We’ve all been told a million times that breakfast is ‘the most important meal of the day,’ and us Americans, we like our breakfast. French toast and fried eggs, pancakes and hash browns- we may have more specific breakfast foods than any other country I’ve heard of.
Spain doesn’t really do breakfast, not like American breakfast anyway. I mean if you consider tomato paste on toast (which I actually learned to love) an adequate breakfast meal, you’re in luck. If you’re looking for good greasy dinner-style home cooking, try a different country. Too put it short-I had been pretty breakfast deprived for the past two years. In fact, I rarely missed the food from home, unless I was waking up hungry and hungover on Sunday morning.
Well, before heading to Istanbul, I asked one of my friends, who has visited the country several times, for foodie-focused advice. He eagerly shared a few different meal suggestions, but thoroughly insisted that before leaving Istanbul I get myself a proper Turkish-style breakfast, joking, “no one does breakfast like the Turks.” My thoughts– Huh? Turkish people make a good breakfast? That was definitely not a suggestion I was expecting.
Considering breakfast is my all time favorite meal of the day and I’ll pretty much eat it at any time for any meal- I was pretty EXCITED to give it a try!
And, as usual, he was right. Turks go HAM on breakfast. Well, I never actually saw any ham …
I’ve also never seen so many portions, so many plates. They fill an entire table with small tastes of different breakfast dishes- like a picture perfect tapas-style breakfast. It was simply magnificent. Unfortunately, I was only in Turkey for three short days, but each and every day brought a breakfast as exquisitely extravagant as the one before it.
Here’s a quick look at
3 days & 3 Turkish breakfasts!
My first Turkish Breakfast experience was on an organized food tour of Istanbul’s Old City with Culinary Backstreets. I was happy to have my first experience on a food tour, because frankly I had no idea where to start. Thankfully my wonderful guide helped us get a real feel for a traditional Turkish breakfast. It kind of blew my mind. We sat at a private table, set up in a little tucked away alley right outside of one of Istanbul’s tourist hubs, the Spice Bazzar. While eating, each and every plate on the table was explained- what exactly we were eating and where exactly in Turkey it came from. I attempted to pace myself in preparation for the rest of the 4-hour tour, but I wouldn’t say I was that successful. It was all just way too delicious!
My second day in the city, when my family arrived, the director of our flat sent up a complimentary Turkish breakfast, bright and early, to welcome us to Istanbul! I had heard that Turkish people were some of the most friendly, welcoming and accommodating, but I was not expecting anything close to this!
By day number 3, I thought I had grasped a pretty good idea of what a Turkish breakfast should look like, so my family and I decided to venture out on our own, without help from a local. We ended up at a pretty fancy, somewhat touristy, establishment right outside of Taksim square called Gezi. At first I was a little bit skeptical, especially when we were handed English translated menus right away, but, to my pleasant surprise, the breakfast was still to die for. and we obviously hated every minute of it …
Elements of a traditional Turkish breakfast
From what I gathered while in Istanbul, Turks are a little bit crazy when it comes to their tea. Tea in Turkey is more than just a drink, it’s a part of their culture. It’s become a ritual, part of their daily routine and continuously consumed throughout the day. Yeah that’s right, watch out Brits, there’s other tea-fanatics in town.
The way Turkish tea is both prepared and severed is very a particular process: it is to be brewed in a two-tiered porcelain kettle and served black in a small traditional handleless glass teacup. Everything from the color to the temperature is carefully controlled. I could go on and on about Turkish tea, but the important thing to know when it comes to Turkish breakfast is that Tea is the official accompaniment, NOT coffee. Turkish people do like coffee, but as they serve their coffee particularly strong, it’s not advisable to drink it on an empty stomach. Anyway, more on coffee later…
Considering I only scratched the surface on the importance of Turkish tea, if you’re interested in learning more about it click here.
It may seem silly to even mention bread as a specific breakfast category, since it’s usually tossed to the side, but Turkish people take their carbs pretty seriously.
