Before Cola Turka, Turkey's domestic answer to Coke, the country's soft drink imagination revolved around gazoz, a vaguely fruit-flavored carbonated beverage. Like wine and its regional variations, almost every Turkish province and large city once had its own favorite brand of locally-made gazoz, said to be imbued with something of its home district's flavor and character. Before "small batch," "artisanal," and "local" became such foodie buzzwords, gazoz was quietly and unassumingly serving as the real real thing.
These days, most of these small gazoz brands have gone the way of the dodo bird, unable to compete with Coca Cola and other big soft drink producers. But, as Culinary Backstreets' Ansel Mullins reports, one cafe in Istanbul is working hard to keep the spirit of gazoz fizzing. From Mullins' writeup:
Avam Kahvesi’s owner, Barış Aydın, came of age in the 1980s drinking the now-defunct Elvan Gazozu, and even experimented with homemade gazoz back then. He believes drinking gazoz is a statement against cultural imperialism, a “provokasyon.” The menu at Avam, which boasts 14 different kinds of gazoz, includes notes on the flavor, origin and history of each producer in Turkish and English. Aroma Meltem Gazozu, for example, was big in the 1970s and is featured in Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence. Barış admits that there are some flavors of gazoz that he doesn’t even like, but he says they all “taste of nostalgia.”
The first time we actually drank one of these carbonated drinks was at the suggestion of a burly masseur in a hamam (Turkish bath), who indicated with a thumb to his moustache that we might need one after the trouncing we’d just received. How could we refuse? Its restorative powers aside, gazoz undoubtedly carries with it the heavy weight of times gone by. Gamze Eskinazi, a glassblower who melts down old Uludağ gazoz bottles into artistic objects, told us, “In this technological era, objects that touch the heart are important. Like the texture of an Uludağ bottle, for example.”
On GittiGidiyor.com – Turkey’s eBay – one cap from a vintage bottle of Ankara Gazozu is listed for 50TL, while the price for a set of four D&K Aroma Gazozu caps is 26.90TL. A handmade basket suitable for salt shakers and napkins made from dozens of gazoz caps strung together by wire sells for 40TL. As we scrolled through the listings, we started to get into the unique design on some caps, or the lack of any design whatsoever on others. The ones with errors were, naturally, priced more highly for collectors, but we sort of liked the ones that were blank – just plain, unmistakable gazoz caps. These rusty-edged, cork-lined caps were archaeological evidence of the drink’s provincial manufacture, naïve as it may have been but totally local. In a time before Efes beer and Coca-Cola caps clogged every sewer grate in the country, these caps were cherished objects. For some, evidently they still are.