Going to a new restaurant or ordering something you’ve never had before is intimidating. You’re taking a chance (and probably spending a lot of money) on something you’ve never tried before. This is why a lot of people stick with a “usual”. They know they like it, they know they’ll enjoy it—so there is no risk. But this is a devastating way to live. Today, we have thousands of restaurants that offer many different cuisines. We have more food available to us then ever before. And yet, we are afraid to try it.
If this is your first time trying Lebanese food (or not), you have to try Arak. It is the declared national drink of Lebanon and many other Arabic nations. It is traditionally served cold, with mezze, a shared meal made up of an array of small dishes. Here are some things that you might not have known about Arak.
1. It is made from Mediterranean grapes
Though it is also sometimes made from figs, plums, dates, and other raisin-based
alcohols, Arak is most commonly made from Mediterranean grapes. These are grapes that are raised in the Mediterranean climate. The vineyards allow the climate to cultivate the grapes with very little outside help. When the grapes are a mature golden colour, they are juiced and distilled. How they are distilled affects the quality and taste of the drink. Though different types of stills are used, a Moorish shaped copper still is thought to give the best results.
2. It tastes similar to black liquorice
Arak is mixed with aniseed, which is a spice similar in flavour to black liquorice. Quality Arak is distilled again with the aniseed to bring out the flavour. Some high quality brands then store the Arak in a clay amphora so that more water will evaporate. This results in a pure, concentrated drink that ranges from 30%-60% alcohol content.
3. Its name means “perspiration”
The original Arabic word, “araq” (ﻋﺮﻕ), translates to “sweat” or “perspiration” in English. No one is quite sure why the drink was given this name. It may refer to the condensation that forms during the evaporation process. It may refer to the sweat caused by the toil of making Arak. It could also refer to the sweat and toil throughout a hard days work that is finally refreshed by a cold glass of Arak. No one knows the origin of the name, but it does add a mysterious and cooling aura.
4. It is served with water in a chilled glass
Arak is a clear beverage, but when diluted with water, it turns a milky white colour. This is called emulsification. Because the alchohol has essential oils in it, when the water is cooled, the oils separates into tiny droplets and changes the way the liquid reflects light. The proper way to serve Arak is as follows:
- Dilute the drink 1/3 Arak with 2/3 water
- Pour into a chilled glass with ice*
- For each drink, use a different glass
*Never add the ice after you’ve poured your drink. This will cause a film to form on the top. Always pour Arak over ice in a fresh, chilled cup and enjoy!