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The word arak comes from Arabic ′araq ﻋﺮﻕ, meaning "sweat", its pronunciation varies depending on local varieties of Arabic: /ʕaraʔ, ʕaraɡ/. Arak is not to be confused with the similarly named liquor, arrack (which in some cases, such as in Indonesia—especially Bali, also goes by the name arak). Another similarly sounding word is aragh, which in Armenia, Iran, Azerbaijan and Georgia is the colloquial name of vodka, and not an aniseed-flavored drink. Raki and ouzo are aniseed-flavored alcoholic drinks, related to arak, popular in Turkey and Cyprus, and Greece, respectively.
Arak is usually mixed in approximately 1/3 arak and 2/3 water in a traditional Levantine water vessel called ibrik, Arabic ’ibrīq ﺇﺑﺮﻳﻖ; then the mixture is poured in small ice filled cups, like in the picture. This dilution causes the clear liquor to turn a translucent milky-white color; this is because anethole, the essential oil of anise, is soluble in alcohol but not in water. This results in an emulsion, whose fine droplets scatter the light and turn the liquid translucent, a phenomenon known as louching. Arak is commonly served with mezza, which could include dozens of small traditional dishes. Most arak drinkers prefer to consume it this way, rather than alone. It is also well consumed with barbecues, along with garlic sauce.
If ice is added after pouring in the cup, it results in the formation of an aesthetically unpleasant skin on the surface of the drink, because the ice causes the oils to solidify out in the arak. If water is added first, the ethanol causes the fat to emulsify, leading to the characteristic milky color. To avoid the precipitation of the anise (instead of emulsion), drinkers prefer not to reuse an arak-filled glass. In restaurants, when a bottle of arak is ordered, the waiter will usually bring a number of glasses along with it for this reason, whilst at home with regular drinkers it is deemed unnecessary