Vefa Bozacısı

1876

vefa
Boza, a malt drink made of fermented wheat, millet, or other cereal, has been popular in the Balkans, Anatolia, and Central Asia for thousands of years. It was consumed heavily during the Ottoman period, and is today associated with a small number of brands. Foremost among them is —and has been for more than a century— the institution named Vefa Bozacısı. Although named after the neighborhood of Vefa where it is centered, the firm’s fame has long exceeded its borders. Boza in Vefa is one of the products that gives special meaning to İstanbul’s many neighborhoods. Though the story of Vefa Bozacısı started with the arrival in İstanbul, in 1870, of Sadık Agha of Prizren (in Kosovo), in fact boza was already well known and much beloved in İstanbul, though its consistency and taste were somewhat different. With a single exception (Misak Boyaciyan’s shop Ahmediye Bozacısı, celebrated for its şıra, a slightly fermented grape drink), all the famed boza makers of İstanbul were Muslim Albanians, like Sadık Agha himself. He, however, gave boza his personal touch, giving it the flavor and texture that we know today. In other words, Vefa Bozacısı now sets the standard for the quality and taste of boza.

There are a number of accounts concerning Sadık Agha’s emigration from Prizren. The wars and unrest, and the deteriorating situation for Muslims in the Balkans during the nineteenth century might have been one factor, the attraction of İstanbul as a major commercial and cultural center might have been another, the fact that İstanbul’s boza makers had historically been Albanian still another. Whatever the cause of his relocation, Sadık Agha began to peddle salep (a drink made from powdered orchid roots), dried apricot stew, or corn boza depending on the season. After a while, he decided to make some adjustments in the boza consumed in İstanbul and turned the bottom floor of a house near the present-day University of İstanbul into a workshop. The marble threshold at the entrance of the shop, now worn out by the hundreds of thousands of footsteps that have crossed it, was laid down in 1876. As far as we know, this was the first shop ever opened that was solely dedicated to selling boza.

Sadık Agha’s identity as a seller of boza is confirmed by a document in the Ottoman Archives. A record dated 1912 in a Sicill-i Ahval Defteri (a register of state functionaries containing their curriculum vitae) begins with the words “İsmail Hakkı Efendi: The son of Sadık Efendi the boza seller, of Prizren.” The rest of the record provides biographical details concerning İsmail Hakkı Efendi, to whom Sadık Efendi had passed the business. It states that İsmail Hakkı was born in 1851, went to elementary school and then to the Bayezid Central Middle School. He then received a diploma from the Mercan High School. He spoke Bulgarian, French, and Greek, and had started to work in 1910 “as a postal clerk at the Ministry of Posts and Telegraphs for a salary of 400 kuruş.” Considering that he graduated from the Mülkiye (superior school for public functionaries) in 1911, it would appear that either he never took his post at the Ministry of Posts and Telegraphs, or he worked there for a very short time. He then performed his military service during which he participated in the Balkan Wars and World War I. After military service, he did not seek an official position despite his education, prefering instead to work at his father’s boza shop.

Immediately following World War I, Vefa suffered yet another disaster at about the time when İsmail Hakkı Bey returned. Severely damaged in the great fire of 1918, the neighborhood had lost both its character and its most distinguished residents. Sadık Bey’s shop lay in ruins, and he had given up on it when İsmail Hakkı Bey returned from the Syrian Front and convinced his father to rebuild the business. The boza seller who did not abandon Vefa in spite of all adversities gained significance, showing that “vefa” (fidelity) was not just the name of a neighborhood.

In addition to boza, Hacı Sadık Efendi and his son İsmail Hakkı Bey also sold şıra, vinegar, and water from the source Hamidiye. The price of boza in the 1920s was 10 para for a glass, and many people, notably the well-known historian, journalist, and writer Cemal Kutay and his family, enjoyed purchasing it by the keg. By 1924-1925, the famous boza seller had made his way into prestigious commercial directories. Both father and son appeared in the Büyük Salname (Great Yearbook) of 1926: “Hacı Sadık and İsmail in Vefa.” The firm published advertisements in the newspaper Hâkimiyet-i Milliye for four months in 1926, promoting “The Famous Boza of Vefa.” One proclaimed “The Boza of Vefa Starts Tomorrow,” thus announcing that alterations to the shop had just been completed. The Türkiye Salnamesi (Yearbook of Turkey) for 1929 once again listed the business under the names Hacı Sadık Efendi and İsmail Hakkı Bey.

