Breakfast in Turkey

Intro

We like the idea that you can begin to understand a culture by the food.  In the following article we hope to give you the feel of a typical breakfast when you wake up in the home of a close friend or family member.  You may not have all the authentic ingredients on hand but review the table at the end and look for substitutions.  A special thank you to Cath Barrett for sharing her photos and expertise for this article.  

Breakfast Still Reigns

Food has always played a major role within Turkish culture.  From the Ottoman Empire to present day Turkey, food is the unspoken language of welcoming family, friends and foreigners alike to the table.

Food has always played a major role within Turkish culture.  From the Ottoman Empire to present day Turkey, food is the unspoken language of welcoming family, friends and foreigners alike to the table.

In the land of Turks, breakfast still reigns as king. From elaborate spreads, to a simple meal of bread and kaymak drizzled with local honeybreakfast in Turkey is one of the best in the world.   What holds breakfast in the throne is the wide variety of high quality, freshly made products and locally harvested produce available throughout the country.  Flavors range from sharp and bold to sweet and delicate. Whether your preference is savory or sweet, your taste buds will delight in the options available to you. 

The unspoken language of welcoming family

Food has always played a major role within Turkish culture.  From the Ottoman Empire to present day Turkey, food is the unspoken language of welcoming family, friends and foreigners alike to the table.  Geographic variability along with seasonal factors affecting climate and soil has contributed to the wide array of breakfast choices and preferences.  Region to region, breakfast in Turkey is ever-changing.

For guests all the bells and whistles come out to play

 In general, day to day meals are kept relatively simple consisting of bread, butter, honey, jams, fresh or dried fruits and nuts.  Or alternatively, a plate full of cucumbers and tomatoes bathed in earthy olive oil and soaked up with freshly baked bread can be found just as often.  However, when guests come to visit, during holidays, or when the weekend rolls around, all the bells and whistles come out to play.

Bread (ekmek ) Holds the Meal Together

In general, day to day meals are kept relatively simple consisting of bread, butter, honey, jams, fresh or dried fruits and nuts.  Or alternatively, a plate full of cucumbers and tomatoes bathed in earthy olive oil and soaked up with freshly baked bread can be found just as often.  However, when guests come to visit, during holidays, or when the weekend rolls around, all the bells and whistles come out to play.

In general, day to day meals are kept relatively simple consisting of bread, butter, honey, jams, fresh or dried fruits and nuts.  Or alternatively, a plate full of cucumbers and tomatoes bathed in earthy olive oil and soaked up with freshly baked bread can be found just as often.  However, when guests come to visit, during holidays, or when the weekend rolls around, all the bells and whistles come out to play.

A wide variety of bread (ekmek ) holds the meal together, being the ultimate vehicle for everything under the sun. Quince preserves, fig marmalade and apricot jam are slathered on pide (leavened flat bread).  Lavash is used to cradle scoops of menemen or to stack handfuls of fresh herbs upon. Simit is dipped in pekmez and drizzled with tahini.  Pogacha, savory cheese pastries, are piled precariously on plates too small to hold them all.

Candied kumkuats grace the table with their sweet-bitter citrus flavor and ripe pomegranate seeds tumble from its core.  Seville orange, Cornelian cherry and green almond preserves come and go throughout the year, gobbled up as soon as they are available.

Breakfast Cheeses

Thick slabs of beyaz peynir (similar to feta) are piled like dominos next to slices of Tulum peyniri (goat's milk cheese).  Stacks of Hellim and Kasar, smoked Cerkez and wedges of Mihalic cheeses find their way to the breakfast table as well.  Olives, as expected, are always on display.  From cured black olives to bright briny green ones, everyone has little mounds of pits to prove they are in a land thriving with olive groves.

Eggs, Tomatoes, Peppers, Olives...

Eggs with vibrant orange hued yolks are boiled to perfection or used to make a variety of egg-based dishes like menemen, a scrambled egg dish made with slowly cooked tomatoes, peppers and olive oil or sucuklu yumurta, eggs fried with a cumin and chili laced beef sausage.

Plump tomatoes and crisp, thin-skinned cucumbers adorn the table as well as heaping piles of freshly picked herbs like peppery arugula, sprigs of parsley, sorrel and water-cress.  Persimmons, juicy and sweet, are topped with sesame paste (tahini) and sprinkled with walnuts.

Freshly Squeezed Blood Orange and Grapefruit Juice

Plump tomatoes and crisp, thin-skinned cucumbers adorn the table as well as heaping piles of freshly picked herbs like peppery arugula, sprigs of parsley, sorrel and water-cress.  Persimmons, juicy and sweet, are topped with sesame paste (tahini) and sprinkled with walnuts.

