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BREAKFAST

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The traditional Turkish breakfast is a leisurely mini banquet consisting of tomatoes, cucumber, black and green olives, a choice of cheeses, a selection of cold meats, eggs cooked in a varety of ways, and more than ample bread. 

The best breakfasts are often described as köy kahvaltı (village breakfasts) even when they’re being eaten in town. They come with a choice of home-made jams – everything from strawberry and black cherry through to quince and rose petal – delicious honey, home-made butter and cheese, and are served on a tray sometimes with a samovar of tea big enough for the whole family to share. In fashionable restaurants the array of little dishes arranged on the breakfast table is sometimes called serpme kahvaltı (literally, “a scattered breakfast”) . Out east around Urfa the locals like to add a spicy green pepper to the spread.

In villages people still eat this breakfast sitting on the floor around a low table with a cloth spread over their knees to catch the crumbs. In towns breakfast is served at conventional tables except in the most touristy of establishments.

 

Breakfast eggs are usually served cold and hard-boiled. If you’d prefer them runny you should ask for them rafadan, before going on to specify how many minutes you prefer (üç dakika – three minutes; dört dakika – four minutes). Fried eggs are called sahanda yumurta after the pan (sahan) in which they’re prepared. The Turkish take on poached eggs is çılbır, with the eggs poached in vinegar-flavored water and then coated with garlic yoghurt; a dressing of paprika in melted butter is normally added as well. To make menemen tomato, green pepper and sometimes onion are first sauteed together, before eggs are folded into the mixture and beaten. With perhaps a little cheese and parsley added it makes a more than passable alternative to scrambled eggs. 

 

Most eggs on sale in Turkey come from chickens factory-farmed around Bandırma on the south side of the Sea of Marmara and inland from İzmir. If you want to be sure they’re free range you will need to shop at one of the more upscale delicatessens.

Turks love a variation on bacon and eggs called sucuklu yumarta, chunky slices of spicy sausage fried in butter with eggs  cooked on top of them and sprinkled with red pepper. In villages people often sit down to a hearty fry-up known as kızartma which consists of chips layered with fried aubergines, peppers, and tomatoes covered with a thick garlic yoghurt sauce. 

Soup might not seem the most obvious of breakfast choices but for Turks nothing could be more natural than to sit down to a bowl of soup on their way to work. Mercimek çorbası (yellow lentil soup) makes a tasty and filling start to the day, copiously sprinkled with sumac (sumak), spiked with a squeeze of lemon (limon), and accompanied with a mountain of bread. Even more nourishing and filling is ezo gelin çorbası (“new bride soup”) which is like an Italian minestrone made from red lentils and herbs. 

A particularly delicious variation on the standard Turkish breakfast is called balkaymak (honey and cream). Locally-made honey, sometimes direct from the honeycomb (petekli), is drizzled onto a plate along with a big dollop of fresh clotted cream, and the two are scooped up together with big chunks of crispy bread, an unforgettable treat. It’s a breakfast that finds particular favour in the east of Turkey where it’s associated with Kars and Van.

It’s claimed that the best cream comes from cows that have been reared around Afyon where poppies are grown to make legal opiates. The thickest cream, however, is made from the milk of the water buffalo (manda), which is becoming increasingly hard to find except in Thrace. 

For Turks on the go the best sort of breakfast comes in the form of a circular bread ring sprinkled with sesame seeds that is called a simit. Traditionally simits were sold by men who carried them round the city neatly piled up in overlapping rings on covered trays which they would perch on their head, then whip down again at the first sign of a potential sale. In an increasingly hygiene-minded age most are now sold from licenced street carts or even from huge Simit Sarayıs (Simit Palaces) which have turned the humble bread ring into the bagel of Turkey -- available with all sorts of fillings, and to be eaten at a table with a glass of tea to wash it down, albeit at greater cost. Zeytinli means it’s stuffed with olives, peynirli that it’s stuffed with cheese.

Pushcart vendors usually offer several other grab-and-go choices as well. The açma is a bun-like slightly flaky bread roll in a ring shape like the simit and is the closest Turkey comes to the croissant. The çatal consists of three biscuit-like bread strips shaped like a belt buckle and studded with poppy seeds. The poğaca is a bun-like roll that often comes filled with feta cheese and parsley. The ay çöreği is a crescent-shaped “moon bun” that looks like the symbol on the Turkish flag only in dough form.

To ring the changes, people sometimes stop off in a börek shop to buy a thick slice of multi-layered flaky pastry stuffed with white cheese, minced meat or diced spinach for breakfast. Börek is a broad term covering all sorts of pastries, but the breakfast variety is usually su böreği (water börek), so called because it’s boiled in water before baking. The dough is made from flour, eggs and salt, gently kneaded together and then dropped sheet by sheet into boiling water, before being dunked in iced water, drained, layered with filling and then baked, a process not unlike the preparation of lasagne. The end result is melt-in-the-mouth tasty, and quite filling enough to see you through until lunch time. Kürt böreği is a variation on su böreği that comes without the filling. You can eat it plain (sade) or sprinkled with salt (tuzlu) or powdered sugar (tatlı).

Su böreği is normally sold in specialist börekçisis which also sell breakfast pides, long ovals of springy white bread stuffed with minced meat or cheese and served invitingly warm.

These days most hotels offer an açık büfe (open buffet), allowing guests to pick and choose what they want. In one and two-star hotels the choice will be fairly limited. In three-star hotels you should get a good choice. Four-star and upward and you're talking almost limitless variety. 

Business-style hotels usually serve breakfast from 7am to 10am although tourist hotels make a more leisurely start to the day at 8.30am and may keep breakfast going until 11am. 

 


 

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