Another interesting detail is that boza was very popular as a drink during the holy month of Ramadan. The poet Halit Fahri Ozansoy wrote of distinguished Ramadan nights in the olden days when sections of the Kısas-ı Enbiya (Stories of the Prophets) would be recited, after which servants would bring boza from Vefa to the guests in long and slender glasses. Writing under the pen-name Server Bedi, the well-known novelist Peyami Safa recalled going to Vefa Bozacısı one Ramadan night, only to find it packed with people; his friend exclaimed “People didn’t swarm like this on rationed bread during the World War.” Like many other celebrated brands in İstanbul, Vefa Bozacısı also bitterly complained of pirated products. In 1931, Hacı Sadık Bey addressed his customers in a newspaper advertisement: “I feel the need to state to the esteemed citizens of Ankara that I have not opened a branch in Ankara and that no one is entitled to take advantage of my name.”

The author, poet, and playwright İsmet Kür recalled two well-built figures from her childhood spent in Vefa, two trust-inspiring, serious, but also fatherly men: one, Hacı Sadık, died in 1933; the other, his brother Hacı İbrahim, in 1944. İsmail Hakkı Bey took over the firm and ensured continuity despite those losses. In order to reduce some of the production problems and render the process more standardized and efficient, he enlisted the help of a relative who was a lathe operator at the Golden Horn Shipyards, and had the first boza making machines built there. The system in question is still fully operational, as it has been continuously since 1928.

By the 1930s, Vefa Bozacısı had been in existence for half a century, a spot to which people unconsciously gravitated by habit. Salih Bozok, Atatürk’s aide-de-camp, wrote that the President too enjoyed frequenting the establishment. Indeed, his visit on 18 November 1937 is still commemorated with a portrait photograph and the glass out of which he drank boza. Another President, Celâl Bayar, also frequented Vefa Bozacısı, notably on 11 January 1953. And not just them, to be sure. Those who missed the şıra of yore could only quench their longing and their thirst in Vefa. The truth is that Vefa, boza, and Vefa Bozacısı had all become part of culture and daily life. Şamran Hanım, a famous kanto (popular songs in eastern modes performed on western instruments) singer during the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid II, popularized a piece titled “Bozacı Kantosu” (The Boza-Seller’s Kanto). Several popular expressions refered to boza as well. And in an Ortaoyunu (popular theater) play, the two main characters exchanged the following pleasantries, playing on the meaning of the word vefalı (loyal, and also a resident of Vefa):

Pişekâr: The truth is, brother, you are quite disloyal!

Kavuklu: Find someone more loyal (vefalı) than me and let us drink boza together.

When the Surnames Act was adopted in 1934, the family chose the last name Vefa, thereby once again uniting the names of the neighborhood and the enterprise. İsmail Vefa was an educated, experienced, well-respected person; he served in the İstanbul Municipal Council during 1946-1950 and the İstanbul Chamber of Commerce Assembly during 1952-1961. He founded the Fatih Wrestling Club and the Kumkapı Sports Club, and served as the President of the Wrestling Federation. Both he and some of his relatives, notably Nazif Bey, the master of wrestlers, were deeply committed to the sport. The fourth-generation Sadık Vefa, his great-grandfather’s namesake, recalls the efforts of his grandfather İsmail Hakkı Vefa during the years when Turkish sports suffered from shortages and lack of resources. Not only did he take Turkish athletes to international competitions under difficult circumstances, but he also tried to give them a sense of cultural consciousness.

Under the direction of İsmail Hakkı Vefa, Vefa Bozacısı increasingly emphasized its brand name and historical identity. Newspaper advertisements appeared with greater frequency, sometimes announcing the days on which fresh boza would become available, due to delays in production. In other cases, they felt no need to go beyond just two words: “Vefa Bozacısı.”

The firm maintained its historical location despite some setbacks, and across the street from it was a shop selling leblebi (roasted chickpeas), the indispensible companion of boza. Both Vefa Bozacısı and the street on which it is located have been mentioned by writers, researchers, and travelers. Çetin Altan, known for his political wit, wrote: “The politician’s speech heals the heart. Our neighborhood famed for its boza is Vefa. And for the ordinary citizen, boza is pure joy.” (It rhymes beautifully in the original!) Orhan Pamuk, Refik Halit Karay, Gökhan Akçura, Turgut Kut, and many other well-known writers discussed the historical shop and memories of time spent there.

The legacy of a family tradition that started with Sadık Agha was passed on to the second generation in the person of İsmail Hakkı Vefa, then to the third generation with his sons Mustafa and Vehbi Vefa, and on to the fourth generation descendants Sadık and Ferdi Vefa. The firm has also been marketing their brand identity and delicious product outside of their historical location in plastic and glass bottles. With its slightly tart flavor, boza continues to be an İstanbul favorite.

Contact

Vefa, Katip Çelebi Cad. No: 104/1 34470 İstanbul-Türkiye
P: +90 212 519 49 22
www.vefa.com.tr
Map