Plump tomatoes and crisp, thin-skinned cucumbers adorn the table as well as heaping piles of freshly picked herbs like peppery arugula, sprigs of parsley, sorrel and water-cress.  Persimmons, juicy and sweet, are topped with sesame paste (tahini) and sprinkled with walnuts.

Freshly squeezed blood orange and grapefruit juice fill glasses to the brim with its sweet and sour elixir and there seems to be a constant flow of strong black tea pouring into one’s tulip shaped cup. The clinking of little spoons swirling cubes of sugar round and round mingle with laughter and chirping birds.  As if this were not enough, dried figs and fat walnuts are found hiding amongst the plethora of plates, waiting to be nibbled on as things wind down and smiles are shared across the table.


The Turkish Breakfast Table

If you aren't familiar with the language or the culture it can be difficult to digest all of the names and combinations.  To help define the terms and illustrate the different ideas we've pulled together the Turkish Breakfast Table.  The weekday, weekend and special occasion menus may vary from region to region and even family to family but should give you a better idea of how to combine the flavors and dishes.  

Category   Variety/Type   Description   Typical daily Combinations   Special Occasion
      Weekday 1   Weekday 2   Weekday 3   Weekend  
Spreads   Reçel   Fruit preserve, jam       X   X   X   X
  Pekmez   Molasses-like syrup, usually made from grapes, but also from other fruits, especially mulberry   X         X
  Komposto   Compote: Compote can be made with fresh or dried fruit (whole or cut into pieces) that's slowly cooked in a sugar syrup (sometimes containing liquor and spices). Slow cooking is important for the fruit to maintain its shape.       X   X   X   X
  Marmelat   Marmalade: marmalade is a soft jelly that contains pieces of fruit rind (usually citrus)     X   X   X   X
  Tahini   Toasted ground sesame seed paste   X                
  HasHas   Finely ground poppy seed spread   X        
Zeytin(Olive)   Various   Black, green, oil cured, etc etc, too many varieties to list       X   X   X   X
Yumurta(Eggs)   Haşlanmış yumurta   Hardboiled eggs     X      
  Menemen   Scrambled egg dish. Tomatoes and long green peppers (sometimes onion and/or garlic) are slowly stewed together over a low fire and whisked eggs are stirred in at the end. As a variation you can crack whole eggs on top of vegetable mixture and cover with lid until eggs are set.                   X
  Sucuklu yurmuta   Eggs fried with sucuk (cumin and hot pepper spiced beef sausage)         X  
Peynir(Cheese)   Beyaz peynir   White cheese, crumbles easily, similar to feta, but less salty and milder in flavor   X   X       X   X
  Hellim   Salty, firm goat cheese       X           X
  Kaşar   Sheep’s milk cheese               X   X
  Tulum peyniri   Goat’s milk cheese aged in goatskin, often times found with herbs       X           X
  Çerkez   Circassian cheese, smoked or plain made from any type of milk   X           X   X
  Kaymak   Thick clotted cream, best if from buffalo milk, but made from all types           X   X   X
Ekmek(Bread)   Ekmek   Standard everyday loaf, basically any type of bread can be called ekmek           X   X   X
  Lavaş   Thin pliable unleavened flatbread (eaten alone, with a variety of spreads, or used as a wrap)   X     X     X
  Pide   Leavened flat bread (many variants of this, from plain to topped with cheese and other ingredients ) for breakfast , the simple basic pide called “ramazan” would be used, generally plain or sprinkled with sesame or nigella sativa seeds       X       X   X
  Simit   Ring shaped bread with a crunchy crust coated in sesame seeds also known as “gevrek”   X       X   X
Meyve(Fruit)   Seasonal   Fresh and dried   X       X   X   X
Sebze(Vegetables)   Standard   Tomatoes & Cucumbers     X   X   X   X
Otlar(Herbs)   Standard   Arugula, Parsley       X   X   X   X
Findik(Nuts)   Varies   Walnuts, hazlenuts pistachios   X     X   X   X
Tatlim(Honey)   Multiple        X   X   X   X   X

About Cath Barrett:

With a passion for food and travel, Cath Barrett has established a variegated and international culinary career. A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, she has worked as a private chef in Serbia, on the Black Sea in Russia and on a Yacht based in Antalya, Turkey.  As a Chef/Consultant she has opened everything from gourmet grocery stores in India to Eco-Resorts in Colombia.  Based in Chicago she works as a freelance writer, consultant and is currently pursuing her Master’s Degree in Nutrition.