This post originally appeared in Lunchbox Diaries on May 26, 2016.
A Brief History of Boza
Boza is one of the oldest drinks in Turkey, and was first created in the 10th century by the Central Asian Turks. In the 17th century, Boza was both banned and tolerated. Boza was banned by Sultan Mehmet IV; because of its excessive fermentation it had a higher alcoholic level than other drinks. However, during this same century a Turkish traveler, Evliya Celebi, reported that this beverage was mostly drunk by janissaries in the army, and that it contained a low level of alcohol. Due to its warming and strengthening effect on the soldiers it was then tolerated.
By the 19th century a new, sweet, and non-alcoholic version became popular at the Ottoman Palace as well as in society. The founder of today’s most well-known brand of Boza is Haci Sadik Bey, who created the Boza brand called Vefa. Bey emigrated from Albania and settled in the Vefa district in Istanbul in 1870. His version of Boza was thicker, less tart, and became a brand in 1876. This brand still produces Boza between the months of October and April.
Only a few decades ago every Turk was familiar with the cry of Boza sellers shouting “Booo-zaaaa!” on the streets, as they tried to make a living by selling this freshly prepared drink during the winter evenings. Boza would make its appearance in stores in the early 2000s, and during the winter you can find Boza almost everywhere in supermarkets, patisseries, and cafes (The Istanbul Insider).
Boza in Orhan Pamuk’s New Novel:
Orhan Pamuk, a Turkish author and Nobel Laureate who has written well-known novels such as The Black Book, My Name is Red, and Snow recently published his latest novel A Strangeness In My Mind in December of 2015.
A Strangeness In My Mind follows the life of a street vendor named Mevlut who sells both yogurt and Boza on Istanbul’s streets. It is through the view of this street seller of Boza, that Pamuk is able to explore the city’s politics and history. Despite the character of Mevlut not being an “activist” in any traditional sense of the word, he is still able to go everywhere and hear the voices of both those on Istanbul’s right wing and those on the city’s left, and it is his neutrality that allows him to do this.
Pamuk, who grew up buying boza himself, tells The Guardian, “the drink was ‘both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.’ This gave it a curious social function at a time when alcohol was nominally forbidden. Even the Ottoman rulers knew that boza contained alcohol, and some would go out in disguise to buy it. Others were in denial.” This made the drink and sale of it a pivotal point for the exploration of right-wing politics throughout Pamuk’s novel.
In his book, Pamuk sets out to explore how the changes wrought by technological development affected the vendors who sold Boza and other food items on the street. “The first image that came to me was this: that because of technological development, a person who sells his things in the street loses his job,” Pamuk told The Guardian. Prior to the 1950s, products like yogurt and Boza were not yet bottled, though they soon began to be sold in ceramic cups and so on. All of these changes had an effect on street vendors like Pamuk’s character Mevlut.
Make Your Own Boza:
Boza, is also sometimes know as Boza Beer due to the low alcohol content in some versions. Making Boza takes at least four days—so be prepared to wait. If you can’t stand to wait that long then you can also buy Boza in many shops around Turkey. You may also be able to find it in Turkish shops in the United Kingdom, United States, or online.
Find the recipe here!
This article is brought to you by Team Member Lindsey Bartlett