Like me, you have probably heard all of your life, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” Well, in Turkey, this is taken very seriously and the results are amazing. The Turkish breakfast is a thing of beauty, a feast for the eyes, and an incredible way to start the day! It is not just one dish, but rather a spread of Turkish delicacies, which varies by region.
For Turks, kahvalti (“the food before coffee”) happens every single day of the week. It is as much a ritual on a Wednesday as it is on any Sunday. Traditionally Turkish coffee (kahve) is not drunk during breakfast, but rather after breakfast or in the afternoon. A traditionally brewed black tea is an indispensable part of breakfast. While a Turkish kahvalti may not make you a morning person, it will definitely help you make it through the day.
On weekends, the Turkish breakfast spread becomes even more decadent. Hot black tea is just the beginning. The list is long with fruit juices, white cheese, boiled eggs, green or black olives, cokelek (spicy cheese), Turkish sausage and cured meats, helva, pekmez (grape or mulberry molasses). Fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, honey, yogurt, jam, fresh butter, menemen and other egg dishes, and fresh warm bread. All of these can be found on the Turkish kahvalti table.
Occasionally, böreks, pides, fried potatoes and various types of pastries are also served for breakfast. Soups can be a part of breakfast in some households. In the summer months, grapes and watermelon are a must for the breakfast table.
Here is a basic guide on what to include to make a full Turkish breakfast, even if you cannot make it to Istanbul.
Cheese: Feta cheese (beyaz peynir) is a true standby. Other contenders may be Kasseri, a hard cheese made from unpasteurized sheep milk; lor, an uncured goat’s cheese, Turkey’s version of cottage cheese; or a cheese from Erzurum that comes in long stringy pieces called civil peyniri. A real Turkish breakfast spread will not have just one cheese, but at least two or three. The goal is to sample as many flavors as possible.
Bread: Simit is the real star of the kahvalti spread, and the ideal canvas for cheeses and jams. The doughy, sesame-seed-coated rings are often sold on street corners, inside subway stations, and at virtually every bakery in Turkey. For many simit is the perfect portable breakfast. It is readily available and rarely costs more than a few Turkish lira. Pide, the traditional bread option, is fluffy squares of dough that is coated in seeds.
Jams and Spreads: Black olive spread is a popular option on pide, if you like something salty and savory early in the morning. For those looking for a sweeter option, drizzle pekmez, or molasses, on top of a thin coat of tahini. Because hazelnut is a key export,
Turks are also really into hazelnut spreads – yes, including Nutella! As for jams, most grandmothers spend half the year sourcing the best fruits from their greengrocers, and the rest of the year canning and preserving until grandchildren come by to take the spoils home with them. Sour cherry, apricot, and fig jams are classic options. A beautifully fragrant bergamot jam is also a favorite.
Eggs: We cannot talk about eggs without talking about sucuk, a dried, spicy beef sausage. Sucuklu yumurta, or eggs with sausage, is the Turkish person’s answer to “I have nothing in my fridge,” and is also a breakfast favorite. The best part is dipping little pieces of pide bread into the spicy oils left behind from frying the sausage.
Menemen the Turkish equivalent of an omelette, or a dish like “One-Pan Turkish Eggs with Hummus and Feta” are alternatives if you are a vegetarian.
Menemen is a dish of eggs scrambled until barely set, mixed with olive oil, tomatoes, bell peppers, chilies, scallions and garnished with copious amounts of fresh green herbs, like parsley and oregano. Menemen can be a simple breakfast on its own. It is delicious eaten with a side of salty cheese, olives, and some good crusty bread.
Basics: Black and/or green olives (zeytin), butter, honey, jam, boiled eggs (yumurta), some kind of cheese, fresh bread, and freshly-sliced tomatoes and cucumbers are the foundation for any kahvalti. Other dishes are added at the whim of the host, who can keep the breakfast spread small or make it very decadent. Bowls of flaked and/or powdered chilies, along with salt and pepper, are always on the Turkish table.
Drinks: The traditional Turkish breakfast does not include alcoholic beverages, such as a Mimosa or a Bloody Mary, nor does it always include coffee. If you are looking to replicate an authentic experience, Turkish black tea is the way to go – always black tea. You can find herbal teas in restaurants, but most Turks reserve herbal and green teas for bedtime.
Most Turks begin their mornings like the rest of the world. They wake up, the family members and children get ready for the day, and the first meal is prepared in the kitchen. But the similarity stops there. Breakfast in Turkey is not just a necessity. It is a traditional family gathering, a sit-down affair with a line-up of tastes all its own.
Kahvalti is all about sharing and connection. While much of the rest of the world views breakfast as a routine necessity, in Turkey it is a gathering that brings and keeps family and friends together.
Mary Bloyd is a retired corporate manager, living in Centerville, Ohio with her husband, Jon. A mother of one daughter and grandmother of four beautiful children, she loves cooking for her family and friends. Taught by a professional chef how to use spices and herbs, make stocks and mother sauces, she developed a curiosity about all manner of food and cuisine. A dedicated colorist, she is also a journal-keeper, writer of short stories and poetry, and loves to travel.
Copyright @ North America TEN and Mary Bloyd