There are different ways to consume Rakia, the national drink of most of the countries on the Balkans, especially in terms of temperature, food to be paired with, as aperitif/digestif only or combined with the appropriate for the particular rakia food, seasoning and so on.
In this first article, Svetlin Mirchev is guiding you through the right consumption of rakia and offers suggestions for suitable temperatures, food pairings and seasoning.
The goal of this article is to be the basis of a series of articles dedicated to the right consumption of rakia, whose aim would be to contribute to the proper consumption of rakia as well as to impugn some myths, legends and wrong perceptions about its consummation and of course to popularize the right practices of consumption. At the same time, it will bring forward some unknown by a lot of people facts and specifics with regard to this drink.
The focus of this article is on the general aspects of the right consumption of rakia rather than the individual types of rakia separately.
Temperature of consumption
Especially in Bulgaria, in recent history it is widely considered that rakia should be consumed ice cold. We would like to underline that this is absolutely wrong. The consumption of rakia ice cold leads to misbalancing the drink itself. Most of the qualities of rakia would be lost, if it is served ice cold. In some cases only the grape based brandy, and if we have to be concrete, the grape based brandy made of wine byproduct, could be served slightly chilled. Actually, the only “advantage” of serving rakia ice cold would be to conceal some of its potential defects, especially those in the aroma coming from the tail fractions which may have not been properly separated, usually with the goal of producing higher quantity per unit of base product (a kilogram of grape, plum, etc). The best temperature of serving depends a lot on the type of rakia but in general since rakia is a fruit brandy, it is between 14 and 20 degrees. Some longer aged products like for instance 12 year plum are very often served even at 30 degrees.
Food pairing or choosing the right food (mezze)
Another popular perception, especially in Bulgaria, is that rakia, no matter what king, should be drunk alongside with Shopska salad (tomatoes, cucumbers, paprika, onion and Bulgarian white cheese). This is a tradition, which seems to have been pushed forward by the former leading Bulgarian state owned touristic company before 1989. It is also, however, not necessarily the right way. This kind of salad could probably be the right food (mezze) for some grape rakias, although again it highly depends on the specific kind and style of grape rakia.
Luckily, rakia is a very complex drink that allows to be consumed along with many different types of food (from salads to dried meat, as well as cooked dishes and even desserts) depending on its type and style. It should be noted that choosing the right food to pair rakia with is crucial. Serving the rakia with the wrong food could absolutely destroy the experience of the person who wanted to enjoy the drink.
Generally, good combinations are:
– Plum with meat
– Apricot with green foods or cheese
– Viljamovka (Williams pear) with light kinds of cheese
– Quince with more aromatic and very often baked cheese and so on.
In this context, an instance of a totally wrong combination would be Viljmovka (Williams pear) rakia along with the above mentioned shopska salad.
The right timing
The right moment to consume rakia also highly depends on the type and style of rakia. There are types of rakia that are most suitable as aperitif. Those are in general raspberry, Viljamovka (Williams pear), sometimes apricot rakia. Others like for example 12 year aged plum, Medovina (a kind of liquor based on rakia with honey), Sour cherry (a kind of liquor) are more suitable to be served as digestif. That of course does not mean that the kinds, and especially some styles of them, suitable as an aperitif or digestif may not be served with food, but it is to indicate that they are generally suitable for that. After all, here we should emphasize once that rakia is the kind of spirit, which is meant to be consumed with food. A very popular tradition or maybe we should say habit of consumption for Bulgaria is to have a rakia with a salad before the main course. While that may result in very nice and memorable moments one should be careful choosing the right combination and beware of the impact of the kind of rakia chosen on the upcoming courses and drinks (like wine or nonalcoholic beverages) in the menu.