There’s something on every Turkish menu that’s cheaper than water- and I mean EVERY Turkish menu: tea.
In the United States, we talk about tea as a drink category. There’s green tea, jasmine tea, chamomile tea, etc. There’s also iced tea, sweet tea, and the mumbo jumbo they serve at Starbucks.
In Turkey, tea is tea. Sure, occasionally you come across apple tea or pomegranate tea, but when you ask for “tea” (çay in Turkish, pronounced “chai”), you are asking for a very specific thing. Straight hot tea, served in a vase-like cup on a dish with a spoon and one or two cubes of sugar.
These babies are downed like there’s no tomorrow. Post-meal at a café? Tea is ordered for everyone at the table (and people are sometimes shocked if you don’t). People-watching on the street? Tea time. Riding the ferry? The option is there. Shopping at a bazaar? One tea upon entry, three more before exiting.
I tried desperately for years to become addicted to tea, or at least, to like drinking it. I tried all the flavorings and styles, and apart from lemon iced tea in a can, I never got far. That all changed when I came here.
Am I an addict? Not by any definition. But I find myself ordering it more and more often, and sometimes forgo bored-eating for bored-tea-drinking. It cuts down on the calories, and it’s damn good.