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In Turkey, breakfast is more than a meal; it’s an opulent institution, a banquet of dishes, both savory and sweet, trumpeting the country’s agricultural abundance. It’s eaten in restaurants, like a New York brunch, and at home, when friends are invited over for leisurely weekend get-togethers. These often run from mid morning until late into the afternoon over endless cups of tea and friendly conversation. If you want to take part in the unique culinary treasure that is the traditional Turkish breakfast while visiting the country, head to some of the best restaurants in Istanbul where the meal is known as serpme kahvaltı or köy kahvaltı. Here is our list of some of the most typical Turkish breakfast dishes and the best places to enjoy them.
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Although many restaurants may have their own breakfast specialities based in regional cuisines, you can always expect to find tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, and cheese in any Turkish breakfast spread. Turkish tomatoes are lush and varied; you might even find the bulbous pink tomatoes of the Çanakkale region, a treat unique to Turkey. The cucumbers, on the other hand, are almost always a small varietal, known as Çengelköy cucumbers for the village of Istanbul known for producing them. Olives will always be locally produced and usually drizzled in olive oil. Turkey is one of the world’s top 5 olive producers and its west coast is full of the hearty, long-living trees.
The traditional Turkish breakfast cheeses are beyaz peynir (literally “white cheese,”), a soft, salty cheese, and kaşar peynir, a young mild cheese. Speciality cheeses also commonly appear at the breakfast table. They include eski (aged) kaşar, with a far more pungent taste than its younger, more common cousin, Van otlu peynir, a herbed cheese from the city of Van. There is also tulum peynir, a goat’s milk cheese traditionally aged in a goatskin casing.
Eggs are another common savory staple. Turks enjoy their eggs a number of ways, often soft or hard-boiled, other times fried flat and known as an omelette (not to be confused with the folded and stuffed omelette enjoyed in other countries). The quintessential Turkish egg dish, however, is menemen, a cousin to the Israeli shakshouka. In menemen eggs are mixed together with tomatoes, green peppers, and spices into a soupy, scrumptious mixture that is served in the pan it is prepared in and eaten with chunks of bread. The result is intensely savory and utterly delicious. Another common way to prepare eggs is to fry them along with the dried, spicy turkish sausage known as sucuk resulting in a piquant, over-easy egg and sausage mixture dying to be sopped up with large chunks of bread.
No discussion of traditional Turkish breakfasts would be complete without mentioning Börek, the classic breakfast food and one of our favorite traditional Turkish foods, made from layered sheets of phyllo dough filled with potatoes, greens, minced meat or cheese. Börek can take many forms, particularly when prepared at home and is a dish the crops up all over the old Ottoman Empire in places like Croatia, Serbia, Albania, and even Greece. Our favorite is the kol boreği, prepared daily at bakeries. Fresh from the oven with flaky layers of phyllo and a warm filing, this börek also makes a perfect breakfast on-the-go or the ideal accompaniment to a larger breakfast spread.
As we’ve discussed in other places on this blog, seasonal fruits are one of the pillars of Turkish cuisine, so it’s only natural that Turks love their jams. Turkish mothers in particular are proud of their jam-making skills, often making several large batches of homemade jam throughout the year depending on what fruit is in season. Almost any fruit is a candidate for jam, such as strawberry, quince, orange, or fig, but you can also find less well-known jams such as fragrant rose jam specked with petals.
But Jam isn’t the only sweet condiment. One of the stars of any traditional Turkish breakfast table among both foreigners and visitors is kaymak, or Turkey’s version of clotted cream. It is a type of freshly-made cream that is common all over Central Asia and the Balkans and can be made from boiling the milk of almost any farm animal. It’s lightly sweet and much richer than a typical whipped cream. Often served as a condiment for deserts, at breakfast it can be drizzled with honey and sprinkled with walnuts, or eaten as a condiment. A spoonful lathered onto bread is enough to make even the most ardent skeptics of Turkish food change their colors.
Turkey is a country that loves their national and regional breads and breakfast without a fresh loaf from the corner bakery is unthinkable. Often, families also have simit, sesame coated bread rings similar to pretzels, savory buns called poğaca, or the bagel-like açma on hand as well.
Breads like simit are some of the most iconic Turkish snacks.
In Turkey, black tea from Rize, Turkey’s tea-producing region, is enjoyed at breakfast – no apple tea here. To prepare it hot water is placed in the bottom of a double boiler and the steeped tea leaves on top. The water and tea leaves are poured together and enjoyed in the tulip-shaped tea glasses seen everywhere in Turkey. Many Turks spike their tea with plenty of sugar, but it’s also delightful unsweetened. At breakfast, one often drinks multiple glasses of tea, and you’ll find that tea at most of Istanbul’s breakfast restaurants is unlimited.
One of the most famous Turkish specialities is the simit. It is a circular bread covered with sesame seeds. You can find it everywhere in Turkey and it is very cheap. Generally simit is served plain or with tea. In Istanbul the simit tradition goes back to the year 1525, when it first got produced by local bakeries.
To cut a long story short, the Turkish breakfast is one of the most important elements of the Turkish cuisine. There are so many delicious things and after getting used to it, there is no chance to live without. My favourite element is Kaymak with honey. I think there is no better stuff in the world to put on your bred in the morning.
Basic elements of a Turkish breakfast
The following elements are basic and very important: