Istanbul, the world’s cultural melting pot, offers a diverse range of rich and flavorful foods. However, the most essential part of Turkish cuisine is not a food at all, but a beverage. Welcome to ayran circa 2014. With its thick consistency and rich creamy, yet salty flavor, it does everything from compliment the perfect meal to saving your tongue from a red pepper paratrooper assault. Ayran also has medicinal properties and can be used to wash unwanted substances from the eyes and nostrils.
A fellow food adventurer, Zhou, told me his romantic first encounters with ayran as he sipped upon a cold and refreshing homemade brew:
“At first the rich flavor of the ayran overpowered my tastebuds and I was forced to regurgitate the mixture back into my cup. Yet while staring at the substance which was as pure as the new fallen snow, but some how held all of the chaotic vibrancy of Istanbul within it, I was entranced. I just had to take another sip. The next sip was better and I managed to swallow the liquid. The third sip. That was the sip that made me fall in love. For with that sip I handed over my heart to the bitter yet sweet mixture; for on that day I not only took a third sip but I bought a second cup.”
Ayran is considered the national drink here in Turkey and is enjoyed in almost every restaurant. Although it is not known exactly where ayran originated from it is believed that the Göktürks created the mixture while watering down yogurt to improve its flavor.
I decided that it was important to get an unbiased opinion from someone outside of the food adventure clan and see what they thought of the heavenly mixture. Ashlee my study abroad mate answered the call:
“I didn’t like it”
It would seem that although this savory turkish beverage is enjoyed by the local population it may be too strong for some that are unaccustomed to the palette. This is certainly up to personal preference and could possibly mean that this drink should be reserved for the bold, or taken on as a dare from a group of your festive friends.
If you are feeling bold enough to try ayran then you may do so in several ways. There are quite a few different commercial brands of ayran and although they are for the most part similar one distinctly stands out. Sutas ayran is my personal favortie as it has the perfect balance of cream and salt. This brand of ayran has also accompanied me on many islak burger expeditions as well as several kofte runs (which I finished in less than twelve parsecs).
It is also quite possible that you will find some home-brewed ayran on your travels which is head and shoulders above any commercial ayran. This ayran usually has different characteristics from restaurant to restaurant; but is usually fresher and more savory. This is certainly the ayran to choose from if you are given an option and will accompany you well with any meat based or spicy plate of food.
If you find yourself in Istanbul I would urge you to step outside of your food comfort zones and try this delicious drink.