Turkish rakı takes the stage in Europe
Garip Yorgancıoğlu, the CEO of Mey İçki, which was sold to the British alcoholic drinks giant Diageo for 1.5 million euros about a year ago, is engaged in an ambitious and difficult attempt. He has rolled up his sleeves to promote and popularize both the Turkish drink rakı and the specific drinking culture in Turkish watering holes, called “meyhane.”
One way of achieving this mission is by adopting and protecting the rakı and the “meyhane” (Turkish watering hole) culture.
For a long time, the Mey İçki and Tourism Research Association (TURAD) has been working on Turkish style pub-restaurants (meyhane) in Istanbul, which have a history dating back 500 years. The association is developing new “meyhane” concepts.
I was at Safi Meyhane with a group of journalist friends the other evening. This meyhane is the first example in Istanbul of the “modern meyhane” concept that has been developed by Mey İçki.
Before Yorgancıoğlu’s presentation on the culture of rakı and meyhanes, I had the opportunity to chat with Vefa Zat. My readers will surely wonder who Vefa Zat is.
Vefa Zat, who has been the bartender at Hilton Hotel for many years and who has prepared and presented countless drinks to personalities such as former President İsmet İnönü, the Queen of England Elizabeth II, Charles de Gaulle and actress Liza Taylor, is an authority on the subject of rakı and meyhanes.
He has written numerous articles and books and he has trained numerous waiters up until now.
He explained to us that the history of local watering holes in Istanbul goes back to the Roman and Byzantium eras. His famous saying goes: “May God never put anyone in a country without a watering hole.”
“The birthplace of rakı is Istanbul between the years 1515 and 1520. It is a drink that has emerged from our cultural mosaic,” Zat said.
Zat acted as an advisor for Mey İçki while the “modern meyhane” concept was being formed. The tall marble table where we were able to snack on our appetizers (mezes) is identical to the ones that once appeared in the Çiçek Pasajı (Flower Passage) off Istiklal Caddesi, he told us.
While listening to Zat, I couldn’t help myself thinking, “Where are the old watering holes?” with their rakı etiquette and their meze varieties.
The presentation of Garip Yorgancıoğlu demonstrated that a significant distance has been covered by Mey İçki in order to maintain this culture. The have defined what the Turkish watering hole Meyhane culture is and they have prepared a handbook setting the standards for new managers. The concepts of “modern meyhane” and “classic meyhane” have been developed under the supervision of experts like Vefa Zat and architects.
“Know-how” has been conveyed to pub/restaurants in the areas of Kadıköy and Samatya, where the rakı culture continues to live on in Istanbul.
They have prepared guide books titled such as “The Gastronomy of Rakı,” “A Guide to Istanbul’s Meyhanes,” “A Guide to Turkey’s Meyhanes,” and “A Guide to Turkish restaurants in Germany where Rakı is available.”
Meanwhile, the Rakı Encyclopedia, which was again sponsored by Mey İçki, has printed its third edition. It was awarded first place in the category of “spirits” at Gourmand Cookbook Awards held in Paris.
This is a significant step on the journey of rakı in Europe.
Galip Yorgancıoğlu said Yeni Rakı was sponsoring the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity this year, with rakı tasters offered at meyhane stands that will be set up during the festival.
This is another significant step.
Later, there will also be rakı and meze books to be published in English and in German.
The journey of rakı in Europe will undoubtedly be beneficial to the promotion of Turkish cuisine.