The U.S. is doing breakfast all wrong

Typical Turkish breakfast (not pictured: bread and unlimited tea)

Typical Turkish breakfast (not pictured: bread and unlimited tea)

I know that’s a bold statement especially from someone with a near-perfect Sunday brunch attendance record and whose favorite childhood meal was waffles.

But you’d say that too if you’ve had the Turkish version, a huge assortment of cheeses, vegetables, spreads, and bread typically ordered for the entire table. So what makes Turkish breakfast so amazing?

Even if your level of cheese/honey/nut butter fanaticism is a few notches below mine, you can appreciate the superb ingredients. We’re talking local cheese and vegetables, honey still in the comb, homemade jam, etc. I could eat it every single day until we leave in April (and not just during breakfast time), and never get sick of it.

I'll have the food for breakfast , please.

I’ll have the food for breakfast , please.

It’s also crazy cheap. We’re able to get more than enough food for both of us for typically around 20TL, or $8.

Sadly, this wasn’t even on our radar the last time we were here. Instead, we just laughed at seeing “food for breakfast” listed as a menu item (mmm, mystery food!), in what we then dismissed as a comically bad translation. I’m sorry for mocking you, Turkish breakfast. You are incredible and didn’t deserve that.

Back to the ingredients. Every place does Turkish breakfast differently — there’s even a fantastic Kurdish variation at the nearby hotspot, Van Kahvalti Evi — but here are some of the delicacies it often includes:

  • Assorted cheeses: Overall, cheese here tends to be on the mild and/or salty side. Think feta and mozzarella, including some super salt-ified variations of the two. A perfect example is the intriguing-looking braided cheese, which is like a salty mozzarella with some sharpness to it.
  • Honey: This ain’t the kind that comes in a plastic bear. Here, it always tastes like it went straight from their garden’s apiary to our table. Sometimes, it’s still in the honeycomb (like the photo above).
  • Clotted cream: Excellent with the honey.
  • Jam: Usually a homemade berry variety. Yum.
  • Vegetables: The presence of tomatoes, cucumbers, and olives instantly makes it a healthy meal, right? Perfect guilt-remover.
  • Nut butter(s): I don’t know how nearby breakfast spot Cihangir Kahvaltı Evi does it, but they’ve concocted the best almond butter I’ve ever had. It’s creamy, vanilla-y, and inevitably causes a game of keep-away between John and me. The tahini molasses at Van Kahvalti Evi, just a few doors down, is pretty spectacular too.
  • Cacık: Pronounced “jaw-jeek”, this yogurt-cucumber-dill dip is one of the most common menu items over here, and definitely a favorite of ours.
  • Hard-boiled egg: In case you were skeptical of classifying the above items items as breakfast food, here is your token egg.
  • Herbs: Typically cilantro, but I love it when it comes with mint too, like at Antik Laterna.

    Sesame-encrusted simit, the most ubiquitous snack in all of Istanbul.

    Sesame-encrusted simit, the most ubiquitous snack in all of Istanbul.

  • Butter: There’s always regular butter (which actually isn’t as commonly served here as it is in the U.S.), and sometimes honey butter too, like at Van Kahvalti Evi. SO GOOD.
  • Assorted fresh-baked breads: This is the vessel for the spreads and cheeses above. The basket almost always include simit (a bagel-like sesame ring that’s easily the most popular street food here), plus an assortment of other breads sometimes resembling baguettes, rolls, and challah.
  • Bottomless tea: And man, do they keep it flowing. As soon as you’ve had half of your çay, another appears. But if my brunch ladies and I were to American-ize the whole Turkish breakfast thing, I think we’d replace the “unlimited tea” part with “unlimited coffee and mimosas”. Because ‘Murica.


  1. Michelle Lamere · · Reply

    You and John are great writers. I am really enjoying these entries!

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Thanks for the kind words, and for following along! Glad you’re enjoying the blog. 🙂


  3. Amazing. The only think I kept thinking was that it would be kind of a pain to constantly fill, refill, wash all those zillion containers and serving dishes. (wouldnt mind so much eating out). One thing I tried that stood out to me and wasn´t mentioned here was literally like a dip of spices. Like a brown powder that had an assortment of various dry brown spices, and the idea was to take a small piece of bread, dip it in olive oil, and then the spices. It wasnt too hot though… Have you come across this or maybe it is not so typical?


    1. I’ve seen the two combined – i.e. the brown spice powder was in a ramekin with the olive oil so that you’d dip the bread in both. I believe it was at Van Kahvalti Evi, but I’ll see if Michelle remembers better.


    2. Further research led me to something called Baharatli Zeytinyagi, which is olive oil with the spice blend called baharat. What I haven’t been able to do is find a consistent recipe. It seems like it’s just generally a Middle Eastern spice blend.


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