I’m kind of obsessed with breakfast, particularly BRUNCH, my favorite eating experience. Growing up, the daily breakfast routine consisted of a pop-tart on the way out the door to catch the school bus…unless if it was a Sunday. Sundays were when, if I had hinted enough about it the night before, my dad would cook a big breakfast: pancakes, bacon, and eggs. I love BREAKFAST…like really really truly love breakfast. It’s not only love of the food but love for the ritual of BRUNCH-that of sleeping in, waking up to the smell of food, then eating and talking with family or friends. I go crazy for eggs benedict or french toast and I LOVE shrimp and grits with a fried egg underneath! I love greasy hole-in-the-wall diners serving eggs any way you like with biscuits and gravy. Eating brunch reminds me of home and spending the weekends with family.
Although I can’t get the exact same food like back home, it’s funny how you can find similar experiences on the other side of the world and within different cultures. The food may be different, but the idea of breakfast as an important eating ritual that brings people together for hours is definitely a part of ‘Turkish Breakfast’. Before coming to Turkey, I didn’t know what a traditional Turkish breakfast was. I imagined it being something like European cities where most places I visited ate sweet pastries with strong coffee. I never in my wildest dreams could have imagined that ‘Turkish Breakfast’ meant ‘The Best BRUNCH Ever’.
Turkish breakfast consists of savory and sweet items, with lots of bread, and lots of strong Turkish tea. When you go to a breakfast cafe, you can order a breakfast plate (a single serving) or you can order the serpme kahvaltı. This is when they literally fill your table with as many small dishes of various things that the table can hold. It’s amazing! It’s also quite daunting as you don’t know where to start! Salty or Sweet? And oh no, what if by the time I finish eating this dish, my friend finishes the dish over there… it requires careful tactics of ranking what to eat first. It’s serious business.
Here in Turkey, breakfast is an assortment of cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, roka (wild arugula), olives, olive oil, butter, fruit, nutella, honey, tahin pekmez (tahini mixed with grape molasses), jams, and bal kaymak (honey and clotted cream… or as I have nicknamed it, the ‘baby angel’). In addition to that spread, there are usually fried eggs or menemen-a scrambled egg and tomato casserole. You can also order gozleme, which is like a sort of savory cheese filled crepe. All products are from local villages nearby unless they are imported from other regions(usually special cheeses) and it’s fresh and very good quality. It feels quite healthy. The first time I ate Turkish breakfast I was so excited and couldn’t wait to start eating, but I remember also being a bit confused. Cucumbers and tomatoes…olives and honey…at the same time? For breakfast? But it really works. The vegetables are refreshing with the cheese and eggs. Then, when you are ready for sweets, you just switch to the jams and kaymak. It’s the best of both worlds. A huge, always full basket of warm bread is placed on the table and of course, glass after glass of Turkish tea.
The word for breakfast, kahvaltı in Turkish translates literally to ‘kahve= coffee’ and ‘altı=before/underneath’. The way Turkish grammar works, the sentence reads with the emphasis of the 2nd part of the word being first. Put it together and it literally means, ‘before coffee’. So you drink tea with the food before you have your coffee once you have finished eating and are completely stuffed to help with digestion. This is one of the most notable differences between breakfast culture back home and here. I used to give myself extra time to make coffee at home first but now, I find myself craving the tea and forgetting about coffee until after.
While eating out for breakfast is popular especially here in Istanbul, this style of breakfast is also prepared at home too. Most Turkish families keep jam, honey, cheese, tomatoes and olives on hand and just pull them out in the morning. I recently stayed with a good friend over the weekend and she woke up every morning, pulled out little dishes and put them on a tray. As each family member woke up, they got bread, made themselves an egg, then served themselves from the tray that my friend had set out. The ease of the process was astounding and quite beautiful.
When you sit down to eat Turkish breakfast, you know you will be satisfied and happy and full. You also know you will sit there for hours eating slowly, drinking tea after tea, and talking all afternoon with the friends surrounding you. It’s as close to a feeling of home that I can get, for which I am truly grateful.
**Recipe for Menemen (Turkish Egg Casserole) Below:
This is so easy and so DELICIOUS! One of my favorite Turkish dishes, it’s perfect with hunks of crusty french bread and some cheese to go with it. For the recipe, I’m using 6 eggs, so that would be a portion size of 2 eggs per person, serving 3 people. I also like some onion and garlic in mine, but those two ingredients are not completely traditional.
*3-4 large heirloom tomatoes or 6-8 medium vine tomatoes, chopped and set aside
*2 red bell peppers, chopped and set aside
* 1 small white onion, minced
*2 garlic cloves, minced
*good olive oil
*salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper to taste
*flat leaf parsley to garnish
*Place a skillet pan on the stove with about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in it and heat it on medium heat. Add the onions and garlic first and let them cook but don’t caramelize the onions. Add the peppers next and cook for 1-2 minutes, then add the tomatoes. Put the lid on the pan so that not too much water evaporates and turn the heat down to low. You want the vegetables to get soft and still have enough liquid in the pan. You want to look for a kind of home-made spaghetti sauce consistency (takes about 10-15 minutes). Here add a pinch of salt and pepper and stir it around.
* Once the vegetables are soft and you have a kind of sauce in the pan, crack the eggs into the pan. The eggs will be sitting on top of the sauce in little pools. I sometimes run a knife through the egg whites and spread them around over the surface but I keep the yolks in tact as much as possible. It’s ready when the egg whites are no longer clear.
Sprinkle the parsley on top and get ready to dig in!