Ask Mehmet: Drinking salep on cold winter nights

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey -- Ask Mehmet is a forum for people to ask questions of the local area, as well as the outer confines of the region and the country as a whole. To submit a question, send an e-mail with the subject "Ask Mehmet" to 39abw.pa@incirlik.af.mil. Then, look for an answer to the question on the 39th Air Base Wing's official website at www.incirlik.af.mil and Incirlik Air Base's facebook page.

Question:
The other night I was in Adana with a Turkish friend. While we were walking, my friend stopped by a shop, and he ordered a hot, thick drink. When I asked him what it was, he said it was salep. I was hesitant at first, but I liked it after I tried it. What is it and with what is it made?

Answer:
Salep, pronounced saah-lap,is a comforting drink for cold winter nights. It gives relief to a sore throat or congested chest and warms the body.

Salep has been around in this country for centuries. Ibn-i Sina, the great Turkish physician, reportedly refered to salep's aphrodisiac, appetite- and saliva-enhancing, and paralysis-preventative qualities and even said the drug might determine the sex of an unborn child.

Salep is made frum pulverized roots of certain orchids that grow in Turkey. The newly picked roots are washed and boiled in water or ayran, which is a yoghurt and water mixture. If the roots are not boiled, enzymatic action within them gives rise to a new orchid.

In addition, the boiling ensures the taste particular to salep. The roots are then dried on kilims, flat woven Turkish carpets, in the sun. Then the roots are ground. This procedure has been handed down from generation to generation. In winter, the dried ground roots are boiled with water served hot. In addition to cinnamon, crushed walnuts or crushed hazelnuts are added to the top of the cup before serving.

Turkey exports salep to Syria, Greece, Jordan Israel and Saudi Arabia - former Ottoman Empire territories.

You might see salep sold by street vendors from huge brass containers built into their push-carts. In fact, I saw a push-cart vendor selling salep by the gate in the mornings. You can buy salep in containers, just like fruit juice, from markets and heat it before drinking. You can also buy dried and ground salep in spice shops and prepare your own salep drink.