The main base of any Turkish breakfast will be some type of bread product and trust me, it’s necessary. Whether it be a sliced white baguette, a variety basket of rolls or a traditional simit, you’ll need something to pair with all those cheeses and spreads. The most interesting of the breakfast breads I encountered was, by far, the traditional simit. A simit is a circular shaped bread, often encrusted with sesame seeds that closely resembles an American sesame bagel. If cooked fresh that morning it should be lightly crunchy on the outside filled with a soft doughy center. Let the bagel-lover inside of me rejoice!
With almost every Turkish Breakfast, you’ll be presented with several different cheeses, usually made from cow, sheep or goat’s milk or some combination of the three. Two of the most common cheeses served with breakfast are white cheese, similar to Greek feta, and fresh kashar cheese, a light yellow cheese often made from cow’s milk.
You’ll encounter many other types of cheeses on the Turkish breakfast table, but it would be impossible to name them all. From pungent goat cheese to Labne, similar to American cream cheese, and my absolute favorite, Kaymak a thick, sweet clotted cream served with drizzled honey, you definitely won’t be facing a cheese shortage.
Butters, Honeys, Jams & Spreads
Along with your breads and cheeses, you’ll also probably be served a wide variety of butters, honeys, jams and spreads. From thick creamy butter and homemade cherry fruit preserves to fragrant flavorful honey and smooth rich hazelnut spreads, you won’t be disappointed! Mixing these delectable condiments is suggested to incorporate different tastes, such as butter and jam or honey and hazelnut.
As in many other cultures, eggs are a familiar staple of the Turkish breakfast. You’ll find them cooked numerous ways, such as fried and omelet-style, but a Turkish favorite is hard-boiled. If an egg is cooked to “kayısı,” it’s the Turks’ idea of boiled perfection: not too hot, not too cold, and soft to the touch yet not liquid.
Although it’s not an essential part of every Turkish breakfast, sometimes you’ll have the option to protein pack your meal with meat. Touristy hotels and cafes will serve typical breakfast meats such as bacon, ham and pork sausage, but in a predominately Muslim country, pork products are not the norm. Instead you may find a plate of cured, cold, sliced meats, mostly of the beef category.
Nuts, Dried Fruit & Olives
If you were wondering how the Turks could possibly load up an entire table with solely breakfast foods, it’s partly by filling all those nooks and crannies with an array of nuts, dried fruits and olives. That’s not to say that this aspect of breakfast is an afterthought though as each and every product is usually handpicked from the different regions of the country. Olives from the Eastern Mediterranean, dried apricots from Malatya, hazelnuts from the Black Sea, this list goes on an on. If you are looking for a true taste of Turkey, this is where to get it.
Cucumber and Tomato Salad
As found alongside many Mediterranean meals, is a simple side salad of chopped cucumbers and tomatoes. Yes, that’s right, Turks eat salad for breakfast. Actually you’ll probably find Turkish people eating this classic little salad all at times throughout the day. At first it may seem a bit strange to be throwing back a salad in the wee hours of morning, but the light crisp saltiness of the cucumber and tomato actually complimented the other dishes quite nicely!Turkish Coffee
If you’re a avid coffee drinker that stubbornly insists on starting off every day with a cup of Joe, order an American coffee with your breakfast. If anything, Turkish coffee should be used to finish off your first meal of the day, not to start it.
The Turkish word for breakfast– Kahvaltı- literally translates to “under coffee,” implying that this meal should be eaten before the coffee comes. Turkish coffee is extremely strong and you shouldn’t drink it on an empty stomach. Turks usually save their daily cup to close a meal, never having more than two cups in one day. Turkish coffee is a thick muddy mixture of unfiltered fine grounds sure to put a pep in anyone’s step. Be careful not to have one too late in the day or, as the Turkish say, you’ll be contemplating your ceiling all night long.
Wooooof. Talk about a feast. Thanks for successfully adding to my waistline Istanbul!!
What’s breakfast like in your country? Do you have a favorite type of breakfast food?
Two more posts on eating in Istanbul coming soon!
Eating my way through Istanbul with Culinary Backstreets
The Foodie’s Guide to Istanbul