Writing in the International Herald Tribune's Latitude blog, veteran Turkey correspondent Andrew Finkel describes how he recently found out that one of his favorite kebab restaurants recently stopped serving booze. Rather than due to political pressure, it turns out the owner made a business decision: in the part of town where the restaurant was located, many locals will no longer frequent an establishment that serves alcohol.
But Finkel points out that while that restaurant owner's clientele may be shunning booze, a number of well-to-do Turks are investing their time and money in projects that are supporting a small boom in Turkey's wine industry. Writes Finkel:
In all, there some 800 varieties of grape in Turkey, 30 of which are cultivated commercially. The country is the sixth-largest producer of grapes, but most end up eaten as is or as raisins. Only 3 percent are turned into wine. For now.
“Small wineries are transforming the whole industry,” says Isa Bal, the head sommelier of The Fat Duck, the three Michelin star restaurant in Berkshire, who was named Best Sommelier in Europe in 2008. Originally from Adana, a city in southern Turkey known for its pickled red carrot juice, Bal describes a Turkey on the brink of discovering the finer things.
At the moment, for most Turks the good life means owning a house and a car. Bal predicts that in time it will mean “sealing a business deal over lunch with a good wine.”
I, for one, was further reassured over lunch in Urla, about 20 miles from Izmir, at another state-of-the-art winery run by Can Ortabas, who took up growing grapes after he discovered ancient sets of vineyards on his land. Ortabas is not worried that Turkey might turn into Iran.
The last few years have seen some very positive and exciting developments in the world of Turkish wine, one of the most significant ones being the return of the small Aegean island of Bozcaada as a producer of quality wines. Known as Tenedos in ancient times, the island has been a wine-making center since antiquity, but -- like much of the Turkish wine industry -- went through a rather rough and uninspired patch for most of the 20th century. Today, though, Bozcaada is home to Corvus, perhaps Turkey's most respected upscale winery, and to a number of new wineries that are hoping to tap into the island's wine-friendly terroir.
In a wonderful piece for the New York Times, Rome-based travel writer Katie Parla takes a look at the latest developments on Bozcaada, which one winemaker describes as a place where "the earth was made to produce wine." From her article:
An image can call to mind a place, and occasionally a sound does, too. And, of course, so do scents.
One enduring memory of my trip last summer to Bozcaada, an island off the western coast of Turkey, is the aroma of maturing figs, lavender and rosemary carried by persistent winds that locals say help shape the island’s character. Funneled through the Dardanelles, which connects the Sea of Marmara to the Aegean, the winds repel all but the most committed travelers in the winter and attract small numbers of them in the spring and summer. And they help create an environment far different from the mainland: breezy, pleasantly warm and dry, ideal for cultivating grapes.
That means that this 15-square-mile island — a seven-hour trip from Istanbul by bus and ferry — offers solitude with a dash of culture in its only town, also called Bozcaada, and vineyards, whose output has helped make this one of Turkey’s most promising wine destinations.
Anyone who's ever eaten in a school cafeteria has been exposed to mystery meat, the strange substance used to make hamburgers and other dishes that are staples of the classic school lunch. Turkish officials, though, may have just added a new item to the school lunch repertoire: mystery milk.
According to reports in the Turkish press, a newly-launched government effort to distribute free milk to Turkey's 7.2 million schoolchildren started off on a disastrous note, with more than 1,000 kids going to the hospital on the program's first day after complaining of food poisoning-like symptoms. The reason? According to some doctors who treated the kids, it was a case of drinking spoiled milk. A member of the main opposition party, the Republican People's Party (CHP), went even further and suggested government-affiliated "partisan" milk firms were to blame.
In Turkey, the victim often gets blamed when something goes wrong, even if that victim is a child. Not surprisingly, government officials quickly dismissed the possibility that the children drank tainted milk, saying instead that many of them simply were not used to drinking the liquid or were allergic to it. Turkey's Education Minister even told reporters that perhaps some of the sickened students simply drank their milk too fast. Either way, samples of the supposedly long-lasting ultra pasteurized milk, which was distributed in individual cartons, were taken to a lab and results are expected on Friday.
Throughout the Middle East and Mediterranean, donkeys are known as rugged, though stubborn, beasts of burden. But as a source of milk? According to Today's Zaman, the owner of Turkey's only donkey farm wants to get permission from the state to turn his stables into a dairy:
“Donkey's milk is the closest to breast milk and I have applied to the Health Ministry for permission to sell donkey milk for babies whose mothers do not have enough milk to feed them,” says the owner of the only donkey farm in Turkey.
According to an article in the Vatan daily, there is only one donkey farm in Turkey and it is in the northwestern province of Kırklareli. The farm is home to 180 donkeys, 172 of which are female donkeys. The owner of the farm, Ufuk Usta, who is also an instructor at Trakya University's Faculty of Medicine, says the fact that donkey's milk is the closest to woman's milk has been proven by scientists. “In Italy, [people] are allowed to sell donkey milk at markets. We have applied to the Health Ministry for permission to sell donkey's milk,” said Usta, highlighting that cow's milk may cause a baby to develop an allergy to protein. Yet, donkey milk has no such danger and since it is less fatty, it is easier to digest, he noted.
For beer purists, alcohol-free suds are a joke, if not an insult. But one group in Turkey, where alcohol-free beer has been recently introduced, is taking this strange brew very seriously, warning that there's no way to have your cake and drink it too. From the Hurriyet Daily News:
Alcohol-free beer is a trap set for children by liquor producers, said Muharrem Balcı, the head of Yeşilay (Turkish Green Crescent), a Turkish association combating drug abuse and alcoholism, yesterday.
