Rakija – Magic of the Balkans

In the Balkans, Rakija is everywhere. Be prepared to be offered a glass (or a whole bottle) of homemade Rakija even by a random stranger you just met on the street. People here are very proud of this specific drink – and they have every right to be. Rakija is very versatile and is used against a diversity of health issues, to celebrate any occasion, or as a way to show hospitality to others.

The process of making rakija nowadays is quite simple, but it requires a lot of patience and attention to detail. First, the fruit is mashed and left to ferment for several weeks, usually with the addition of sugar and water. Once the fermentation process is complete, the liquid is distilled in a copper still, which separates the alcohol from the water and impurities. The resulting liquid is sometimes aged in oak barrels for several months to enhance the flavor and aroma of the rakija.

The history of rakija dates back to ancient times, and the origins of this traditional Balkan beverage are not entirely clear. It is believed that the practice of distilling fruits to make brandy was introduced to the Balkan region by the ancient Romans, who used it for medicinal purposes. However, it was the arrival of the Slavic tribes in the region that led to the development of the distinctive flavour and aroma of rakija that we know today.

During the Ottoman Empire, rakija production was heavily regulated and taxed, leading to the creation of secret distilleries in rural areas. In fact, the word “rakija” itself is believed to have come from the Turkish word “rakı”, which means “anise-flavoured brandy”.

In the 19th century, the production of rakija became more widespread and sophisticated, with the introduction of modern distilling techniques and the development of new varieties of fruits. Today, rakija remains an important part of Balkan culture, and it is enjoyed by people of all ages.

Throughout the centuries, rakija became an important part of Balkan culture, and its production and consumption played a significant role in social and religious events. Rakija was often used as a gift to show respect, and it was considered a symbol of prosperity and wealth. When someone visits a home or a business, it is common for the host to offer them a small glass of rakija as a welcome gesture. This tradition is deeply ingrained in Balkan culture, and it is seen as a way to establish a bond of trust and mutual respect between the host and the guest.

The act of sharing rakija has an important social dimension, as it often leads to conversation, storytelling, and laughter. It is a way to break the ice and create a relaxed and convivial atmosphere. In this sense, rakija brings people together and fosters a sense of community. It embodies the values of generosity, warmth, and conviviality that are highly valued in Balkan cultures.

Moreover, the tradition of making rakija is often a family affair that involves several generations. Many families in the Balkans have their own secret recipe and take great pride in their rakija-making skills. This tradition is passed down from one generation to the next, creating a sense of continuity and connection between family members. When someone shares their rakija with a guest, they are not just offering them a drink – they are sharing a piece of their family history and culture.

According to everyone and their mother, alcoholic drink is also the most effective way to cure any disease or illness. While excessive consumption of rakija can be harmful to health, there are some ways in which moderate consumption of this traditional beverage can potentially offer certain health benefits.

One example of this would be the use of rakija as a digestive aid. Many people in the Balkans believe that rakija can help with digestive issues, such as bloating, constipation, and stomach cramps. This is because the fruit used to make rakija is high in fiber and antioxidants, which can help to stimulate digestion and promote gut health. Because of this rakija is often served alongside the food in Kafanas, traditional Macedonian restaurants.

In addition to that it is also said to be a booster for the immune system, cures every hangover, a solution to muscle pain, emergency toothache relief, treatment for any wounds, and the quickest for cure fever. Whether you are trying to disinfect your insides with alcohol, you are using a paste or massage oil made of rakija or you are just staring at it – worry not, you will be healed. And not only your body but also your soul. In Bulgaria, there is a famous proverb, “A psychotherapist can help you, but Rakija is cheaper.”

Despite its popularity and cultural significance, rakija is not without controversy. In recent years, there has been a growing concern about the health risks associated with excessive consumption of this potent beverage. Some studies have linked rakija to an increased risk of certain cancers and liver disease, and there have been calls for stricter regulations and awareness campaigns to address these issues.

So in conclusion Rakija has a long and rich history in the Balkan region, and it is often considered to be more than just a drink – it is a symbol of Balkan culture. However, it is important to consume rakija in moderation and as part of a balanced and healthy lifestyle, as excessive consumption can have negative health effects. Nonetheless, the cultural and social significance of rakija cannot be understated, and it will undoubtedly continue to be an important part of the Balkan region’s heritage for generations to come.

Angelina Berndt


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