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.

7 comments

  1. Michelle Lamere · · Reply

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

    Sent from my iPhone

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

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  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?

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    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.

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    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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  4. […] Try a traditional Turkish breakfast — Update: Done. Can’t get enough of it.  […]

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  5. […] a big day with a big breakfast at this lovely place near Galata Tower that I dare say has the best Turkish breakfast in town.   Hagia Sophia: As John told our friend Adam, “if you go to Istanbul and don’t […]

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