Gin or genie?

Gin or genie?

Aylin Öney Tan -
Gin or genie Time to admit, I have a fondness for gin and tonic, or maybe just gin with a dash of vermouth. My undeniable inclination for gin as a choice of drink is easy to explain: It was my first ever drink in life. I did not start my drinking career by taking shy sips of wine or beer, or tasting the cloying sweet liquors my paternal grandmother used to enjoy along with her dense Turkish coffee. I stepped into the drinking world in a bold and brave way. I had a full gin and tonic. 

Another point to admit: It was not necessarily my choice. It was my parents who made me drink it when I was in 7th grade. The occasion was celebrating my mother becoming a professor. She was one of the youngest ever in her faculty to achieve the title. My father’s treat to her was to pour two perfectly crafted gin and tonics to toast the happy news. They apparently wanted me to join in the happy hour; they did not hesitate a moment to offer me a try when I asked what it tasted like. In today’s standards this incident seems horrible, but it was the “Mad Men” years, and making your daughter drink at such a tender age was not considered bad parenting. Eventually, I did exactly the same thing to my sister, 16 years younger than me, when she was just 5. I still remember vividly the exact moment. God she liked it! But soon the consequences followed. It was as if she had been struck by a genie or jinn, or literally by gin.

Starting from that day the popular Turkish idiom “Cin çarpmışa dönmek” had another meaning for me. Translated literally to “As if struck by a jinn or genie,” it means to be in a pretty nasty state, or be horribly shocked or freaked out, and that was exactly how my little sibling looked. But funnily, she was really hit by the “Cin,” as the word “cin” is the translation for gin and a genie, or jinn, the supernatural creature that pops out in the most unexpected moments. The appearance of a jinn can be both for the good or bad, just as the gin, when properly drunk it is a delight, but as experienced a zillion times by a sizable number of teenagers of our time, it can be a hellish experience. Here I’m talking about the “Mad Men” period again, the hippie years in the 1970’s. The most popular drink among us was a gin fizz, maybe just because it resembled lemonade. After all, we were all trying to wean ourselves from pop sodas to make our transition to more serious adult boozes. Another thing was tonic water was not produced in Turkey then, so gin and tonic was not even an option, or a very expensive choice if it was available. A good G&T was a rare thing in Turkey, so my father’s treat (and my first drink) was a real celebration treat. My father would go the black market, the so-called “American bazaar” to get the yellow cans of tonic water, to be stored safely in his booze cupboard and appear like a jinn whenever the moment came. But it was not only the tonic that was lacking, a good gin was hard to find. Again my father used to carry the real London dry gins from his business trips abroad. Usually he favored Beefeater or Gordon’s; later in life he discovered Tanqueray and never switched back. The Turkish state monopoly gin was lethally bad-tasting; though packed with good juniper, the quality of the alcohol was pretty questionable, and the other aromatics were simply not there. To mask the harsh flavor with sugar syrup, lemon juice, soda and a dash of unidentified pink liquid was the only choice, and that was the gin fizz of our Saturday afternoon disco drinks as 1970’s Ankara teenagers. How many of us ended up being struck with jinn are uncountable. Now approaching my 60’s, this summer is a comeback for me to the 1960’s and 1970’s. I am sticking to a good G&T and nothing else; sometimes nothing matches nostalgia!

Fork and Cork of the Week

This summer my only exception from the usual G&T was a cocktail (or rather a long drink as we used to call it) at Mixo Terrace on the roof of the Martı Hotel close to Taksim square in Istanbul. It is delightfully fresh with generous shavings of cucumber, and so tasty, savory and salty. It is unappetizingly called the “Old Maid” but on the contrary it makes you feel young again, partly because of the nostalgic gin.

Mixo also offers very tasty bar snacks. The fork of the week turned out to be not eaten with a fork but nibbled by hand directly from a brown paper bag. The crunchy fried calamari rings are super crisp on the outside but tender and succulent inside; there is also a not so hot spicy version too, perfect to have in one hand when dancing to the music while you sip your gin. Keep in mind every Monday evening there is English speaking Expat Happy Hour between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., and every Wednesday is “Swagnificent!” party night.