'Burası Türkiye!' 'This is Turkey!'

Boza Nova

A few years back, my mate Ahmet conned me into giving an address to an invited audience at the headquarters of the Ali Nihat Gökyiğit Vakfı (Foundation) in the beautiful and very interesting Nezahat Gökyiğit Botanik Bahçesi (Botanical Gardens) in Istanbul.


aerial shot showing early days of the gardens creation

The gardens are sited in the middle of one the TEM interchanges, and is truly a labour of love. When the information pack arrived from the foundation I was stunned to realise that they have presentations every week to specialist audiences, all of which are delivered by Doctors of this and Professor Doctors of that, every one an expert in their biological/botanical field – all except one! ‘Ahmet!’ I cried, ‘what have you got me into?’ He smiled impishly down the telephone from the safety of Istanbul. ‘Don’t worry, my friend. You can do it!’


each of the interchange ‘islands’ has a theme – this the ‘dry’ garden

This event has only a tenuous connection to what this post is about but it is so seared into my brain that anything else associated with that particular trip to Istanbul causes instant flash-backs and panic attacks! As part of my recovery programme, Ahmet took me shopping to Migros, and thereby hangs a tale . .

vefa bozaIn the dairy cabinet I noticed bottles a strange, glutinous, creamy-coloured stuff. ‘What is this?’ I asked. ‘Boza!’ said he, ‘It’s a bit alcoholic, and very traditional.’ Alcoholic, traditional and cheap – I think that’s why I’ve always loved folk music! Good enough for me, and I loaded some in the trolley. Back at Ahmet’s place the wine glasses came out – and I opted for ‘a drop of that Boza stuff’ which was served up in a coffee mug! So began an affair – a bit on the side whenever I can get it – Migros tend to be a bit erratic and no one seems to stock it locally.

Boza is as old as the hills and dates from the days when Mesopotamians and Anatolians cottoned on to the fact grass seeds (millet) can be ground up and will ferment very nicely with wild yeast – the alcohol helps to kill off any bacteria in the liquid and induced a mild ‘Wow!’ factor when consumed. ‘Small beer’ was produced and consumed in Medieval Europe for the same reasons – clean water was not always available.

As time went by boza’s fame spread throughout much of the Turkic regions, and come the Ottoman Empire, to Europe. It is good, healthy stuff; full of vitamin A, vitamin B including Thiamin (B1) and Riboflavin (B2), vitamins C and E, and during the fermentation process lactic acid is produced. Lactic acid has a unique nutritive element which helps digestion so boza is also famous as a digestif. It also has  another special attribute, that of having an impact on lactation, during and after pregnancy. There is more, but I’ll come to that later.

These days there are a number of companies that brew the stuff, but only one surviving boza producer from the days of the Ottoman Empire; Vefa Bozacısı has been in the same family for more than 130 years.


Vefa Boza Shop (fotokritik.com)

In 1870, Hadji Sadik Bey immigrated from Albania to Istanbul, and settled in a very select district of the city, Vefa, where mostly aristocratic families and members close to the Sultan’s Palace had their private houses and residences.


Hadji Sadik Bey observed that nearly 200 citizens of Armenian origin were in charge of making and selling boza, which at that time was produced with a sour, tart flavour and a light consistency. In this select neighbourhood of Istanbul, he started to make boza of a different flavour and taste, a thick consistency and having a less sour taste. In 1876 he registered the tradition of boza making as a profession and set the standard by which the product is measured to this day.

There is one other appealing fact/claim for this amazing stuff – according to certain ‘authoritative’ sources it is very popular with the ladies as a breast enlarger! Cup for cup it is excellent value, enhancing health and . . other things! As Bernard Miles used to say in that old Mackeson beer advert ‘. . looks good – tastes good – and by golly, it does you good!’

me and my boza

‘my’ boza – Double D anyone?

‘ . . looks good – tastes good – and by golly it does you good!’

The family shop, lovingly preserved, is a monument to boza. If you are in Istanbul it is the place to go to soak up the atmosphere and a few bozas: Vefa Bozacısı, Katip Çelebi Cad. No:104/1, Vefa, Istanbul.

The Nezahat Gökyiğit Botanık Bahçesi address: TEM, Anadolu Kavşağı, Ataşehir 34758, İstanbul  www.ngbb.gen.tr well worth a visit when you are in Istanbul, there are wonderful art galleries in the tunnels under the motorway to each of the themed islands.

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü


18 thoughts on “Boza Nova

  1. Great post Alan! I have to say boza is not my favorite Turkish drink, though I did enjoy the nostalgic Vefa Bozacısı. The guys there love hamming it up for photos! Sahlep is one drink (and of course raki) that I do enjoy! 🙂

    1. Thank you, Joy . . I stopped drinking the stuff a while ago and started using it like custard – terrific on apple crumble!

  2. This is the first I’ve heard of Boza. I’ll have to look for it. It has to be better than the fermented carrot juice!

    1. Hi Ellen – I really love this stuff; I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to pick it up in your big-city type Migros. It’s generally only available during winter months here in Turkey although in Bulgaria etc it’s available all year. Enjoy!

  3. That botanic garden is right across the street from me and I see it from my widnows. Maybe it is because of the closeness that I have neglected it for so long, shame on me! When would be the best time to visit it?

    1. Hello again, nice to hear from you – March/April/May would be my bet – when I was last there is was end of March and the tree blossom was wonderful.

  4. You know, Alan, boza looks a bit like holiday eggnog. Have you tried it with a shot of whiskey? BTW, we’ve noticed that boza has become very popular in our neighborhood lately and is now sold in most small shops and pastry shops, too. We’ve also bought it from a guy who comes around in the evening and sells it from a can he carries about. A nice nightcap – cheers.

    1. . . love the idea that the street sellers are still around doing what they have done for centuries! BTW J wants to know if you lower your basket from the window/balcony your noggin!

      1. Yes, we do lower our basket (3rd Fl. walkup) but haven’t for boza yet – just for milk and other such trifles. Our visitors love it though, and never fail to take a picture of us hauling in our catch.

        1. . . we love this aspect of town life – sitting in the street, sipping tea and watching the traders work along and the baskets zipping up and down together with all the shouting that accompanies the transactions.

  5. I’m game for a try of this – I’ll let you know, although I’m a little reluctant to add more volume to the booby doobies!

    1. . . listen you, if a Double Diamond can work wonders then why not boza? Or, do you feel that the claims are inflated?

  6. Love a good boza – like from Vefa’s – and very much enjoyed your post : ) Look forward to visiting the Botanic garden next time I am in Istanbul, thanks for that. And a happy new year to you!!:) Ozlem

Comments are closed.