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Oct 07
Reviews (Eats)
Vefa Boza: Strange Brew

The boza man -- photo by Jonathan LewisAfter our first taste, we were not quite ready to sing the praises of boza, a thick, almost pudding-like drink made from fermented millet. But the experience stuck with us. What is that flavor? Something like cross between Russian kvass (a fermented drink made from rye bread) and applesauce may be the best way to describe it. As it did to us, the drink may haunt you, much like the call of the itinerant boza vendors who wander the streets of Istanbul during the winter months calling out a long, mournful “booooo-zahhh.”

It’s a taste all its own, bearing the sour mark of fermented millet grain and the sweetness of the sugar added during the fermentation process. The consistency is that of a milkshake that can’t decide if it wants to be thick or thin, while the texture is all Gerber’s. It is served in a glass with a spoon, a layer of sprinkled cinnamon and roasted chickpeas floating at the top. The first few spoons are beguiling, the palate fooled by the cinnamon dusting and utterly sidetracked by the crunchy chickpeas. The contrast of the cinnamon makes the boza seem sour at first, while soon after a subtle sweetness emerges in the chilled unadulterated boza below.

Perhaps better than the taste of the drink is the experience of ordering and consuming it at Vefa Bozacısı, a tavern-like boza outlet where this Ottoman culinary tradition has been protected with a flourish since 1876, when the current owner’s great-grandfather first opened shop. The entire street where the store is located may have been leveled at one point and rebuilt in a “modern” fashion, but Vefa Bozacısı remains carefully preserved, down to the worn marble doorstep and the antique wooden bar. We like to sit in the corner, below the case holding a glass from which Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, enjoyed a glass of this strange brew (the alcohol content is about one percent), just as sultans must have before him. It’s no wonder that boza appreciation extends beyond the simple act of spooning it out of a glass. An order of boza at Vefa is indeed a cultural experience. And as with other obligatory cultural experiences, say the opera or a visit to a science and industry museum, you are allowed to sigh with relief when your glass of boza has finished.

Address: Vefa Cad. 66, Vefa/Fatih
Telephone: 212-519-4922

(Photo by Jonathan Lewis)

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3 Responses to “ Vefa Boza: Strange Brew ”
  1. Bill Eckert

    Apr 6, 2012

    Went to Vefa Boza earlier this week on you culinary tour. Great spot. I liked the Boza and picked up a bottle of pomeganate molasses as well! (and you really do have to have the toasted chick peas with the Boza!)

  2. Best description of Boza ever. It’s so odd I can’t decide if I like it or not yet I keep on going back for more.

  3. I am so so sad i missed this Boza shop. When i was in Istanbul in January 2013 on my honeymoon i stayed in a hotel so close to Vefa, in Laleli – Aksaray. I personally love Boza, tried many variants and made so many batches for home use. Funny thing is when Vefa started business my homeland was still part of Ottoman Empire 🙂 Back then in 2013 i was unaware of Vefa but now i promise to my self next time i will take time to enjoy Vefa Boza paired with famous baklava from Haci Bozan Laleli… I love you Istanbul, greetings from Bosnia and Hercegovina.

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