Traditional Turkish Breakfast: 8 Delicious Dishes to Start your Day
Since their settlement in Anatolia, the eating habits of the Turks have changed dramatically, even breakfast. The Selçuk Turks and then the Ottomans ate two meals, mid-morning and evening. From the 12th century to the end of the 19th century, breakfast changed from being small snacks eaten early in the day to the complete meal that is popular today.
In Turkey, every meal is important and every member of the family is expected to be at the dining table. Spending time with your family, particularly at meals, is an essential cultural concept for Turks. As this is not always possible on work days, weekend and holiday breakfasts have taken on even more importance.
For Sunday and holiday breakfasts there is always something special that you wouldn’t have every day. These unique dishes include katmer, from the Southeast, pide, from the Mid Black Sea region, kuymak from the Eastern Black Sea, menemen from the Aegean, and yaglama, from the Central Anatolia region.
A very classic Turkish breakfast has its essentials: At least one type of cheese, olives, eggs cooked it any way, butter, a selection of veggies – tomato, cucumber, pepper, etc. or other veggies – sweet dishes, for example, honey & clotted cream, tahini & molasses or tahini halva, or one of the dozens of fresh fruit jams: blackberry, strawberry, fig, cherry, or quince jams.
Just a note: when breakfasting at a restaurant, you’ll find such a huge variety of jam, you are sure to find your favorite, literally any fruit – and sometimes veggies!
Each item is served in small dishes and placed in the center of the table so everyone can reach in and take what they fancy. These are just the essential items; read on to sample some of the special dishes that are served with them to make the Turkish breakfast not just a morning meal, but a veritable feast!
Turkish Cheeses are a Staple Breakfast Food
We need to talk a bit more about Turkish cheeses. It is one of the most crucial elements in Turkish food culture, where it is mainly consumed at breakfast, only minimally for other meals.
Let’s start our journey with white cheese, an indispensable part of any breakfast table. Like feta, it is a slightly grainy cheese made from cow, sheep, or goat’s milk and stored in brine. Ezine cheese, another frequently eaten breakfast cheese, is a ripened soft, or medium-hard full-fat white cheese.
Fresh kasar cheese, which we love to grate on many dishes, is also a soft or medium-hard yellow cheese. From the same family is Kars kasar cheese, a well-ripened, hard-textured cheese very similar to Gruyère.
Kars is in the far east of Turkey, where Kars Gravyeri was created when a Swiss cheese producer visited the village of Boğatepe and found it perfect for Gruyère production. It is one of the most well-known Turkish cheeses and is widely consumed.
Before we leave the east, we should look at the herbed cheese from the town of Van. Van herbed cheese has a unique flavor developed in the clay pots it is made in, with dozens of herbs, salts, and spices, and preserved by burying in the ground in during the summer. This cheese, a famous Van product, has become popular for breakfast throughout the country.
Tulum cheese bridges the East and West of Turkey: Erzincan tulum cheese from the East and İzmir tulum cheese from the West. Both these cheeses are packed tightly into a goatskin bag and left to age in caves where the humidity is medium-high. Both are equally famous and they differ in flavor. There can be heated debates about which one should grace the breakfast table, but whichever wins, it will be a happier table for them being there.
Let’s look at the stars of the breakfast table. But, before we start, I recommend you locate a good Turkish breakfast restaurant because you will surely learn how appetizing a Turkish breakfast is.
1. Fried Eggs: Eggs on Sahan
The sunnyside eggs on sahan take their name from the pan they are cooked in. Butter is melted in a copper pan, called a sahan, and the egg is added ensuring that the edge of the white is lightly fried and the yolk remains soft.
Grated or chopped tomatoes, green peppers, and optionally onions are sautéed and cooked with eggs. Menemen, which is usually cooked in a copper pan, is a dish placed in the middle of the table where people can dip in their bread.
Menemen is an epic dish that has been the subject of a debate that literally divided Turkey in two! If you meet a Turk, ask him if menemen should be with or without onions. They will defend their choice to the end!
3. Kuymak: Kuymak or Mıhlama
This Black Sea region dish made with butter, cornmeal, and string cheese is now available all over Turkey. A roux is made with cornmeal and butter, then water and finally cheese is added and allowed to melt.
If you’re eating an expertly made kuymak, the cheese will stretch and stretch and stretch… it can be a struggle, but so worth it.
4. Hamurişi -Pastry
We can look at pastries in three groups.
The most common are börek. These are made with layers of thin flaky pastry. The fillings are usually spinach, potatoes, ground beef, and cheese. Sometimes wrapped böreks are fried, sometimes they are oven baked. Either way, these pastries, crispy on the outside, burst with flavor.
