Raki is a non-sweet, anise-flavored spirit popularly consumed in Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece, Albania, Bosnia and other Balkan countries as an apéritif, in particular alongside seafood and mezze.
Raki (Ottoman Turkish: راقى) is traditionally produced by twice-distilling either pure suma or suma that has been mixed with ethanol in traditional copper alembics of 5000 litres (1320 US gallon, 1100 UK gallon), and subsequently flavoring with aniseed. It is similar to several kinds of alcoholic beverages available around the Mediterranean, Middle East, and Colombia, including pastis, ouzo, sambuca, arak, anís castellano, and aguardiente.
Serving and drinking
In Turkey, raki is the national drink and is traditionally consumed either straight (sek, from the French "sec" meaning neat or dry), with chilled water on the side or partly mixed with chilled water, according to personal preference. Ice cubes are sometimes added. Dilution with water causes raki to turn a milky-white colour, similar to the louche of absinthe. This phenomenon has resulted in the drink being popularly referred to aslan sütü ("lion's milk"). Since aslan ("lion") is a Turkish colloquial metaphor for a strong, courageous man, this gives the term a meaning close to "the milk of the strong."
Raki is commonly consumed alongside mezze, a selection of hot and cold appetizers, as well as at a rakı sofrası ("raki table"), either before a full dinner or instead of it. It is especially popular with seafood, together with fresh arugula, feta and melon. It is an equally popular complement to various red meat dishes like kebabs, where it is often served with a glass of turnip juice.
The term raki entered English from Turkish rakı. The word rakı is derived from the Arabic عرق [ʕaraq], other variants being araka, araki, ariki. Araq means perspiration in Arabic, which is believed to metaphorically refer to condensation, which likely refers to the condensation that forms outside of the chilled glass, the drop-by-drop manner in which Raki is distilled that is reminiscent of sweating, or the phenomenon of unexpected sweating observed in individuals engaging in excessive Raki consumption. Raki is sometimes referred to as "Lion's Milk".
Types and brands
The standard Raki is a grape product, though it may be produced from figs as well. Raki produced from figs, particularly popular in the southern provinces of Turkey, is called incir boğması, incir rakısı (Fig Raki), or in Arabic, tini. Tekel ceased producing Fig Raki in 1947.
Suma Raki, i.e. distilled Raki prior to the addition of Aniseed, is generally produced from raisins but Raki factories around established wine-producing areas like Tekirdağ, Nevşehir, and İzmir may also use fresh grapes for higher quality. Recently, yaş üzüm rakısı (Fresh-Grape Raki) has become more popular in Turkey. A recent brand, Efe Rakı, was the first company to produce Raki exclusively of fresh grape suma, called Efe Yaş Üzüm Rakısı (Efe Fresh Grape Raki). Tekirdağ Altın Seri (Tekirdağ Golden Series) followed the trend and many others have been produced by other companies.
The best-known and popular brands of Raki, however, remain Yeni Rakı, originally produced by Tekel, which has transferred production rights to Mey Alkol upon the 2004 privatisation of Tekel, and Tekirdağ Rakısı from the region of Tekirdağ, which is famous for its characteristic flavour, believed to be due to the artesian waters of Çorlu used in its production. Yeni Rakı has an alcohol content of 45% and 1.5 grams of anise per litre; Tekirdağ Rakısı is 45% ABV and has 1.7 grams of anise per litre. There are also two top-quality brands called Kulüp Rakısı and Altınbaş, with 50% alcohol.
Dip rakısı (Bottom Raki) is the Raki that remains in the bottom of the tanks during production. Bottom Raki is thought to best capture the dense aroma and flavour of the spririt, and is called özel rakı (Special Raki). It is not generally available commercially; instead, Raki factories reserve it as a prestigious gift for large clients.
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Turkish Rakı (Arrack), www.turkeytravelplanner.com
TURKISH RAKI / ARAK INFO, www.turkisharak.com