Turkish Drinking Traditions
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Turkish Drinking Traditions
In several sections of the epic we see mention of rakı being mixed with water or sherbet, and of celebrations accompanied by rakı:

Coloy Han went weaving,
Rakı had been his poison
First he drank raki with water
And wobbled like an old camel

He gathered up rakı, sherbet and stew
He gathered up goose and bumbar

Bumbar is a Persian word, meaning a food made from the intestines of animals. From these lines we understand that rakı was drunk with food, with meze. In the same epic, rakı is mentioned as a celebratory drink:

A great celebration was held
The celebration lasted long
They drank rakı, sherbet and stew
The ate goose and bumbar.

And look at the young men
They have outfitted themselves
With rakı, sherbet and stew

Have rakı, sherbet and stew prepared,
And shout, call out for Er Manas,
For Manas, precious as honey.

Rakı was also drunk with honey:

Kanıkey the daughter of the Khan
Brought sixty camels
And he, giving honey and rakı,
And whatever else was needed 
For the wedding, took the girl.

Kanıkey is one of the heroes of the legend. They advise her to give rakı to the young men:

Let’s fill [the cups] with rakı 
And dressing the young men,

Get them all up on horses

In one of the monumental works of Turkish civilization, the Kutadgu-Bilig, the harmful effects of alcohol are much mentioned. Only in the sections devoted to the organization and various duties performed in the palace is there mention of a wine maker and a head maker of alcoholic beverages in addition to the head doorman. It tells us that the içkici başı is charged with making alcoholic beverages and storing them, he must have all sorts of herbs on hand in order to make digestives, tonics or laxatives. It is also noted that he is the one that administers the alcohol and wine. Taking the anti-alcohol sentiments into mind, we understand that Yusuf Has Hacib wished to say that the bulk of the içkici başı’s duty consisted of making medicines from herbs.

 After mentioning that the içkici başı added all the herbs to the food and alcohol himself, took care that they were clean and looked over his master’s drink, his characterization of syrups from dry or fresh fruit, honey and rose syrups as içki bears out this interpretation.

After the Manas Epic and the Kutadgu-Bilig, the most important of the works which mention the subject of alcohol are the mystical works of Hodja Ahmet Yesevi. In his work Divân-ı Hikmet are alcohol-related terms such as wine, içki, spirit, wine goblet, the wine of elest(elest, elestü – God’s question to Adam, “Am I not your Lord?), the wine of joy, the wine of unity, the wine of love, the wine of mystery, bitter wine, the wine of love, and tavern.

Hodja Ahmet Yesevi is one of the first mystic writers in our literature. In this context, these alcohol-related terms in his mystical writings are used in a figurative sense; they are symbols that serve to bring out certain concepts in mysticism. According to one interpretation, these metaphors correspond to the following:

The Lover – God; the water bearer – the guide presenting the love of God to the seekers; the goblet – the form in which the consciousness of God is presented to the student; wind – the essence of God’s consciousness, the tavern – the place where the consciousness of God is presented, the lodgs; drunk – the dervish that has taken leave of himself through the wine of the meaning given him by his guide.

When we examine the world “wine” in its broader sense, we can make the connection between alcohol and mysticism. In mysticism, the essence of God is love. The concept of love, is a profound sense, a profound excitement that allows man to transcend the material world and arrive at an infinite world of meaning. As wine, and thus alcohol as well, takes man beyond and over matter, it is easy to see the similarity and connection between the two. This is the reason that terms related to alcohol are used figuratively in mysticism; the drunkenness that comes of alcohol, to put it another way, is reminiscent of the feeling and excitement brought by love in mysticism; the world of meaning.

Turkish Mystic Literature has had a great influence on Turkish Folk Literature. Actually the two have several points in common. Both have remained relatively less influenced by Arab and Persian; they have preserved the purity and simplicity of Turkish. The other common point is the appearance of the subjects of love, the wine glass, and spirit.

There is a dream tradition in Turkish folk literature. As the poet enters into his adolescence, he has a dream; in the dream, he drinks a glass of wine from the hand of the lover with the help of a holy guide. Thus arriving at love, the poet awakens and begins to play and sing; the drinking of the wine in his dream thus means love, and thus his status as a poet, has come to light. In addition to this, drinking gatherings, and drinking meals always appear as the subject of poetry in this literature; and many works have been written in this area. Taverns in which drinking gatherings are held, in which poets participate with their poetry, have become a mainstay of literary history. The taverns of Balıkpazarı (the fish market) in Istanbul, and Posta Caddesi in Ankara have served as places for many poets to gather and read their poetry.

I would like to add a memory from my village research. On the night of September 9, 1941, in Boyalı village where I was staying, there was a drinking party. But there was no meze along with the rakı. The meal that night was fried potatoes and chicken, and when the meal was over, the drinking started. For this reason, I will be content to provide only an example of a typical drinking meal from within the city of Rize.

The foods served to accompany alcohol in Rize generally include the following:

  1. Hamsi Kaygana - These are a type of fritter made with hamsi (an anchovy-like fish), onion, mint, chard and a bit of black pepper, which is mixed to a batter-like consistency and fried in olive oil.
  2. Gerdan Ekşilisi - Sour Neck: This dish is made from lamb neck. The neck is simmered in water. After the water is strained off, a generous amount of garlic, onion and parsley is added, then vinegar; this is eaten either cold or hot.
  3. Balık Ekşilisi - “Sour fish” is made mostly from gray mullet. After the fish is boiled, it is deboned and arranged on a deep tray. A generous amount of garlic, onion and parsley is sautéed in olive oil and poured over the fish. The fish is then boiled this way for 15 minutes. The dish is eaten cold, and is also known as papaz  yahnisi (priest’s yahni).
  4. İçli Tava - “Stuffed Pan” First pilaf is made. The pilaf consists of rice, pine nuts, and some onion and dried currants. Hamsi is deboned and arranged in a deep baking dish so as to cover it completely. The pilav is added over this, and then another layer of deboned hamsi is added to cover the pilaf. This is then baked for a short time in the oven. It is made from large hamsi.
  5. Laz Böreği - This is a sweet dish that begins with the making of a filling of flour, sugar, a bit of salt, eggs and milk, that is boiled into a pudding-like consistency. Next the crust is made: A simple dough is made and rolled out into yufka. Four are laid on the bottom of a pan, then the filling as added, and six more yufka are placed on the top. Melted butter is poured over the top and it is baked. When done, it is removed from the oven and a sugar syrup is poured over the top. There are two types of Laz böreği – In the first type, it is cut before baking; this is the better type. In the second, it is put whole into the oven and served in the same way.

The foods mentioned here are served in the homes of well-to-do people. They are accompanied by mezes including white (feta) cheese, sucuk, melon. In Rize, leblebi (roasted chickpeas) are not included in such spreads. The most common salad is a mixed çoban salatası (shepherd’s salad) which consistes of finely chopped onions, tomatoes, green onion, cucumber, olive oil and vinegar or lemon juice.

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