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What: Enjoying iconic status as the beverage to pair with your kebab/pide/lahmacun/gözleme, this thin, salty yogurt drink is everywhere in Turkey (and much of Central Asia)—in fact, it’s a (decidedly kid-friendly) contender for Turkey’s national drink. It’s no surprise, really: Turkey is widely considered the birthplace of yogurt (etymology and all), and ayran does seem like the perfect accompaniment to rich, highly seasoned, meat-heavy dishes: think of the salty lassi in India. It’s cooling in the heat, its salt and water content helps with hydration, and it is nutritious, offering all the vitamins and good-for-your-gut bacteria of any yogurt product. You’ll see it packaged at most shops—with popular commercial brands including Sütaş, Ülker İçim, and Eker, which has the distinction of hailing from nearby Bursa and using glass bottles rather than plastic containers—but you can also find it fresh if you’re lucky. We’re focusing on the former here, since that’s what most travelers will encounter while in Istanbul.
Where: Our typical packaged ayran is from a ҫiğ köfte joint called Gazi Çiğ Köfte Salonu (534-932-4544, Cemal Yener Tosyalı Cad. No. 56, Fatih, map), a place popular among young students in the area—all of whom were chugging ayran with their meal.
When: Daily, 8am-midnight
Order: This ayran (1.5 TL) paired well with the spicy food on offer: tangy, salty, and refreshing, almost like liquid cottage cheese (but in a good way, if that’s off-putting!). Obviously, you’ll also want to try the ҫiğ köfte here.
Alternatively: Try this at literally any kebab/pide/et al. shop, and keep your eyes peeled for the glass-bottled Eker variety. Likewise—especially in summer, when it’s more common—look out for street vendors and restaurants selling fresh, frothy ayran, usually pumped through a telltale faucet. We spotted this at a popular tavuk pilav (chicken and rice) stand, but brick-and-mortar shops, like Siirt Seref Büryan Kebap Salonu (İtfaiye Cad. No. 4, map) in Fatih, serve it as well, in traditional copper bowls.
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