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A very Turkish breakfast
The delights of a never-ending breakfast spread and endless cups of black tea.
Join me in exploring the food and cultures of Turkey, the Middle East & beyond.
When a friend got married in fashionable Bodrum a few years ago, we decided to forgo the fancy hotels and opted instead for a B&B in a tiny village by a lake, just over an hour away. Istanbul can be chaotic, so when you get a chance to get out, it’s nice to stay in a calmer and more relaxed environment.
Kapıkırı is a village of just 120 houses, all clearly built a lifetime ago. The road had definitely seen better days, too. As we took off the main road and drove through fields of corn and past animal pens, the holes and bumps gave us a good core workout on the final stretch to our B&B.
It quickly turned out our reservation weeks in advance had been unnecessary. The small village had made a name among adventurous foreign tourists, particularly Germans, who came here for hikes in the spectacular nature surrounding the village and the lake. But as the perception of Turkey deteriorated from the mid 2010s, the flow of foreign tourists dried up. And hiking as an activity is still in its nascency among Turks. In what should have been the beginning of high season, nine out of the twelve rooms were vacant that night.
Still, our hosts, a lovely couple, put their hearts into making our stay worthwhile. Once we got up for breakfast, it seemed the food just wouldn’t stop coming. All of it homemade and as local as it gets.
Olives from a grove behind the house. Vegetables freshly picked from the garden. Three classic Turkish jams, all of them home made. Yoghurt, also homemade, from milk provided by the cows we’d driven past as we entered the village. Local butter made the old fashioned way. Fried eggs from the hens next door, that we met on a little walk to catch the beautiful sunset over the lake the night before. Lots of fresh fruit and, before long, home made börek straight from the pan, served by the cook herself.
Turkish breakfast has made a name for itself in recent years. And when I say Turkish breakfast, I mean what the Turks call serpme kahvaltı, which can be loosely translated as “spread” or “sprinkled” breakfast. A countless number of small plates with the full range of breakfast items – cheese, olives, jams, honey, vegetables and more. Plus, of course, a few different breads and egg dishes. In many ways similar to a gigantic meze spread, but with breakfast fare.
As far as I can gather, while now ubiquitous, this style of breakfast is relatively new in the history of Turkish cuisine. At home, breakfast was – and is – usually a fairly simple affair. Most make do with bread, cheese and olives. In summer, with a tomato or perhaps a slice of watermelon alongside. If you feel like something extra, or you’ve got guests over, menemen or a few hard boiled eggs. And if you’re in a hurry, a simple pastry on the go from the local bakery will do.
This new style of Turkish breakfast is probably inspired by the brunch culture that has become so popular in many Western cities over the last couple of decades. While the food is important, the company it’s enjoyed in is perhaps even more so. If you’re enjoying a Turkish breakfast out, it’s usually at a time that’s more typical of brunch, and in company that calls for a drawn-out affair with endless cups of black tea (complementary in most restaurants – or at least they used to be until inflation caught up with tea prices, too).
That’s not to detract from the food, which is always delicious. Nothing suits the simple flavours of Turkish cuisine better than breakfast.
Below, I’ve gathered a few of my Turkish breakfast recipes, in case you want to try some of them at home. They’re recipes I keep coming back to, and they’re especially wonderful in summer. And on Friday, I’ll send you a recipe for poğaça (pronounced “paw-atcha” with a’s like in “matcha”) – a Turkish pastry that’s often enjoyed as a quick breakfast on the go.
The most classic of all Turkish egg dishes. Everyone’s got their own way of making it. These days, if my tomatoes are good, I double the amount of tomatoes – so keep that in mind if you like things saucy. Another good tip is to keep the yolks whole until the whites are fully cooked and mixed through with the sauce. Then, just before taking the menemen off the heat, you can break the yolks and stir them through as well, making for a luxuriously creamy version. For a quicker breakfast, make the sauce ahead, then simply reheat and add the eggs in the morning.
Turks make jam out of anything and everything, but nothing beats the sour cherry jam. With the key ingredient available for only a precious few weeks in the middle of summer, it’s a stroke of luck that it’s also one of the best fruits to preserve in this way. Or you can, as I most often do these days, use frozen ones.
The favourite of Ottoman sultans and Queen Nigella. Who am I to disagree?
If you’ve been to Istanbul, you’ve surely seen carts full of these around. These give you the flavour of just that version of simit – but fresh from your own oven.
🔜 Coming Friday: Poğaça with feta cheese (new recipe)
In the next newsletter, I’ll share the recipe I use to make Turkish poğaça, a breakfast pastry somewhere between a scone and a bun. It can by made in a myriad of ways (all of which I’ll return to), but you’ll get my preferred recipe for one filled with feta cheese. The recipe will hit your inbox on Friday.