Friday, February 8, 2013

Rakı, The Knockout Champ

I believe every tourist visiting İstanbul should get a card when they land. On that card should be the saying my wise friend and bff, Ezgi, coined about rakı. A glass of rakı is like a breast – one is too little, three are two many. (Implying, of course, that two are just right.) Now I know all across İstanbul Turkish men are saying two? Really? Two? Yes, more than that and you’re in trouble. (Goes for breasts too. Take my word for it.)

The first time I had rakı was in Beyoğlu, somewhere around the Nevizade. My Turkish ex, who wasn’t much of a drinker, called and asked me to meet his friends. I lived high on a hill in Yıldız then and was already in my pajamas. It was raining. Hard. What can I say? I heard the siren call of l… meze, those sexy little plates. Who could resist? When I got there my ex filled my glass. Rakı, water, ice – something like that. I was too busy looking at the meze – or something like that. I had one glass that night. It was a taste I knew well.

Italians and Italian-Americans both have an anise-flavored drink. The Italians have Sambuca, a sophisticated little cocktail usually served with three coffee beans floating on top that are called mosca (fly) signifying health, wealth and happiness. Sambuca is typically associated with Rome and is known as the Eternal City’s favorite drink. If Sambuca is a sexy Italian in mirrored aviator frames and a smile that can light up Piazza di Spagna, then Anisette is your old, bald grandfather in a dark grey suit and bow tie. (Just like mine was.) Anisette is found in every Italian-American home. It is usually served as an addition to espresso – the Italians would call it caffe’ corretto, corrected coffee, meaning that somehow the coffee on its own was terribly wrong – or, in a small liqueur glass alongside the espresso, usually after a large Italian meal and at least one shouting match. These were the anise-flavored liqueurs that had prepared my palate.

But they did not prepare me for the first time rakı knocked me out. Because, you see, rakı is the champ. There may be others, but there is only one rakı, the knockout champ. One, two, three and you don’t know what hit you. Let me tell you about the first time rakı knocked me out. My roommates and I were leaving our beautiful Barbaros Bulvari apartment. It was my dream apartment. The Bosphorus as far as the eye could see. A terrace as far as the eye could see. It also had black mold as far as the eye could see. We decided to have a little going away party - meze, of course, and rakı. How many? Well, who counts when you are chatting and reminiscing and you don’t have to worry about getting home, just down the hall to your room. Here’s what happened the next morning. I got up and went to the bathroom. As I walked to the kitchen, it was the strangest thing, Istanbul was somewhat crooked. Everything was off by 45 degrees and as soon as I bent at the waist 45 degrees everything was ok. But when I stood up straight again, all of a sudden İstanbul started to spin, the floor began to rock like a ferry on the Bosphorus, and everything else was moving too. So I threw myself on the couch and stayed there 8 hours staring at the blank TV screen. My arms were too heavy to lift up the remote or even to cover my ears because the dust was falling so loudly. The next night I felt somewhat better.

So you can say I had learned my lesson and when my friends came from New York, Ezgi had a new saying for all of us. Did I listen? I wanted to. Really, I did. I had two glasses, but we needed to finish the bottle. I had about a quarter of a glass more. I was fine until I got home to Yeniköy and got into bed. Round and round went my bedroom. Up and down went my stomach. I closed my eyes. Rakı had knocked me out again, because that’s the way rakı rolls. I’ve warned you now. Don’t say I didn’t. When you get into the ring with rakı, remember make it only two rounds or you’re going down, baby.

Now if I had mad skillz (yeah, skillz), I would change it to say 'Gonna Fall Now - The Theme from Rakı', but you can imagine that for yourself, right?

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