan” on Nuruosmaniye street.
There were also boza related names given to streets around İstanbul which also illustrates the popularity of boza throughout history.
Eyliva, Seyahatmane, I, 658-662;
Türk Ticaret Salnamesi 1340-1340, (1924-1925), p. 216;
Rıfat Osman, “Memleketimizin Tarihinde Mükeyyifata Bir Bakış: Kahvehaneler”, İstanbul Belediye Mecmuası, S. 78/6 (Şubat 1931) p. 236, 241-243;
Ergin, Rehber, 21 “Boza, Bozacı, Bozahaneler Vak’ası”, İSTA, VI, 3044-3053;
C. Yener, “Kahve ve Kahvehaneler”, Hayat Tarih Mecmuası, S. 12 (Ocak 1970) İstanbul.
Dünden Bugüne İstanbul 1994: 317-8