Anise-infused nights

Anise-infused nights

Aylin Öney Tan -
Anise-infused nights The Turkish team succeeded in finishing number two and three, but missed the number one spot; alas, not from the top but the bottom. The title of the news could be, “Turkish team loses on the piste, but wins on the table.” In both the giant slalom and cross country ski races, the Turkish competitors graciously held the bottom places. But later in the day, the very same team won the hearts of all other nations, not on the piste, but on the table.

The annual meeting of the Ski Club International des Journalistes / International Ski Club of Journalists (SCIJ) was recently held in Baqueira-Beret, Spain. The SCIJ was founded in 1955 as a brilliant idea of Gilles de la Rocque, a keen skier-mountaineer journalist from France. The idea was to gather journalists from all nations to encourage contact and communication in unusual surroundings, so that they will be relieved from the daily banality and narrow political discourse. The initial 65 members from eight countries have now soared to over 2000 members worldwide from 44 countries. The SCIJ meetings are held each year at a different venue where all gather to ski for fun, but also compete in races, and have round-table discussions on professional matters. This year’s topic was inevitably the Charlie Hebdo killings and the limits of expression of freedom. The SCIJ can be principally about skiing but it is more about communication. One regular activity is the organization of a Nation’s Night, where all teams bring in their choice of favorite food and drinks to share with the other nations. That is where the losers can become winners, as in the case of Turkish team.

The Turkish table had a “Rakı & Meze” concept. Rakı is the famous grape spirit double distilled with fresh anise seeds that turns cloudy and milky when mixed with water. It is a drink that can sustain long drinking sessions, as it is strictly consumed with lots of water together with “meze,” small plates of food and nibbles to go along with it. As a jest to the host country’s fondness for cured fishes, we had an array of cured fishes from Turkey; small tinned sardines from Gallipoli, smoked anchovies, tarama-fish roe in tube, brined Black Sea hamsi, cured bonito, bottarga-ancient salted, dried, wax-coated grey mullet roe… The table was attractive but I was not sure whether our anise-infused spirit would be able to compete with the lovely wines from all the other countries. To our delight, all our bottles were emptied to the last drop, with consequences to follow…

Our Italian colleague was quite enthusiastic about rakı, and together with a French friend, they came for more, and more, and more, and at some point stopped coming back for more. The next day, he re-appeared with an injured arm hung from his neck. One of his companions’ high-heel shoes reportedly went missing. They were seen falling over each other on the dance floor, but that was not the only accident there. The Turkish and Irish guys collided with each other head-to-head in a strange dance move, while pretending to dance as if playing football. The result was a brow with three stiches for the Irish chap. I got lost on the way back and managed to have myself transferred to the hotel, I do not remember how. The next day I woke up to the smell of anise still dripping from my suitcase, an intoxicating smell that would remain with us for the whole week. That drink surely contributed to the communication between the ski-loving journalists who know how to have fun!

On the way back to Istanbul, I spent a night in Berlin to witness the Spirit of Istanbul festival at the hip party venue, Station-Berlin. I do not know about the consequences of that night, but apparently everybody, about 6000 partiers, and surprisingly mostly the Germans were enjoying their anise-infused spirit to a full extent. Well, as we have witnessed, raki can make the dancing floor as slippery as the skiing pistes. Hope there was no such aftermaths of partying for the Berliners!

Bite of the week

Fork of the Week: The Mey group, the producer of the leading brand Yeni Rakı in Turkey, generously provided all our food for the SCIJ meeting. Carefully selected by myself and Ruhi Tuncer, owner of Cankurtaran Charcuterie in the Spice Bazaar, the best picks were the good old-aged Eski Kaşar Peyniri, a yellow cheese reminiscent of Queso Manchego from Spain, the frighteningly moldy Konya Küflü and the cave-aged Divle cheese, scooped right out of its goat skin encasing.

Cork of the Week: There was another raki-focused event last week organized by the Friends of the Kitchen Association to revive the early republic period meze tables of Istanbul. Held at Cumhuriyet Meyhanesi, the night was executed under the meticulous guidance of Erdir Zat, author-editor of the award-winning Rakı Encyclopedia. I was happy to have his company sharing my preferred choice, Kulüp Rakı. Even the label on the bottle is like a scene from Mad Men; two men drinking in a manly cool manner, just like in the good old days. Rakı, after all, is the drink of all mad men and women, who still take a moment from the routine of daily life to organize such crazy events.