A few years back, my mate Ahmet conned me into giving an address to an invited audience at the headquarters of the Ali Nihat Gökyiğit Vakfı (Foundation) in the beautiful and very interesting Nezahat Gökyiğit Botanik Bahçesi (Botanical Gardens) in Istanbul.
The gardens are sited in the middle of one the TEM interchanges, and is truly a labour of love. When the information pack arrived from the foundation I was stunned to realise that they have presentations every week to specialist audiences, all of which are delivered by Doctors of this and Professor Doctors of that, every one an expert in their biological/botanical field – all except one! ‘Ahmet!’ I cried, ‘what have you got me into?’ He smiled impishly down the telephone from the safety of Istanbul. ‘Don’t worry, my friend. You can do it!’
This event has only a tenuous connection to what this post is about but it is so seared into my brain that anything else associated with that particular trip to Istanbul causes instant flash-backs and panic attacks! As part of my recovery programme, Ahmet took me shopping to Migros, and thereby hangs a tale . .
In the dairy cabinet I noticed bottles a strange, glutinous, creamy-coloured stuff. ‘What is this?’ I asked. ‘Boza!’ said he, ‘It’s a bit alcoholic, and very traditional.’ Alcoholic, traditional and cheap – I think that’s why I’ve always loved folk music! Good enough for me, and I loaded some in the trolley. Back at Ahmet’s place the wine glasses came out – and I opted for ‘a drop of that Boza stuff’ which was served up in a coffee mug! So began an affair – a bit on the side whenever I can get it – Migros tend to be a bit erratic and no one seems to stock it locally.
Boza is as old as the hills and dates from the days when Mesopotamians and Anatolians cottoned on to the fact grass seeds (millet) can be ground up and will ferment very nicely with wild yeast – the alcohol helps to kill off any bacteria in the liquid and induced a mild ‘Wow!’ factor when consumed. ‘Small beer’ was produced and consumed in Medieval Europe for the same reasons – clean water was not always available.
As time went by boza’s fame spread throughout much of the Turkic regions, and come the Ottoman Empire, to Europe. It is good, healthy stuff; full of vitamin A, vitamin B including Thiamin (B1) and Riboflavin (B2), vitamins C and E, and during the fermentation process lactic acid is produced. Lactic acid has a unique nutritive element which helps digestion so boza is also famous as a digestif. It also has another special attribute, that of having an impact on lactation, during and after pregnancy. There is more, but I’ll come to that later.
These days there are a number of companies that brew the stuff, but only one surviving boza producer from the days of the Ottoman Empire; Vefa Bozacısı has been in the same family for more than 130 years.
In 1870, Hadji Sadik Bey immigrated from Albania to Istanbul, and settled in a very select district of the city, Vefa, where mostly aristocratic families and members close to the Sultan’s Palace had their private houses and residences.
Hadji Sadik Bey observed that nearly 200 citizens of Armenian origin were in charge of making and selling boza, which at that time was produced with a sour, tart flavour and a light consistency. In this select neighbourhood of Istanbul, he started to make boza of a different flavour and taste, a thick consistency and having a less sour taste. In 1876 he registered the tradition of boza making as a profession and set the standard by which the product is measured to this day.
There is one other appealing fact/claim for this amazing stuff – according to certain ‘authoritative’ sources it is very popular with the ladies as a breast enlarger! Cup for cup it is excellent value, enhancing health and . . other things! As Bernard Miles used to say in that old Mackeson beer advert ‘. . looks good – tastes good – and by golly, it does you good!’
‘ . . looks good – tastes good – and by golly it does you good!’
The family shop, lovingly preserved, is a monument to boza. If you are in Istanbul it is the place to go to soak up the atmosphere and a few bozas: Vefa Bozacısı, Katip Çelebi Cad. No:104/1, Vefa, Istanbul.
The Nezahat Gökyiğit Botanık Bahçesi address: TEM, Anadolu Kavşağı, Ataşehir 34758, İstanbul www.ngbb.org.tr well worth a visit when you are in Istanbul, there are wonderful art galleries in the tunnels under the motorway to each of the themed islands.
Alan in Okçular