It’s easy to forget that Istanbul is only one corner of a very large and complex country, where secular and cosmopolitan inclinations sometimes play tug-of-war with religious conservatism. A recent ban on outdoor seating that was an attempt to squash public drinking was often flouted in Istanbul (patrons would just stand up en masse and move tables and chairs indoors at the sight of police).
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But less than two hours away, in Izmit, there were not only longer dresses, but a less robust drinking culture. Restaurants proudly displayed signs that said “Family Restaurant,” which was code for “no alcohol.”
In Izmit, there are a number of boats docked along the shore that have been converted into restaurants, and a friend took us to one such floating, non-“family” restaurant. The entrées were all local fish, but the most important part of the meal was the drink: Rakı (pronounced “rocka;” the un-dotted Turkish “ı” is a bit like an “uh” sound).
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Rakı is an anise-flavored liquor popular in Turkey, similar in taste to pastis and very strong. I had to dilute mine with water, which makes it go from clear to cloudy. But the taste was still so intense that it lingered in my mouth and made its presence known every time I burped (gross). The only cure was the piping hot künefe we got later in the evening.