**Completed for The Guide Istanbul
You may have heard the call of your mahalle (neighbourhood) bozacı walking down your streets during winter nights letting his presence be known by yelling, “Bozaaaa! Bozacı!”
What is boza?
Boza is a nourishing drink and at once sweet and tangy, served with a dusting of cinnamon on top. While it is unclear how far back boza dates, there are descriptions of a very similar drink that place it in the 10th century – predating coffee. The thick and drink is made by boiling wheat or bulgur which is then crushed and drained. Sugar and a little bit of yeast are added and the mixture is left for a period to ferment. Boza is ready to be drunk when it begins to bubble and has a slightly acidic taste. While, boza is a fermented drink, it has little to no alcohol. That said, before the introduction of coffee, an ekşi (sour) boza was served in taverns and bozahanes. This particular kind did, in fact, have a much higher level of alcohol and did not bring about the best reputation for the drink.
Rest assured that the boza served at Vefa is alcohol-free. This is the shop where the grandfather of Turkish boza (and great, great, grandfather of today’s owners), Hadji Sadik, first began production in 1876 and is responsible for the boza that we know and love today. Vefa Bozacısı quickly became a favorite of the sultans, as well as the aristocrats who populated the area at the time. He trained his son in the practice and Vefa has remained a family business. The shop itself remains a nostalgic stop in Istanbul with wonderfully tiled floors and mirrored walls and a high counter with a team of men hustling to carry, stir, pour, and dust the cinnamon on a tray of boza filled glasses.
For the full Vefa Bozacısı experience, stop by the Vefa Leblebici across the street to pick up some leblebi (roasted chickpeas). When you get your drink, pour in a couple of chickpeas on top and enjoy.
Whether you like the idea of ‘drinking’ (it’s thick, you’ll need a spoon) fermented millet or not, this gem is worth seeking out. Sit a while and watch regulars come and go. This historic shop sells only boza between October and April — during the warmer months from April to October, you can find ice cream, lemonade, and kuru üzüm şırası, a sweet, non-alcoholic drink made of fermented grape juice.