Sigara böreği are shaped like sigara, or cigarettes, small and cylindrical, kol börek are rolls shaped into a spiral, and gözlemes, which double the flavor being cooked on metal sheets called a sac, are among the most favorite. Another that can be categorized as börek because of the way it is cooked, is the unique, creamy, and sugary katmer with pistachios, which is more of a dessert.
Another group of pastries are those that are fried. These leavened pastries are sometimes cut after flattening and fried on their own. They are sometimes filled with ingredients such as sautéed mince meat, mashed potatoes, or grated cheese, closed into a half-moon shape, and deep-fried.
The most famous ones are çibörek, or chebureki, and pişi, which are a must have on breakfast tables.
The third group is pide. These are consumed all over Turkey, turning weekend breakfasts into a ritual, especially in the Black Sea region.
This yeasty dough rolled out thinly, filled, and baked in a stone oven. The filling is prepared overnight and delivered to the bakery in the morning into the hands of master bakers.
Every child growing up in a large family in Turkey knows what it means to wake up with the smell of pide on Sunday morning.
And the breads, of course! There is no breakfast without bread anywhere in Turkey. Lavash, baguettes, sourdough breads, and cornbreads can be found on every table, although they vary from region to region. Bread is considered most sacred in this land, and must be shown respect at every table.
5. Fried veggies
Fried vegetables are particularly popular in the summer months. Similar to şakşuka, the vegetables, such as eggplant, potatoes, peppers, zucchini, and garlic, are fried in olive oil and topped with a spicy tomato sauce.
6. Pastrami or Sucuk
Pastrami, sucuk (su-juk), and other meats that are sautéed are consumed extensively in Turkey. They are utterly unique to the country and revered by Turks.
Pastrami is an air-dried cured beef prepared with a seasoned spice mix called Çemen. It can be eaten on its own for breakfast, is sometimes put in pastries, and sometimes cooked in a pan with eggs, making it an absolute favorite.
Sucuk, which is dried, spicy, fermented sausage, also accompanies eggs and is probably the most popular.
Sucuklu yumurta, eggs with sucuk, is an excellent dish that completes any breakfast table.
Kavurma is sautéed meat and named after the method of preserving the meat particular to the Black Sea region because of its distinct climatic conditions; which is why it is traditionally mostly consumed here. It is best when combined with eggs after being cooked.
Offal soups can sometimes overshadow the classic breakfast table and perhaps will surprise you the most.
These spicy soups, prepared with the head, trotters or tongue, are often consumed for breakfast in the middle and southeast of Turkey. They may seem a challenging to start the day, but remember that there are cultures that have eaten them for centuries and that they open doors to new flavors. I highly recommend trying them.
Anyone born and raised in Turkey or who has lived there a few years, or even only visited only onceit sure to praise the Turkish breakfast coming up next!
8. Serpme Kahvalti: Breakfast Spread
Imagine that perfect table where everyone finds something they love to eat. Think of that fairytale table, full of colorful, tasty food. Serpme kahvalti, or breakfast spread, is that table.
Serpme, meaning sprinkling or spreading, is a breakfast where every item is served in small amounts is dishes spread across the table. Often, in the middle of eating, it is possible to suddenly notice things you have yet to taste. Such sweet excitement!
The serpme breakfast is literally a feast. When people set eyes on it, they generally say, “Only bird’s milk is missing”, which means the table is perfectly complete; if birds could give milk, there would definitely be some on the table.
In fact, serpme breakfast is more of a long brunch. It is great for when you meet up with friends or family. Or, if it’s the breakfast that is the thing, gather your friends or family for a spread. You can set the table according to your tastes, serving breakfast dishes from every region from east to west and north to the south of the country.
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day”, “You can’t leave the house without breakfast” as parents teach their children. Of course, we all wish to start the day with our mum’s wonderful breakfast. But sometimes we have to quickly grab something before leaving for school or work. Luckily, Turkey also has a range of great Breakfast snacks.
You can buy a simit, much like a bagel, fresh from the oven, from a barker’s or a street vendor. Or warm toast with kasar cheese and spicy sucuk.
So what have I missed?!! Tea. Turkish breakfast would be incomplete without copious amounts of black tea, served in small glasses and dainty saucers. You will come across many people who claim that they cannot start their day without drinking beautifully brewed Black Sea tea in a thin glass.
And, when breakfast is over… Yes, it doesn’t just end. Our self-indulgent ancestors considered it appropriate to call the whole meal “before-coffee”. Once you have finished socializing over a full Turkish breakfast, it is time to relax with a Turkish coffee. That’s the etiquette.