“It is quite intriguing, isn’t it?” That was perhaps the most favorable response I have received after forcing someone to try my new found obsession şalgam suyu [shal-gahm sue-you]. Other responses range from horror, dumbfoundedness and even a few confused looks of betrayal.. as in ‘why did you trick me into trying this horrible horrible drink, I thought we were friends..’ Şalgam is in fact that controversial.
To say it is an acquired taste may be a bit of an understatement, although I enjoyed it immediately. It is said in Turkey, real men drink şalgam. So what is this strange concoction? Şalgam which literally means turnip in Turkish is actually in fact purple carrot juice which has been fermented for several weeks in wooden barrels along with cracked bulgur wheat and salt. It is served cold in a large glass with different degrees of spice along with a pickled purple carrot spear. Recipes of course vary with some adding turnips, garlic or red peppers, but the process is always the same.
This video shows the process of making large batches of şalgam, it’s in Turkish but you don’t need to understand the language to follow what’s happening. Şalgam is from the Adana region in Southern Turkey and the making of good şalgam is a particular point of pride for each household. It is well paired with the Adana kebab because the tangy salty flavor cuts the fat. Şalgam is considered a digestif but it is also a popular drink to be enjoyed beside rakı the traditıonal alcoholic beverage of choice here. You don’t mix the two but rather use salgam as a chaser, supposedly it cuts the bite of the rakı. Along those lines şalgam is also a purported hangover cure. It’s antioxidant properties as well as it’s many minerals and vitamins make it a healthful option. Be careful though, drinking too much can lead to bloating, a lesson I had to learn the hard way. While it is considered to be a cold weather drink I have found it is also a refreshing summer beverage. As I said it is most popular in Southern Turkey where most households make their own small batches and where the şalgamcı (salgam maker) shops are plentiful. Of course with modernization it can now be purchased in all grocery markets in Turkey. But in Istanbul if you are looking to try an authentic sample you will have to go to a pickle shop or turşucu. This is a drink you absolutely must try, best case scenario you have found a healthful drink worst case scenario you have a good story to tell! Also, salgam is one of the best chasers for raki!
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