Skip to main content

Fermented drink warms chilly Istanbul streets

Boza, a drink of fermented grains, has long thawed Turkish hands and hearts on cold winter nights.

March, known for bouts of cold weather before the April rains start, is an annual last hurrah for “boza.” For Turkish people, the word is associated with a tart taste, shrill voices and cold winter nights. This drink of fermented millet, wheat, bulgur, rice or other grains is seldom made at home but easy to find on the streets, sold by vendors often in the darkest and coldest nights of winter. The boza seller, who announces his arrival with a piercing call, brings with him the distinctive yeasty smell of the fermented starches in the grains.

The drink has a thick consistency, like a soupy pudding or a smooth, drinkable porridge. Its slightly astringent yet sweet taste is addictive to those who've grown up with it. People in Turkey crave boza on cold winter days just as many people in Europe long for a cold beer in summer months. If fact, boza is often historically considered a proto-beer. Some historians suggest that the word booze has its origins in boza or "buza," as it is pronounced in some regions.

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 per year.