In the summer, Turkish people drink şıra (a beverage made from partially fermented grape or apple juice) and sherbet; in the winter, they drink boza (a thick drink made of millet, bulgur, maize) and salep (flour obtained from wild orchid tubers cooked with hot milk).

Winter Beverages in Ottoman Cuisine

The flour obtained from the wild orchid tubers that grow under the ground in Anatolia and the drink made from this is called salep. There are claims that the Turks invented the salep drink. In the 11th century, Ibn Sina (Avicenna) allocated a significant section of his book titled al-Qanun fi al-Tibb (The Canon of Medicine) to salep. Salep is also mentioned in medical books written in the 15th century. In an epistle (risalah) written in the period of Sultan Ahmed I, salep was listed among the main ingredients of the mesir macunu (sultan’s paste). 

Salep was used for medical purposes and first appeared as a winter beverage in the 17th century. In the 18th and 19th centuries, this was sweetened using molasses and honey; ginger, cinnamon, rose or flower extract were also added, and occasionally a piece of dried cream was put on top of the drink. 

Although it never became a very widespread habit like coffee, in the 17th century, the use of salep spread from Turkey to England and France. In the 1730s, “salep (saloop) houses” were opened in London. In the mid-20th century, with the exception of some regions of the United Kingdom, salep was overtaken by the consumption of tea or coffee. 

Boza is a drink made from various grains including millet, water, and sugar and consumed in the winter months. This is one of the oldest known Turkish beverages. The Turkish word “boza” was used over a vast geography including the lands that once belonged to the Ottoman Empire, Central Asia, Central and Northern Africa, and is included in more than 20 languages. The earliest record of boza is found in a book on nutrition dated 1330 that was written by a Uyghur physician and presented to the Mongolian ruler. The second record is in the book The Travels of Ibn Battuta from 1333. The famous traveler refers to boza as a drink consumed by Turks when he was describing the Dasht-i Kipchak region. While the Istanbul locals sold boza in shops, Albanians sold the drink in streets on cold winter nights. The traveling boza sellers sold boza calling out rhyming verses adding color to winter nights. This tradition also continues in many districts in Istanbul today. Boza is consumed and enjoyed in almost all the Balkan countries, Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. Traditionally it is consumed with a sprinkling of cinnamon and by adding roasted chickpeas on top. 


800 ml milk / 1½ tbsp. pure salep powder / 4 tbsp. sugar / cinnamon

Mix the salep powder and sugar in a bowl. Boil the milk, add it to the powder mix, and stir continuously until it reaches a thick consistency. Sprinkle with cinnamon and serve.


Main ingredients: 3 cups coarse bulgur / 1 cup rice / 8 cups water
Yeast mix: 1 tsp. fresh yeast / 1 tsp. sugar / 1 cup warm milk

For consistency: 1 cup sugar / 5 cups water

Wash the bulgur and rice well, and boil on a medium heat until tender. Drain the remaining water and strain the bulgur and rice through a fine sieve. Do not use the grains that did not go through the sieve. Leave the strained rice and bulgur to cool. For the yeast mix, combine the warm milk, fresh yeast, and sugar in a separate bowl. Place the rice and bulgur into a saucepan, add the yeast mix, and stir. Cover the saucepan with a lid and leave the mixture in a warm place (not in direct sunlight) for one day. Open the lid occasionally to air the boza. Gradually add sugar and water to the boza until it reaches the desired consistency. Put in the refrigerator to thicken. Garnish with cinnamon or roasted chickpeas and serve. 

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