A Taste of The Past

On the verge of oblivion if not quite forgotten, ‘boza’ is a fermented drink made from a grain such as millet, bulghur, rice, wheat or barley and water. Although it has been all but forgotten today over the broad region where it was once popular, this highly esteemed beverage of Ottoman times is still produced and consumed in Turkey.

When humans made the transition to agriculture, they stored the grains they produced in cellars and depots for later consumption. Often not stored under proper conditions, the grains would begin to sprout,and food produced from them would ferment in the presence of bacteria in the air. The thick slurry that resulted was probably the point of departure for what eventually became boza. Another theory regarding the origin of boza is that it emerged during the fermentation of yeast used in bread.

Said to go back 8 or 9 thousand years according to some historians, fermented grain drinks were consumed with pleasure under a number of different names in countries stretching from China to the Caucasus, the Middle East, Anatolia and Eastern Europe. The most popular beverage in the Ottoman Empire, boza was sold and drunk in ‘bozahane’s, or ‘boza houses’.

In Ottoman times, itinerant boza vendors also sold the crisp sesame-seed bread rounds (‘simit’) or other crisps alongside boza, which was flavored with spices such as cinnamon, ginger, cardamom or cloves, as well as honey or Turkish molasses. Only cinnamon is still used in boza today.

Until 15 or 20 years ago the cries of the boza vendor could still be heard in the city’s streets on cold evenings after dark. But today, when the old wooden mansions have been replaced by high-rises whose thermopane windows shut out their calls, the boza vendors have vanished. But even though Istanbul’s bozahane’s have now dwindled from 300 to perhaps only three, this millennia-old drink lives on in Turkish cuisine today.

Perhaps the time has come to not merely drink boza but to use it in desserts as well. With this in mind, we tasted a boza-inspired creation by talented chef Savaş Aydemir, the recipe of which you may see on this page.

Over the centuries boza has had a profound effect on our lives. We can’t fit it all into one article, but you can find everything you want to know about boza and more in Ahmet Nezihi Turan’s book on the subject, ‘Acısıyla Tatlısıyla Boza’/ Boza For Better or Worse. 

200 gr leblebi (chickpea) flour
200 gr butter
200 gr granulated sugar
400 gr water

As you would for flour halvah, melt the butter in a skillet and brown the chickpea flour for 5-6 minutes. When browned, add the sugar and water. Ready after a few minutes’ cooking.

Boza Cream
500 gr boza
100 gr whipping cream

Pour the boza and the cream into a deep bowl and whisk for 5-10 minutes. Then place the whipped mixture into a pastry tube or a cone fashioned out of clean paper. Squirt the contents of the tube onto a large, slightly indented cookie or over a cake. This is even tastier if served with fresh raspberries or chocolate sauce.