x0x WARM WINTER'S DRINK
- x0x WARM WINTER'S DRINK
By Nilgun Tekfidan
With the coming of cold winter days, Turkey's cake and pudding shops
begin serving salep in place of ice cream. On the ferryboats which ply
their way between the European and Asian shores of Istanbul with smoke
trailing from their funnels and chased by flocks of seagulls, many of
the passengers order steaming cups of this delicious warming beverage.
Salep is made from the powdered root of several species of wild
orchid, and is both tasty and nourishing. It keeps the body warm in
cold weather and increases resistance against the colds and coughs of
The Turks have been drinking salep for many centuries. After they
became converted in the 8th century to Islam, a religion which
prohibited the consumption of alcoholic drinks like wine and kimiz
(made from mare's milk), non-alcoholic beverages like boza (made from
maize), sira (grape juice) and salep took their place. While sira was
the preferred drink of the summer months, boza and hot salep were the
drinks of winter.
Also known as cayirotu or cemcicegi, salep is believed to be good for
disorders of the intestines, colds and coughs; improve the appetite
and increase virility. Ancient folklore relates that it was an
ingredient of love potions brewed by witches.
In Ottoman times salep was an ingredient of invigorating pastes
prepared for the sultans, along with ginger, coriander, senna, black
cumin seeds, coconut, aniseed and numerous other herbs and spices. In
winter salep prepared as a drink with milk was sold by street vendors,
who kept it warm in large copper jugs on a brazier. Their customers
would warm themselves by the brazier and drink salep out of large cups
without handles. A traditional drink of the Middle East, salep was
introduced to Europe, and became popular, particularly in England,
where it was sold in salep shops, and served with bread and butter.
Gradually, however, as coffee drinking became widespread, its use in
Europe died out.
The largest tubers are gathered from orchids growing in forested
mountainous regions, while those growing in meadows and high pastures
are smaller. They grow best in soil with a high lime content, and
those with the finest aroma and richest in starch are found at
altitudes of 1000 to 1100 metres. In Anatolia most orchid species
belong to the genera Orchis and Ophrys. Wild orchids are most abundant
in the provinces of Kahramanmaras, Adiyaman, Bitlis, and the Black Sea
provinces, particularly Kastamonu. They flower in April and May, and
then seed. Some of the flowers are scentless, while others produce a
sweet scent that is strongest in the evening, and their colours vary
from white to various tones of purple.
The orchid tubers are gathered while the plant is in flower. Each
orchid has two tubers, one the main tuber from which the flower
springs, and the other its younger offshoot. Only the young tuber is
harvested, leaving the main tuber untouched.
The cream-coloured tubers are either egg-shaped or forked. They are
washed and then tossed into boiling milk or water for a short while to
remove the bitter flavour and make them easier to dry. They are then
dried either in the openair or in ovens to speed up the process. After
drying they may be stored whole or ground. The principal substances
contained in salep vary according to the time of harvesting, but
basically consist of mucilage, starch, sugar and nitrates. The colour
is generally creamy.Salep is the traditional thickening ingredient in
Turkish ice cream, and the substance that lends the characteristic
glutinous texture as well as subtle flavour. It is also used mixed
with sugar and milk to make the hot drink known as salep, which is
served sprinkled with cinnamon. Salep is the most popular hot drink at
ski resorts like Uludag and Kartalkaya, and is sold by street vendors
outside football stadiums. When Ramazan falls in winter, as it does
this year, salep even appears on the dinner menus of elegant
restaurants and luxury hotels.
Salep is expensive, so what is sold as salep may often be made with
more cornstarch than the real thing. Therefore, if you do not want to
be disappointed, it is better not to drink salep sold in the street.
Places to be recommended include the pudding shops of Beyoglu and
along the Bosphorus which are famous for their salep. Even better make
it yourself at home, which will save you from going out in cold
weather. Salep is simple to prepare. You can buy salep powder from the
Misir Carsisi (Egyptian Market) in Istanbul, or from other spice
shops, and it will keep in a glass jar indefinitely. Just boil up with
milk and sugar for a delicious health giving cup of salep.
* Nilgun Tekfidan is a journalist