Miracle of Millet, Water, Sugar: Boza

There are complementary which cheers some moments with their presence. The complementary of the morning at the feast day is the breakfast the whole family has, whereas the complementary of the conversations at the evenings of the winter months should be boza enriched with fragrant cinnamon and crispy roasted chickpea...

  • 20.12.2016
  • Dilara Anahtarcı

Boza in Vefa by "William Neuheisel" // CC BY

While this beverage, which is made from millet, water and sugar, used to be sold by veteran street vendors during chilly winter nights, it has been confined to plastic bottles in today's synthetic life. One of the oldest beverages of Turkey, boza appeared at the stage of history about 9000 years ago. Boza varies from region to region where it is produced yet its most delicious version is made from millet. Boza had two kinds until the 19th century: sweet boza, which we consume today, and sour/bitter boza called begni which contains alcohol sufficient to make drunk. In fact, some agriculturalists have accepted the begni as the ancestor of the beer because of some similarities of their characteristics.

Boza, which experienced the most colorful and lively periods of its history in Ottoman Anatolia, was among the favorite drinks list of Mehmet the Conqueror. Recalling the world-famous Ottoman traveler Evliya Celebi, there were 30 Bozahane (boza shops) and 1005 boza vendors (known as “bozacı” in Turkish) in İstanbul at the 17th century.

Bozahane is the place where people can drink both sour and sweet boza and they can converse with each other. Ottoman imperial orders occasionally prohibited the places where alcohol was consumed or grass roots could be organized. Bozahane, like taverns (meyhanes), was one of these proscriptive places. This has been the source of the emergence of the saying "the blind leading the blind," implying the resemblance between bozahanes and meyhanes.


Şamran Kelleciyan Hanim, one of the singers during the reign of Abdülhamid II, says in Bozacı Kantosu (The Boza-Seller's Canto):


 I make boza from millet,

I walk on the Street and sell it.                                                 

When I sell all I have and finish it,

I enjoy myself at my room.

There is sour, there is sweet one,

If you wish, there is cinnamon

When you, oh, drink boza,

It gives you a beautiful joy.

Take it and look at it

Whether there is any trick in it.

Boza-seller Şamran is my reputation,

Making boza is my usual.

I am tired of walking,

I have no any strength to walk.

Those who drink my boza,

They want to drink it once again,

Now I am going,

Connoisseurs are waiting for me.


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