The Spirited Traveler: How to drink like a lion in Istanbul

Tue Jun 26, 2012 6:45am EDT
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By Kara Newman

(Reuters) - Istanbul, Turkey's financial, cultural and historic center, has quality local wines and beers and the city's tipplers consume their fair share of distilled spirits - particularly vodka, tequila and whiskey - with a cocktail culture on the ascent.

"The most popular drink in Istanbul is raki," says Cevat Yildrim, bartender at local restaurant Lucca (

This clear, anise-flavored spirit, widely considered the national alcoholic drink of Turkey, is made from grapes and distilled to an alcohol level comparable to vodka (40 percent alcohol by volume or higher).

Most people consume the spirit straight up as a shot, or diluted with water, which changes the color of the spirit to a milky white, leading to its nickname "Lion's Milk," which is also a reference to the courage of those who dare to drink raki.

According to Istanbul-based tour guide Burak Sansal, drinking raki has its own set of rituals.

"Most important is what it is to be partaken with," he writes. "White cheese is the main and unchangeable meze of raki."

But cold vegetable and seafood dishes also are favored pairings.

The Bosphorus divides Istanbul in two, and most of the best places to eat and drink come with vast water views. Although many bars and clubs close their open-air terraces during the winter months, Istanbul is noted for its lively approach to nightlife.   Continued...

Raki bottles are displayed at a restaurant in Ankara September 27, 2011. REUTERS/Umit Bektas