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Raki - The National Drink of Turkey

When you think of Turkey, plenty of things spring to mind. The great spires and bazaars of Istanbul, the grand harbours of sunny Antalya, the great accomplishments shaped by the Ottoman Empire and the wholesome flavours of baklava and other Turkish delights – no pun intended.

One thing many visitors have come to love is raki, which is considered the beverage of choice both here in Turkey and the heartlands of Greece. With its aniseed flavour and hefty alcohol content, together with a distinctive means of being served, raki has become a cultural treasure enjoyed everywhere, from Bodrum to Dalaman. It's also growing in popularity all over the world, but take it from us – it tastes better in Turkey. So, we suggest you drink raki as it was meant to be tasted, like you would with Turkish coffee.

How best to savour the flavour of this tasty tipple? Take our advice, and you'll be sipping with the best of them in no time. Just make sure you enjoy raki responsibly.

The truth behind the legend

If you've ever tried sambuca or ouzo, you'll have a vague idea already what raki tastes like, although this Turkish drink is much stronger.

Figs and plums are often used in raki's creation, but nowhere near as often as grapes and raisins, which are the most traditional ingredients in anise flavoured drinks. Remember, raki sits between 40% and 50% alcohol content, so it it certainly comes with a punch.

Although nobody knows for certain how, why or when raki was invented – it doesn't have as long a history as beer or wine. Raki has gained a nickname in Turkey, and is fondly called Aslan Sutu, or Lion's Milk, for its impact as much as the white creamy colour it takes on when diluted with water.

The sheer strength of raki is one of the reasons many locals love it. They tend to drink raki with a jug of cool clear water to one side, which they use to dilute the flavour as much as the effect, although there's no rule against drinking it neat either. In fact, you'll earn the respect of your new Turkish friends.

Many scholars believe that raki rose to prominence during the Ottoman period. It rapidly overtook wine as the go-to beverage to celebrate everything from marriages to birthdays and commiserating break-ups, or as toasts to the dearly departed.

Modern raki etiquette

Raki is a strong drink, so don't expect to be served it in a pint glass. Little narrow tumblers are the traditional choice, and always remember it's common practice to toast your raki by clinking the bottoms of the glasses together, instead of the top. Don't down it like a shot either, this national treasure's distinctive flavour should be appreciated, sipped and savoured.

It's also the perfect drink for a group gathering, at least as far as tradition is concerned. Order a bottle for the whole table, and allow everyone to pour each other's glass. Drinking raki is about creating a community feeling, so rest assured that traditional mezzes, similar to the tapas of Spain, will join your drinking. Melon slices and rich feta cheese bites are an accompaniment that opens any evening of raki drinking.

Make sure you eat plenty during the course of the evening too, because raki's strength of flavour is beautifully offset by homecooked Turkish tastes, and its equally strong alcohol content is soaked-up to much safer levels by snacks and cheeses.

One final thing to bear in mind is the tradition of the Cilingir Sofrasi, or the Locksmith's Table – a local metaphor for how a good evening in good company over a bottle of raki loosens the lips and opens the soul. As such, secrets and confessions are shared while you taste the Lion's Milk.

Bear these factors in mind, and you'll find raki a hugely enjoyable experience. The flavours, aromas and fun that come from this beverage are unlike anything else in the world. That said, it's a must during your trip to Turkey.

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