“Liquor producers target the youth to increase their market share and alcohol consumption and therefore come up with various tactics to lower the age to start drinking alcohol. One of them is the ‘alcohol-free beer’ hoax,” he said....
....“Although [the rate of alcohol in alcohol-free beer] is under the legal limit, [the amount] is very significant,” Balcı said, adding that the Institution of Forensic Medicine put forth that a 0.20 percent alcohol rise in human blood raises the fatal traffic accident risk by twofold.
As the HDN article points out, the alcohol level in Turkey's near beer is actually lower than that found in traditional fermented drinks, such as the grain-based boza or the dairy-based Kefir, that have been sold and consumed in Turkey for centuries, with little evidence showing that they have played a role in increasing traffic accidents.
As previously reported on this blog, bar and cafe owners in Istanbul's bustling Beyoglu district have been locked in an ongoing battle with municipal authorities, who recently initiated a crackdown on outdoor seating in the area. Although authorities are now planning a new "master plan" for the district, one that's supposed to provide new guidelines for outdoor seating, local business owners say the current ban has left them in dire straits. From the Tarlabasi Istanbul blog:
Mehmet Aktaş, who works in a traditional meyhane on Sofyalı Sokak says the restaurant is having serious trouble staying open: “We used to have about 18 tables outside, with room for 40 to 50 people. Now we have three tables left. Five out of eight employees are on unpaid leave, we are really struggling.” Like many bars and restaurants on Sofyalı Sokak, they, too, have seen their revenues fall by almost 80percent. “At this rate, we won’t survive very long. Restaurants and bars will start to close. This street will be dead without them.” Aktaş points out that the restaurants will not be the only businesses affected by the municipality’s policy: “We buy from fishermen, butchers and green grocers. Our restaurant used to buy 150TL to 200TL worth of fish daily from a local fisherman. Now we can only afford to buy fish for 20TL to 30TL every day.” He shrugs. “This will affect a much broader local economy. Even the children selling Kleenex on the streets will make less money.”
The owners of two small corner shops on Sofyalı Sokak agree; both have seen their business drop by about 80 percent. Many wonder why the Beyoğlu Municipality deliberately risks such economic loss, and the loss of so many jobs: According to bianet.org, the number of layoffs stands at 2,000 after only one month.
As recently reported on Eurasianet's Kebabistan blog, Istanbul municipal authorities have recently instituted a crackdown on outdoor seating in the city's Beyoglu district, known for its bustling bars and cafes. The street fight now seems to be escalating, with city inspectors confiscating the instruments of musicians playing in Beyoglu's streets and some 20 people being detained in a recent police raid after they refused to stop drinking in a makeshift outdoor space.
The Hurriyet Daily News has an interesting article up looking at the some of the underlying problems of the battle to control Beyoglu's outdoor life. From the article:
If Istanbul were a sky, there is little doubt that its famous Beyoğlu district would be a rainbow thanks to the diversity of colors existing side by side. Walking along the district’s iconic İstiklal Avenue, one can see a number of surreal juxtapositions that would rarely be seen elsewhere, such as a Santa Clause trying to coax people into a kebab restaurant or people angrily protesting cheek and jowl with a group of musicians.
But Beyoğlu’s technicolor landscape is slowly losing its vividness due to recent conflicts between Beyoğlu Municipality, area residents and business owners over the use of public space and noise coming from street musicians....
....Korhan Gümüş, from The Human Settlements Association, or HSA, a nongovernmental organization in Beyoğlu that focuses on issues related to local governance, said state officials in Turkey were not aware of how to use the public spaces.
“The use of public space also requires a cultural plan,” Gümüş told the Daily News. “İstiklal Avenue is an area that is especially like Turkey’s window abroad. There are opera singers there and there are traditional musicians; the municipality can control this by limiting the decibels. Taking away instruments is just despotism,” he said.
As previously reported in this blog, Turkey has recently been dealing with a flood of bootleg booze that has mostly impacted the country's lower-end tourist trade and has, tragically, led to the death of four Russian tourists.
Turkish authorities have responded with a crackdown on bootleggers and have started taking a closer look at just what is being served to tourists. As Milliyet reports, what they're finding out is pretty worrying. In Antalya, out of 54 bottles of booze sampled in various touristic facilities, a whopping 22 turned up with elevated level of methyl alcohol -- a compound which is directly linked with alcohol poisoning. In response, says Milliyet, authorities have announced a ban on the import of bottles of several brands of booze that, based on their names, should probably have never been let into the country in the first place. Among the illustrious brands being banned: "Mister Bourdon" and "Brave Harvey" vodka and whiskey, "Nordix Gin Party" and "London Dry Gin Guard Hause" [sic] gin and "838" vodka. (If you follow this link, you can see a photo of a bottle of "Brave Harvey" whiskey, proudly bottled in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.)
A yacht tour in Turkey has turned out badly for a group of Russian tourists, after three of them died after drinking what appears to be bootleg alcohol. More details here.
This is not the first time Turkey has had to deal with the death of tourists who had imbibed bootleg hooch. In the resort city of Antalya, a court is currently deciding the fate of a liquor distributor who is accused of supplying the bathtub booze that killed three German students in 2009. More on that case here.
And in 2005, more than 20 people died after drinking bootleg raki, the anise-flavored spirit that is Turkey's national drink. Details here.