Rakı, or lion’s milk as we would like to call it, is considered national drink of Turks. Or at least, by the people who drink it and believe in its place in our culture. It is made with the distillation of grapes and flavored by aniseed. Has a strong liquorish taste and that taste can send you to two extremes of the “like” scale.
Taken either straight (“sek”) or with water, it definitely does not stay in you like it stays in the bottle, as we’d like to say…It is when that water hits the clarity of rakı that everything starts to get blurry for people who drink it…or milky in plain appearance.
You can not “grab” one like a bottle of beer when you stop by at a friend’s house or at a pub. You can not “just pour one glass” and work the room like you would do with a glass of wine. Rakı has its culture, table, and its food. Rakı has its moods, tears, and laughs. Rakı gives you a load of wisdom just like any respectable drink should do.
To earn rakı’s respect, you have to set the table, have proper food on that table - at minimum cold cantaloupe chunks, white cheese (feta cheese) and a bowl of ice – and the close friends to drink it with. You set your pace to “slow” and start tasting some meze, some cheese and take a sip here and there. If you have some grilled fish and arugula, then you are in heaven!
As a kid, I found myself around the rakı table, either at our house, or at my parents’ friends’ houses because kids were not left behind at home those days. I saw the adults saving the country with their deep political discussions with several sips, family matters and the latest gossip shared between the bites while I rolled my eyes at them. The nights were long when that bottle was placed in a pool of ice, especially the summer nights. The smell did not sit well with me back then. But then of course, rakı found its way onto my lips once I was one of those adults and I “got it” – why the conversations were sweeter and deeper. Why it does not feel like getting drunk but more like you are pouring your guts out to share your life with whomever you are drinking with.
Because you can not rush through a glass of rakı. You have to give it the time it deserves and in return it makes you poetic, melancholic, patriotic, homesick, in love, teary eyed, or cheerful enough to burst into a song all of a sudden… or gives you the false sense of strength and power, hence “the lion’s milk”! No matter what, you set the mood and the anise smell takes you to a lot of places that mood allows.